Leading into the World Cup, the German side were looked upon as an unknown quantity. A side without their talisman Michael Ballack and the investment in youth by Joachim Löw failed to fill many pundits with confidence they resembled great German teams of the past. They were regarded as a team in transition rather than tournament contenders.
But one man above all should have been aware of the threat the German side held. Stuart Pearce. Six members of the German U21 side graduated to their senior side after leading Germany to a 4-0 triumph over Pearce’s England in the final of the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. You could almost call it déjà vu in Bloemfontein.
Amongst them was Mesut Özil, the man who out shone any England player on the pitch and ultimately sent the Three Lions home. The midfielder broke English hearts in Sweden last year causing England all sorts of problems. He set up two of the goals and added the second, with a little help from Scott Loach. He proved to remain a thorn in England’s side in the Free State Stadium. He and his team mates condemned Fabio Capello’s side to their heaviest defeat at a major championship.
Manuel Neuer, Dennis Aogo, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira and Marko Marin were the other five players to break into the senior side. England, however, have only integrated James Milner and Joe Hart from the England U21 squad. The Aston Villa midfielder has made a big impression on Capello keeping Joe Cole out of the side, despite the country’s plea to start the former Chelsea winger. Hart has failed to make an appearance during the tournament.
England and Fabio Capello, if still in charge, must follow Germany’s rebuilding process if they stand any chance of future success. The ‘golden generation’ have again failed to meet the semi-finals requirement at another major tournament. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and others will all surpass 30 by 2014. The current England squad are entering a transition stage, much like the Germans, and their bitter rivals have shown what Capello must do.
Germany are not the only team to have benefited from the 2009 U21 tournament. Serbia have included Gojko Kačar, Zoran Tošić and Ivan Obradović in their squad while Javi Martínez earned a call-up for Spain.
So who are England’s main future prospects? Manchester City winger Adam Johnson failed to make the 23-man squad but the Three Lions have long cried out for a left winger. His goal against Sunderland last season currently proves he has a creative instinct England’s left-hand side lacks.
Having established himself as a first team regular last season, Everton’s Jack Rodwell was rumoured to be wanted by Sir Alex Ferguson who wanted to bring the midfielder to Old Trafford for 15 million. This level of interest demonstrates the potential the 19-year-old possesses.
Missed out because of an injury plagued season, Theo Walcott has failed to fulfil the potential he promised as a youngest at Southampton. The forward needs to replicate his goal scoring form he showed against Croatia.
Capello must keep a close eye on qualifying for the 2011 UEFA European U21 Championship in Denmark as the senior squad needs reshuffling with a few new aces added to the pack.