Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side of 1995/96 emphatically disproved Alan Hansen’s assertion that “you’ll never win anything with kids”, and Joachim Löw’s Germany team are just two games away from doing the same. Prior to the commencement of this summer’s World Cup, the German side were rocked by the news that injured captain Michael Ballack would miss this summer’s showpiece event. Although the loss of the nation’s most experienced player was deemed as a critical blow to Die Mannschaft, Löw’s side have flourished in Ballack’s absence, placing question marks over the former Chelsea man’s international future. With Germany thriving in the absence of their most senior player, should England look to follow suit?
The national enquiry and post-mortem into the English national side since their premature World Cup exit has propounded several ‘solutions’. Given the failures of the likes of Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard to successfully replicate their stellar form at club level, many have urged England manager Fabio Capello to call time on the international careers of England’s most senior players and start afresh. Capello himself has recognised this concern, having recently stated “We will look to introduce new players to give the team new energy and I will use all my experience to take England forward.”
In light of Germany’s relative success thus far, it is no surprise that Capello may seek to mirror Löw’s approach. It is an oft-repeated fact that the average age of Germany’s squad is just 24.7 years, four years younger than that of England’s 23-man-squad. In addition to this, six of Germany’s current World Cup squad were also part of the nation’s successful European Under-21 Championship-winning squad of 2009. Of these six, three players have been ever-presents in South Africa thus far, with Werder Bremen’s Mesut Özil and Stuttgart’s Sami Khedira now attracting interest from several of Europe’s leading clubs. Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller, Germany’s joint-leading scorer at this World Cup, was not even selected in last summer’s Under-21 squad. By contrast, just two members of England’s Under-21 squad of 2009 made Fabio Capello’s cut, with James Milner the only such player to feature for the side in South Africa.
Whilst, Germany’s approach has been admirable, one must bear in mind how talented this group of German youngsters is. The current crop represents the fruits of a domestic youth system restructure in 2002, and demonstrates the work of a project that initially started twelve years ago. The aforementioned Khedira, Özil and Mueller, now three of Europe’s most coveted midfielders, would be considered by many to be far more talented their English counterparts.
In addition to this, the average age of the Germany squad misleadingly paints a picture of an inexperienced squad. Whilst captain Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski have an average age of 25.3 years, the trio have collectively amassed a staggering 237 caps between them. By comparison, the four members of Fabio Capello’s squad aged between 24 and 26 (Michael Dawson, Glen Johnson, James Milner and Wayne Rooney) have just 101 caps between them; indeed the only England squad members a with similar or greater numbers of caps than the aforementioned German trio are Ashley Cole (29 years, 82 caps), Steven Gerrard (30 years, 84 caps) and Frank Lampard (32 years, 82 caps).
Although Capello’s decision to use more young players in the future is warranted and commendable, one mustn’t expect results similar to that of the German side. This current squad have managed to capture a unique blend of highly-talented youngsters and comparatively young experienced campaigners, a blend that cannot necessarily be replicated.
Follow me on twitter www.twitter.com/zarifrasul