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Bundesliga: The New Home For Young British Talent

 • by Sam McGuire
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“I’ve got Yannick Bolasie who cost thirty million quid and Theo Walcott who cost twenty million quid and both have a lot more experience than (Ademola) Lookman, so no. If I had put him out there he wouldn’t have done any better than the rest because the whole team played crap.”

That was Sam Allardyce‘s response on Saturday evening to being asked about the young winger after Everton fell to a 5-1 defeat away to Arsenal. It was a dismissive, almost insulting reply.

But tellingly, while his parent club were losing for the fifth time in their last seven matches, Lookman was scoring an 89th minute debut winner for RB Leipzig to lift the side up to second in the Bundesliga.

The former Charlton Athletic youngster joined Die Bullen on transfer deadline day, becoming the latest British youngster to swap English football for life in Germany. And for good reason.

Clubs in Germany give young players a far greater chance of featuring in a first-team than their Premier League counterparts. Ultimately that opportunity is what many teenagers want.

The desire to play goes against how youngsters are portrayed in the press. Of course, there are those who are happy to sit on the bench in order to fund a lavish lifestyle, but the majority are not.

The reality is countless teenage players want to get minutes under their belts on a regular basis. It’s the only way they’ll improve and fulfil the abundance of potential they have.

German clubs realise these players need patience, guidance and playing time if they’re to live up to the hype. It’s why the projects undertaken by many in the Bundesliga are long-term ones as opposed to the short-term, win at all costs mentality often seen in the Premier League.

Sides in the English top flight are reluctant to take risks. It’s a results based industry and many managers aren’t prepared to gamble on a youngster when they have a more experienced player at their disposal.

It’s highlighted in the fact eight Bundesliga teams have fielded a team with an average age of under 24 this season, with RB Leipzig, Champions League hopefuls, lining-up with a starting XI with the average age of 22. No Premier League team has managed to field a side with an average age of under 25.

In the Premier League, youth is seen as a weakness. What happened at Everton in January is a prime example of this.

Walcott signed for the Toffees in the second week of January for around the £20million and already has more starts for the club this season than Lookman, who cost £11million a year earlier. Allardyce’s men have been crying out of pace for much of the season but the former Crystal Palace manager was reluctant to give the 20-year-old an opportunity.

Since his move to Goodison Park, Walcott’s been involved in three goals and Allardyce will no doubt use this as a way to justify his decision. But in Lookman’s last start, a 3-0 win APOEL in the Europa League, he scored twice. And when he came on against Liverpool in the FA Cup he changed the game. There was no reason for him not to be given more of a chance.

Allardyce wasn’t happy with the ex-Charlton wonderkid after he pushed for a move to Germany: “It is one of the most unusual situations I’ve been in where we have got several deals for him but he was adamant to go Germany,

‘It is his choice. Oliver Burke (who plays for West Brom) has been there and could not wait to get away. We tried to persuade him not to because I think it is a big challenge for his development given he can’t speak the language.

“We wanted him to go out on loan to play first team football every week – there were better opportunities for that – but he was stubborn and got what he wanted.”

Yes, that’s the former manager of England implying because Burke failed to settle in Germany all British players should avoid going there. Imagine foreign players adopting that approach after seeing countless players flop in the Premier League.

RB Leipzig won’t be deterred by the fact Burke didn’t set the Bundesliga alight. The Scotland international was homesick and failed to recapture his Nottingham Forest form. Even so, the German club made a quick profit on him.

They signed Lookman on deadline day and reports in the summer linked them with Dominic Solanke – now at Liverpool – and Jadon Sancho, who is now playing for rivals Borussia Dortmund after leaving Manchester City in search of first-team football.

Both have represented England at youth level, both are considered to be among this country’s most promising young star but neither were likely to get starts at their clubs. Exactly the sort of profile for Bundesliga clubs. 

Ralf Rangnick, Leipzig’s director of sport, has a clear strategy in place. He’s set about identifying talent and bringing in those he views as reliable, surefire prospects. The aim, of course, is profit but that isn’t a bad thing. 

The 2016/17 runners-up did the same thing with Naby Keïta and Timo Werner. The pair joined the club in the summer of 2016 for a combined €26million. Leipzig stand to make close to €75million on Keïta alone if they finish in a Champions League position this season.

And Werner is believed to be a Liverpool and Real Madrid transfer target. RB Leipzig gave him the platform and he made the most of it. Would either of these players, even with their obvious talent, have been exposed to as much first-team football playing for a Premier League club last season? It’s doubtful.

If Lookman is a success at the RedBull arena then it clears the ghost of Burke. English players, going stale in the Premier League reserve division, will view Leipzig as a gateway to stardom.

It appears as though the club going all in on this idea having appointed former Tottenham and Southampton talent spotter Paul Mitchell as their chief scout. You can expect German club utilising the English market a lot more.

However, they aren’t the only club doing it. Borussia Monchengladbach have the same recruitment strategy. Sporting director Max Eberl revealed the club: “Follow every English national game – under-16, under-17 and so on – and we know every top player in England.”

Gladbach brought Reece Oxford back to the club on loan from West Ham United in January. They battled it out with Leipzig but eventually secured a deal and are expected to make it a permanent one in the summer. This is the same Oxford who put in a man of the match performance against Arsenal on his West Ham debut but has made just seven Premier League appearances since.

Freiburg SC got in on the act when they signed Liverpool’s Ryan Kent on loan. He’s since returned to England and is playing for Bristol City.

However, in an interview with Bundesliga.com he spoke about the differences between England and Germany, one of which is a bit of an eye-opener: “One thing is very different: We wear shinpads here in training — no-one does that in England. You only wear socks. That was a bit of a culture shock for me at the start. But the first time I trained with them on, I understood why. The intensity at Freiburg is very high. Here, everyone gives 100 per cent in training and through that, you get a good feeling in matches.”

This might seem like a minor detail but it helps paint a picture of just how competitive it is for places in the team. German clubs have no issues using a youngster in their starting XI if they impress in training.

They allow these players to give a good account of themselves by treating training as though it’s a match situation. In England it’s different. You can impress in training and catch the eye in the reserve league and all that earns you is a loan move.

Harry Wilson was sensational for the Liverpool reserve team. The 20-year-old scored 24 goals for Liverpool’s Under-23s last season and has ten in 12 this term. But Jürgen Klopp chose not to include him in the first-team and he’s now been loaned to Hull City who sit 22nd in the Championship. Is it a reward to get a move to a team in a relegation battle?

Not only do youngsters in the Bundesliga get patience on the pitch, they get it off of it as well. Teenagers are inconsistent, it’s to be expected as their game matures. In Germany they’re allowed this but in England, not so much.

Instead youngsters are often criticised if they’re unable to perform to a high level every single week. Raheem Sterling and John Stones have bullseyes on their backs and every average performance is jumped on, In Germany, Niklas Süle had a rough patch before his big money move to Bayern Munich and the press looked to protect him.

England Under-17 forward Phil Foden

Players in the Bundesliga are able to develop without pressure. It’s a perfect environment for young stars to flourish and German clubs will continue to benefit from targeting British talent as long as Premier League clubs arrogantly dismiss the homegrown players they have at their disposal because they aren’t a big money signing.

All top flight clubs do it. Manchester City lost Sancho and could lose Phil Foden in the future if he’s not given the minutes he deserves. The former has six appearances this term while the latter has just the one in the Premier League.

Chelsea loaned out Ruben Loftus-Cheek but spent £55million on Daniel Drinkwater and Ross Barkley. Manchester United continue to be linked with wide players which will no doubt impact Marcus Rashford‘s playing time.

You often hear about British talent being suppressed by foreign footballers. The retort to that is that the players can’t be good enough if they’re getting overlooked. The pundits then reel off the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard to prove that clubs don’t produce players like they used to.

But England now have arguably one of the best talent pools in their entire history. Those aged 20 and under are some of the best in the world and in a twist of irony, it might be foreign clubs who actually unleash these youngsters and allow them to show Premier League coaches what they can offer.

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