Arsenal and Manchester City duo are now the only ones we would expect to find in the England senior team.
On June 29th 2009 the participants in the European Cup final in the under-21 category were not Spain, and also not the Netherlands. Instead of that the final was played between England and Germany.
Both countries had a lot of talented players and therefore a bright future for their national teams. Almost five years later it is rather interesting to see what has happened to these former whizkids. Have they met the expectations and how many of them will we see at the World Cup in Brazil?
Let's have a look at the players and their teams first...
England's squad members in the final were Scott Loach (played for Watford at that time and plays now for Ipswich Town), Martin Cranie (Portsmouth then and now Barnsley), Nedum Onuoha (Manchester City then and now Queens Park Rangers), Micah Richards (Manchester City then and Manchester City now), Lee Cattermole (Wigan Athletic then and now Sunderland ), James Milner (Aston Villa then and now Manchester City), Mark Noble (West Ham United then and West Ham United now), Adam Johnson (Middlesbrough then and now Sunderland), Fabrice Muamba (Bolton then and now retired), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal then and Arsenal now) and Theo Walcott (Arsenal then and Arsenal now).
The German line up of that day was Manuel Neuer (Schalke then and now Bayern Munich), Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim then and Hoffenheim now), Sebastian Boenisch (Werder Bremen then and now Bayer Leverkusen), Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke then and Schalke now), Jérôme Boateng (Hamburg then and now Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund then and Borussia Dortmund now), Sami Khedira (VFB Stuttgart then and now Real Madrid), Mesut Özil (Werder Bremen then and now Arsenal), Fabian Johnson (1860 Munich then and now Hoffenheim), Gonzalo Castro (Bayer Leverkusen then and Bayer Leverkusen now) and Sandro Wagner (MSV Duisburg then and now Hertha BSC Berlin).
Seven of the 11 starters from that English team play nowadays in the Premier League, whereas all 11 German players from then perform regularly in the first league of Germany, England or Spain. From the English team only two players (including the injured Walcott) would likely be part of the squad for the World Cup, while Germany might send six players (including the injured Khedira) from then to Brazil.
It was very hard to qualify for that under-21 European Cup as only 8 teams made it to the actual tournament. During the tournament itself the England team beat Spain 2-0 and even won the penalty shootout (!) against Sweden in the semi final.
Obviously this team was quite good, so why is James Millner probably be the only one from back then, who we are likely to see at the World Cup? Why weren't the other players given the chance to develop as a base of the national team, of course together with some more experienced players from the top teams in the Premier League?
One gets the impression that this group of talented young players have already become another lost generation for the English national team. Of course it's more difficult for young English players to play regularly in their own league because of all the expensive superstars in the Premier League, but why don't they go then abroad instead and develop in another league? What could have been done by the FA to back up this group of gifted players in their development?
Maybe some self reflection on what has happened to the English players from the under-21 tournament in 2009 could help the Three Lions to avoid similar mistakes in the future and become more competitive in international tournaments again. Their passionate fans would definitely deserve it.
image: © Mick Baker