In March, Germany beat England 1-0 in an Under-21 international friendly played in Wiesbaden, with Hoffenheim’s Nadiem Amiri scoring the only goal.
On Friday, four players from that Young Lions squad again faced Germany, but this time they were in the senior team as they took on the current world champions at Wembley.
One of the players, Ruben Loftus-Cheek – who, like Jordan Pickford, Joe Gomez and Tammy Abraham, played his first game for the Three Lions – was voted man of the match in the goalless draw.
Deemed good enough to play against the likes of World Cup winners Mats Hummels, Mesut Özil or Mario Goetze, the 21-year-old midfielder was considered surplus to requirements at his Premier League club Chelsea at the start of the season and sent to struggling Crystal Palace on loan.
Another player sent out on loan from Chelsea was Abraham, whose form for Swansea saw him picking up his first cap.
On Friday night, Gareth Southgate played three 20-years-olds and the 21-year-old Loftus-Cheek. Coupled with the fact that England are the current Under-17 and Under-20 world champions, having won both titles for the first time earlier this year, this should suggest that England, who last tasted real football success at senior level in 1996 by getting to the Euro semifinals, are heading in a good direction.
Not necessarily so, warns former England international Ian Wright: “Our young players are just not getting enough chances to play for top clubs in the Premier League. Until this changes, we will struggle to reach our full potential.”
A case in point seems to be midfielder Jadon Sancho, who is the only player from the Under-17 side that won the World Cup to have played top-flight football this season.
The youngster started his football at the age of seven with Watford, before being snapped up by Manchester City as a 14-year-old. Not believing in his chances to get much playing time for the Citizens, Sancho decided to move to Germany, where he signed for Borussia Dortmund and has been given the chance to play senior football.
Southgate: ‘We are on the right track’
It is hardly surprising that England manager Southgate has given a number of youngsters (Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli and Harry Winks are two others who have been called up by the former international) a chance to play in the senior team.
Southgate, who took over after Sam Allardyce was relieved of his duties following allegations that he was involved in somewhat dubious business deals, came to the Three Lions after a three-year stint with the Under-21 side, where he worked with players such as Loftus-Cheek, Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard.
Asked after the match against Germany whether he was surprised that Loftus-Cheek had done so well in his first outing for the national side, Southgate looked surprised.
“No, why should I? I know what he is capable of and he showed that against Germany. There is still a lot to come from this young team,” the former midfielder said.
Listening to the interview with the coach, Wright said one could draw some comparisons with German football.
After disappointing performances in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, as well as the 2000 and 2004 European Championships, where the team failed to progress beyond the quarterfinal stages, German officials decided that they needed to invest in the future.
A lot of money was put into academies and talent spotting, and the investment soon paid dividends as they won the 2009 European Under-17 championships, finished runners-up in 2011 and 2012, won the 2008 and 2014 European Under-19 tournament, as well as the 2009 and 2017 Under-20 championships.
Arguably more important than the trophies is the fact that, unlike their English counterparts, German players are progressing from the youth teams to the senior side and becoming regulars.
In 2009, Germany beat England 4-0 in the final of the Under-20 European Championships. Of that England team, the only players to have featured regularly for the Three Lions are Theo Walcott and James Milner, with the former having fallen behind in the pecking order, while Milner has retired from international duty.
On the German side, Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Jerome Boateng, Hummels, Sami Khedira and Özil went on to win the World Cup five years later.