Jordan Sancho left Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund to push forward his career. - © © gettyimages / Ronny Hartmann
Jordan Sancho left Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund to push forward his career. - © © gettyimages / Ronny Hartmann

Breaking the grass ceiling: why the Bundesliga is the go-to league for England's frustrated youngsters

The Beatles honed their stagecraft and global hits on the streets and stages of Hamburg where Kevin Keegan would later grace the pitch. Now, there is a new English invasion with some of the country's brightest talents opting for the Bundesliga as the stage on which to best develop.

The German top-flight's reputation as a breeding ground for the brightest and best the young generation has to offer is well documented. But up till now, it has been largely confined to developing homegrown talent with Borussia Dortmund's USA star Christian Pulisic a notable exception to the rule. looks at why the Bundesliga is now becoming the destination of choice for English youngsters seeking to take their fledgling careers to the next level.


The grass ceiling

The English Premier League has gained a global reputation for excitement, passion and being brimful of many of the highest profile footballers the planet can boast. For a fan, it might seem heavenly, but looking at the league from a young English players' perspective, the prospect of making it to the big time is hellish.

Nearly 70 per cent of Premier League players are foreign-born, according to a UEFA study, while the bigger your club, the more hazardous the route to the first team. A CIES Football Observatory study showed Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea, for example, gave just 23 per cent, 17 per cent and 16 per cent of minutes to homegrown players respectively.

Klopp and connections

In the Bundesliga, just under half (49 per cent) of players come from outside Germany, giving youngsters a chance to work through the ranks and not have the glass ceiling that prevents their English counterparts playing on the very biggest stages. The contrast at this summer's Under-21 EURO, for example, was stark: the England squad totalled just over 200 Premier League appearances between them; Germany, who won the tournament despite having many first-choice players with the senior squad at the FIFA Confederations Cup, had a collective tally in excess of 1,000 Bundesliga games.

So often, young English players talk about the opportunity to play alongside established first-team stars in training. But in Germany, they have the chance to — as Wolfsburg's summer signing from Arsenal Kaylen Hinds posted on Instagram alongside a picture of himself and Mario Gomez — have "legends as my team mates", not just training partners, accumulating the baggage required to reach the top level in the frenzied heat of matches.

Footballers and their bosses are creatures of habit, so often putting their faith in the familiar. That thinking clearly underpinned Jürgen Klopp's decision to allow Ryan Kent to join Freiburg on loan.

The former Dortmund coach has been eloquent enough in his praise to make it clear he sees Kent's long-term future at Anfield, and had Klopp been Spanish, Kent might have joined a club like Villarreal. But his inside knowledge of Freiburg and their straight-talking, clear-thinking coach, Christian Streich, meant Klopp felt he could trust them with one of his prized raw assets.

Klopp once described Streich as someone who "always leaves you with something to think about", and is clearly hoping he will have the same effect on Kent, giving the 20-year-old an additional facet to his footballing culture that the Liverpool manager hopes will serve the Premier League club well in the future.

Watch: Christian Pulisic is ready to assume a starring role at Dortmund

Role models and reputations

Hinds' move from Arsenal to Wolfsburg may have looked at first glance a more daring one, but it means the 19-year-old is reunited with a familiar face in Andries Jonker, now his coach and formerly his youth academy director in north London. "At Arsenal he always had my back, he's always looked on improving me. Coming here and working with him is a good thing for me," said Hinds, whose three goals in five pre-season games suggest he is right.

When Jadon Sancho joined Dortmund from Manchester City, the 17-year-old was given the number seven shirt recently vacated by Ousmane Dembele. It was a clear statement from the club: This kid is going to play!

The low shirt number suggests coach Peter Bosz will be including the teenager in senior matchday squads — for a player who had not managed to achieve that at City, and even less so play a first-team game, the attraction of BVB is obvious.

Higher than highly rated, Sancho has clearly seen Pulisic prosper after breaking into the first team at the same age as him, and Dembele, 20, make giant strides in 12 bewilderingly fruitful months at the club and thought, 'That could be me.'

As Sancho, who was voted Player of the Tournament at the Under-17 European Championship this summer, said himself in an Instagram post: "The time is right for a new challenge where I can start to fulfil my potential." He will now have that opportunity.

Doppelgänger league

Reece Oxford's move to Borussia Mönchengladbach was directly influenced by the success of a fellow Premier League player with the Foals. "Andreas Christensen did well," said Oxford of the Denmark international, who has moved back to Chelsea after two seasons at BORUSSIA-PARK. “He was here for two years. I played against him once and he's a very good player. Now he's back at Chelsea, so hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and help the team to progress." If he does, his own positive development is also assured, something West Ham United — the club that owns him — will be delighted about.

The Bundesliga can match the Premier League for goals, excitement, passion and huge crowds. The one major difference for young English players is that they get to do what they want to do: play. They experience what it is like to be in the big boys' playground by being on the swings and roundabouts with them, rather than being told to watch from the soft play area.

For Sancho and Hinds, that opportunity was enough to convince them to sign permanent deals. For Kent and Oxford, who would traditionally have dropped down the leagues in their native country to get first-team football, it marks a significant upgrade as it provides an almost identical taste of what they would find at the top level in England.

Watch: Julian Brandt, a baby-faced Bundesliga centurion

"The Bundesliga is probably the closest league to the Premier League, intensity-wise, and the teams are as good as those in the Premier League," as Oxford himself pointed out.

Liverpool and West Ham will be hoping it means the youngsters they have loaned out will return ready for the rigours of the Premier League. Then again, Kent and Oxford may just like the Bundesliga too much to ever go back…

Ian Holyman

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