Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: From Malmo to the Maracana - this Germany side announced itself by thrashing England U-21s in 2009 and has developed through trust

What the German champions did was to provide the basis for these young stars to shine

There are some matches, and moments within matches, on which the course of football as a whole seems to turn. There was Mark Robins’ header at the City Ground in 1990, keeping a 48-year-old Alex Ferguson in the Manchester United job. Or the night at White Hart Lane when a 21-year-old Gareth Bale shredded the European champions Internazionale and their colossal right-back Maicon.

These occurrences are often asked to bear excessive explanatory weight, as the necessary building blocks for those who construct narratives out of events. But when looking forward to tomorrow’s World Cup final, and to the Germany team who are likely to win it, it is impossible to avoid one night in Malmo, five years and two weeks ago.

Six of the Germany players likely to take the field tonight in the Maracana have already won a final together before. Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil were all there, in the newly opened Swedbank Stadion, to face Stuart Pearce’s England in the final of the 2009 European Under-21 Championship.

The outcome and the aftermath are well known. Özil ripped England to pieces, Germany won 4-0 and looked very much like a team preparing something serious and special.

But it is not the winning of the final – impressively as they played – that marked Germany out as much as what happened next. As youth coaches often say, the point of age-group tournaments is development, rather than to win for the sake of winning. Football is littered with youth-level champions who have not been able to stay at the top. The Under-21 Championship before that, in 2007, was won by a Netherlands side who – admittedly with Tim Krul and Ron Vlaar on the bench – have made little impression on the senior set-up whatsoever. Ryan Babel, after a spell with Liverpool, is now at Kasimpasa in Turkey; Royston Drenthe is with Reading.

 

What these German champions did, which is so important, and so difficult, was to provide the basis for their young stars to make the most of their obvious talent. It has become an English obsession to mimic the set-ups of those countries who do better than us, to try to create our own equivalent of this German generation that could be world champions tomorrow night.

The point is not so much to replicate the outcomes as the processes that deliver them. English football talks enthusiastically now of “pathways”, which is the right idea, but very difficult to implement. The Football Association commission’s plan for a new tier featuring Premier League B teams would certainly help to alleviate one of the major problems, at the cost of creating others.

But this is the nub of the issue. Much of the gulf that exists between the England and Germany teams now owes just as much to the quality gap between those Under-21 sides five years ago, as to the events of the intervening period.

The Wigan Athletic manager, Uwe Rösler – an East Germany international but fierce footballing Anglophile – told The Independent last season that the real difference between England and Germany was the lack of “competitive football” played by talented teenagers. “In England, they play development football, not competitive football,” he said. “In Germany they kick on.”

That is precisely what has happened. In the 2009-10 season, that crucial year between the Under-21 Championship in Sweden and the World Cup in South Africa, all of the Germany players were regulars not for B teams but for their Bundesliga sides: Özil for Werder Bremen, Neuer and Höwedes at Schalke 04, Khedira with Stuttgart, Boateng for Hamburg and Hummels at Borussia Dortmund. All of those players made an impression in their domestic leagues, all – except for Höwedes and Hummels – went to the World Cup the following summer.

What better pathway could you have than this? From age-group success, to experience at the top end of their domestic league – many were first-team regulars long before 2009 – to the biggest stage in the game. Neuer, Khedira, Boateng and Özil all played in South Africa – along with Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos, who missed out the year before. There, they won their group, and then destroyed England and Argentina with displays of the ruthless, incisive football that were precursors to their once-in-a-lifetime performance against Brazil in Belo Horizonte last Tuesday night.

England took just two of their 2009 Under-21 squad to South Africa that following summer; Joe Hart, who did not play, and James Milner.

But the German youngsters kept on improving and progressing along the path laid out for them. After the World Cup, Khedira and Özil left Germany to sign for Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, winning La Liga in 2012. In the summer of 2011 Neuer and Boateng joined Bayern Munich, where they formed the German spine of what is now arguably Europe’s finest club team.

If Euro 2012 was not exactly a triumph for Germany, it was still progress, as they reached the semi-finals before wilting under the pressure of Mario Balotelli’s early goals for Italy. Neuer, Boateng, Khedira and Özil continued their development, their assimilation of crucial tournament experience, so obviously valuable in Brazil, along with Hummels and Höwedes. Of England’s 2009 generation, they took Hart, Milner and Theo Walcott.

An explanation of how Germany reached the final, of all the structural and circumstantial factors, would fill a book. It is a triumph of planning but also of trust, of believing in their young players and giving them the opportunity to prove it. It is  a pathway which has taken them to Maracana and most probably the World Cup itself, but one which took in Malmo on its way.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower