Owen Hargreaves was something of an enigma, emerging at Bayern Munich away from the prying eyes of the British media. Despite qualifying for England, few on these shores cared much about the Canadian-born midfielder.
Despite making his international debut in 2001, he wasn’t cared for much by the English press. A relatively lacklustre Euro 2004 did little to improve his reputation, but in 2006 he finally came into his own. His displays in a poor overall tournament for England had the country buzzing. Within a year, he’d moved to Manchester United for around £17m.
Since then, few English players have trodden the boards of the Bundesliga. Plenty have come to England, lured by the money and the exposure, but only Michael Mancienne went the other way, enjoying three seasons at Hamburger SV. Until 2017, it seemed few English players rated the German top flight as a route to stardom.
All of that has changed this season, with numerous young English players looking at the opportunities the Bundesliga affords them. Leading the way is Jadon Sancho, an exciting young player who looked stifled in the English game. As a child, Sancho was at Watford, but Manchester City poached him under the Elite Player Performance Plan. The EPPP was a Premier League-led initiative to get the best from England’s young players.
Instead, Sancho didn’t get the chance he wanted at Manchester City, being kept out of the side by an ever-increasing number of expensive imports. In August 2017, he switched to Borussia Dortmund for around £8m. After two years at Manchester City without so much as a place on the bench, he’s now notched six appearances for his new side. What’s more, he’s impressed, too.
He’s shown himself to be a vibrant box-to-box midfielder, defensively aware but able to create chances in the attacking third, too. He could have been stagnating in the Checkatrade Trophy, the FA’s latest gimmick to encourage young talent. Instead, he’s playing first-team football for one of Europe’s great club sides.
The names of Reece Oxford, Ademola Lookman, Mandela Egbo and Kaylen Hinds might not mean much to you right now, but they might just be the way forward for the English game. Oxford is on loan at Borussia Mönchengladbach and counts former Crystal Palace youngster Mandela Egbo as a teammate. Hinds took a similar route to Sancho, ditching Arsenal in favour of VFL Wolfsburg.
Ademola Lookman was thought incredibly highly of at Everton, but he forced his loan move and became rather unpopular with the club’s management in the process. Whilst many pointed at a lack of ambition, it might just be that Lookman realised chances in the Premier League are limited. He even turned down Derby County to make his move abroad. He made just one start in two months under Sam Allardyce at Everton, but he scored within minutes of his debut for Leipzig in front of 49,000.
All three clubs boasting English players feature in the top seven teams amongst Bundesliga betting markets. Whilst Bayern will run away with it this season, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach will all be pressing hard next year.
What is clear is that the English game is not affording its young players the right opportunities and they’re sensibly looking elsewhere. With Bayern still in the Champions League, it could be argued the quality of football domestically in Germany is no worse than in England and yet it is there where the nation’s young players look likely to get a fair crack of the whip.
When it comes to tournament success, England might be about to benefit from their old rivals.