Germany's youthful squad stunned everyone by winning their first Confederations Cup title in Russia this summer.
Germany's youthful squad stunned everyone by winning their first Confederations Cup title in Russia this summer.

What Germany can teach England about the next generation

Germany and England both look set for a bright footballing future after a remarkable summer of tournament success, but the Bundesliga's emphasis on youth development has enabled Die Mannschaft to steal a march on the Three Lions when it comes to laying the foundations for the next generation.

Ahead of Friday's high-profile friendly between Germany and England at Wembley, there is no denying that these are exciting times for two of the world's biggest footballing nations.

Germany are the reigning world champions, ranked number one in the world, and such is the depth of the talent pool at Joachim Löw's disposal that the boffins managed to come up with four potential line-ups for the coach at next summer's FIFA World Cup. Proving there was some method in our madness, Löw took an experimental squad to the Confederations Cup this summer and still came back from Russia with the trophy.  

Just two days before Timo Werner and Lars Stindl combined to hand Germany a 1-0 victory over two-time Copa America champions Chile in Saint Petersburg, the country's young guns stunned tournament favourites Spain to win the European Under-21 Championship in Poland. In that extraordinary 48-hour period, Germany sent out a stark message to their footballing rivals: we're on top of the world, they said, and we have every intention of staying here.

England fans have had far less to cheer about than their German counterparts in recent years, but after premature exits from the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 there is renewed cause for optimism following a whirlwind couple of months for the country's youth teams. It began in June with victory in the U20 World Cup, continued in July with the European U19 Championship crown, and was rounded off in superb style in October with a 5-2 dismissal of Spain in the U17 World Cup final.

Between them, then, Germany and England have got their hands on five international trophies in 2017, and yet there is every reason to suspect that the former will reap greater long-term benefits than the latter. Simply put, German players are being given more opportunities than English ones to develop their abilities at the highest level.

The average age of the two squads for this weekend's friendly is just over 25 years of age, and yet Löw's players boast an average of 172 top-flight appearances compared to 124 for Gareth Southgate's. It has done the Three Lions no favours that around half a dozen players have pulled out with injury, including Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling. But even with them in the squad, the Germans would remain streets ahead in terms of elite-level experience. In the UEFA Champions League, for example, they have made an average of 26 appearances compared to just eight for the current English crop.

Niklas Süle is an interesting case study. The 22-year-old centre-back left Hoffenheim for Bayern Munich this summer, where he is competing for a place with the World Cup-winning partnership of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. In many other clubs he might have been forced to content himself with occasional appearances from the bench, but the hulking defender has already played 13 times for the champions in all competitions this season, including Matchday 11's comfortable win in Der Klassiker and three of their four outings in the Champions League.

Admittedly, England centre-back John Stones is one of the first names on the teamsheet over at Premier League leaders Manchester City, and the 23-year-old has been a mainstay as Pep Guardiola's team have strung together 15 straight wins in all competitions this term. But even as a regular starter, Stones still has one less top-flight appearance (115) under his belt that Süle (116), who has also scored eight league goals to the Englishman's one.

Germany's true strength lies in their depth. While England have had a number of prodigies over the years - Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are perhaps the standout examples - they have tended to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to young stars breaking into top Premier League teams. In the Bundesliga, it is not unusual to see teenagers plying their trade week in, week out. 

Just take a look at the other defenders under the age of 25 in this weekend's squads. On the German side, Joshua Kimmich, Matthias Ginter and Antonio Rüdiger have amassed 340 top-flight appearances between them, scoring 18 goals. England trio Michael Keane, Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez have a rather more modest collection of 123 outings and five goals.

The attacking battle should be another fascinating subplot at Wembley, with RB Leipzig's Timo Werner pitted against Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. It says a great deal about the Bundesliga that 21-year-old Werner boasts over twice as many top-flight appearances (135) as 20-year-old Rashford (54). The young German's return of 40 league goals is also far superior to the Englishman's 13.

While there are many complex sporting and economic factors underlying these trends, the simple fact remains that Bundesliga coaches are more willing to throw their young charges in at the deep end. It should perhaps come as no surprise that Jadon Sancho, one of England's stars at the U17 World Cup, has chosen to try his luck at Borussia Dortmund rather than stay with City.

Additionally, Germany's achievements at the Confederations Cup should not be underestimated. Warm-up for the World Cup or not, this was a senior-level tournament featuring some of the best players on the planet, but it was Werner, Stindl, Leon Goretzka and Co. who ended up lifting the trophy rather than Arturo Vidal's Chile or Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.   

Friday's encounter with England should therefore be an interesting opportunity to see some of Germany's next generation in action. The world champions have lost some giants of the game over the past few years - Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm - but their successors have already been lined up. They have been waiting in the wings for many years.

Watch: Germany's next golden generation!

Russia 2018 is both a long way off and just around the corner. Germany and England will both be there to take part in football's greatest showpiece, and yet there is no doubt which of the two countries is currently leading the way in the perennial battle for global supremacy.

Andy Smith