Until recently, the thought of going abroad in order to further one’s football career isn’t probably a move that young English players would necessarily have entertained.
Many players at a more advanced stage of their careers have generally plumped for a European sojourn at some point.
For Gary Lineker, Mark Hughes and Glenn Hoddle, read Michael Owen, Gareth Bale and David Beckham.
All had one thing in common, however, and that is that they were household names before swapping Blighty for the continent.
It’s arguable that none of those named above would’ve taken the risk of moving abroad at the very earliest stages of their time in the game.
There’s still a school of thought that, for those willing to experience a different league and a different culture whilst still in their teens, such a move is a brave one.
I’d suggest that in many cases now it’s a sensible one.
Football continues to evolve but one thing remains the same – success is expected immediately.
A ‘hire em and fire em’ culture pertaining to managerial appointments is hardly conducive to longer term success.
Projects take time, years in some cases, but time just isn’t a commodity that is valued within English football nowadays.
Phil Foden at Manchester City is a reasonable enough example of the predicament that some clubs find themselves in.
He’s starting to play more regularly now under Pep Guardiola, but such is the Catalan’s embarrassment of playing riches, that the 20-year-old still isn’t a first choice.
That’s despite his team-mates and manager often referring to him as ‘genuinely world class.’
Compare and contrast Foden’s bit-part contributions with those of another ex-Manchester City star, Jadon Sancho, who has just turned 21.
At the age of 20 – Domestic League Stats
– Messi (2004-05 to 2008-09) – 77 MP – 31G – 18A
– Ronaldo (2002-03 to 2006-07)- 120 MP – 21G – 22A
– Sancho (2017-18 to 2020-21) – 99 MP – 36G – 50A
— Habesha LUFC 💙💛🏆⚡ (@Habesha_LUFC) March 21, 2021
In the four years since signing for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, Sancho has gone on to play over 100 games for the Bundesliga outfit. That’s roughly four times as many as Foden, and it shows.
What’s more, upping sticks for another country and another league doesn’t now necessarily mean that a player is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in terms of international honours.
Frankly, that would be a dereliction of duty from Gareth Southgate and his backroom team.
Jude Bellingham is another who has gone down the Dortmund route, preferring a club that appear to be making a genuine attempt at schooling young players in the right way.
👏 “He’s 17 playing as a holding midfield player! He’s a very mature young man.”
😲 “He has played 63 league games and he’s 17! Incredible!”
🙏 “He seems like a humble lad, with confidence on the pitch.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) March 25, 2021
He too could’ve ended up in Manchester, at United, but just like Sancho the promise of more regular opportunities won the argument and, most importantly, he’s flourishing as a result.
The English national team will once again be the beneficiaries.
Fikayo Tomori is doing wonderfully well at AC Milan, whilst Reece Oxford and Ryan Sessegnon are getting plenty of games under their belts at Augsburg and Hoffenheim accordingly. There are plenty of other recent examples too.
As if to ram home the point further, Sessegnon has already played more than three times as many games in two thirds of this season than he did in the entirety of the previous campaign at Tottenham.
Of course, deciding on a European adventure isn’t a guarantee of success.
However, surely it’s better for a young player’s confidence and progression for them to be playing regularly and being allowed to make the mistakes which will, ultimately, make them a better player.
If, as we’re often led to believe, that Premier League clubs covet the young English talents coming through their academies, then for heaven’s sake give them the responsibility to help them grow and prove they’ve got what it takes. Clubs will also save themselves a pretty penny in the process.
Continuing to remain fearful of throwing the kids in at the deep end will only end up ensuring that this trickle of English talent abroad soon becomes a tidal wave.