Foreign Affairs

How England's bright young hopes are blazing a trail abroad as they take responsibility for their own careers

Football in England has never seen anything like it when it comes to the huge talent pool of young players starting to emerge from the Academy system ready to embark on senior careers.

 

The upheaval in coaching standards implemented by the FA over a decade ago is starting to produce the results – with the national team across all age groups enjoying unprecedented success on the international stage.

 

World and European titles have been secured, and suddenly the country is awash with bright prospects waiting for their chance to produce at senior level for their clubs.

 

But that has brought into sharp focus another problem – just how do these highly-skilled, intelligent young footballers take the crucial next step along their development paths when they are seeing their routes to first team chances restricted, particularly in the Premier League?

With money in the top flight so important to clubs, never have results been so important to managers as they are now. And the side effect of that has been a reliance on tried and tested players rather than unproven, and still developing prospects.

 

The seemingly impossible route to regular senior football is the biggest threat to stopping young players fulfilling their full potential, depriving them of their most crucial period in their development.

 

So a growing group of English talent is now taking responsibility themselves by leaving the comfort of home to move abroad in the search of game time and opportunities.

 

Ademola Lookman was one of the first when he elected to spend a season in Germany with RB Leipzig rather than sit kicking his heels at Everton. Then Mason Mount flourished on a season on loan in Holland with Vitesse.

Now scores of bright hopes are looking overseas as the best chance they can have to establish lasting careers in the professional game, and the floodgates appear to be opening on more to follow.

 

Jadon Sancho’s decision to leave Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund, along with the success Reiss Nelson is enjoying at Hoffenheim having escaped Arsenal on loan, is yet more proof of the opportunities on offer.

 

German clubs in particular can see the light – at an England under-17 match against Brazil earlier this season, scouts from every Bundesliga club were in attendance targeting the best this country has to offer.

 

They are far more willing to give youth a chance than in this country, and the players know it.

Sancho is now a senior England international, something that would have been highly unlikely had the 18-year-old signed the deal on offer at City instead of chancing his arm abroad.

 

He said: “If English clubs are not giving you a chance then abroad is always an option. They’re always open to just seeing your ability and, hopefully, if you’re good enough then you get your chance. That’s how I felt.

 

“That’s what the Bundesliga is about. They believe in you, they trust you and, even if you’re so young, they wouldn’t get you out here if they didn’t really believe in your ability.

 

“I’m not saying English clubs don’t believe in your ability, I’m just saying I think they [Bundesliga clubs] look at it earlier than the English clubs will do.”

 

Nelson, also 18, added: “Sanch started the trend, I’d say. I call him every day and he’s obviously saying we are kind of setting the trend for the young boys to come over.

 

“I know a lot of the top [young] players in England as well and they’re always saying, ‘How is life in Germany, how is the Bundesliga?’ and I’m just saying, ‘It’s great’.

 

“They believe in young players and that’s the main thing. Getting the belief behind you to play football.

 

“It might not be so good for England if they [young players] all leave, but on a personal level, I think it will be great for young players to get playing time and show everyone what they can do.

 

“Arsenal are my boyhood club. I’ve been with them since I was eight, so that’s 10 years.

 

“I just want to go back there stronger because at the time I was at Arsenal I was 16, 17 and I didn’t feel confident.

 

“I didn’t think I was a man, but now I’m feeling stronger and I think a couple more months or even a year in Hoffenheim will make me strong and give me the belief and confidence to go back to Arsenal and do very good there.

 

“I want to be an Arsenal legend. And, for England, it’s the best. You can’t beat playing for your country I don’t think.”

Sancho has zero regrets about snubbing the lucrative deal on the table at City in favour of a permanent move to Dortmund, convinced it has stopped his development from stalling.

 

He said: “I just felt I was ready for the next step and I felt Borussia Dortmund was a great club to move to and develop my career.

 

“It’s taking my game to a different level, only because I’m playing and getting the chance to show the world what I can do on the pitch.”

 

Their success is one of the reasons why German sides are now looking extensively at the younger age groups in England, says RB Leipzig’s Sporting Director Paul Mitchell.

 

Leipzig snapped up the Englishman from Tottenham last year, and the Manchester-born talent spotter is now developing an excellent reputation on the continent.

 

He said: “It’s hard to be honest, you look at the severe pressure the Premier League coaches are under, especially at the top.

 

“England are coming into a rich vein of talent from winning the World Cup at Under-17 level to the senior side (World Cup semi-final).

 

“We have to be reflective that we have a lot of good players in England and they need to play to get those capable minutes between the ages 17 and 21.

 

“England have a great environment, coaching system and understanding of talent to give these guys a real platform to go on and be successful.

 

“Our managers in the Premier League don’t get time - so how are we ever going to get to a point where these players are allowed to learn on the job or make mistakes?

 

“The British market is high on everyone’s agenda in Europe and not just Red Bull’s or just Germany.

 

“I think there has been a change in the market from a few years ago about English people and players that they don’t travel - I wanted to prove that was the wrong perception.

 

“Young guys that are moving to Europe are showing that is wrong as well, they are performing to a very advanced level and I think the world has become a smaller place, now the first questions on a young guys mind is have I got the opportunity to play first-team football?

 

“And then everything cascades from that and if the answer is yes then we have the chance to have conversations with highly talented individuals and offer ourselves as an extremely good destination for that talent.”