Should England follow in Spain & Germany's footsteps?

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Spain and Germany are currently leading the way when it comes to International football in Europe. The two nations are constantly churning out young talent year after year.

Their strong international sides are represented on the club scene also. What nations did the four Champions League semi-finalists come from? Two from Spain and two from Germany – it is no coincidence.

Barcelona have dominated the footballing world in recent years with their attractive playing style and copious amounts of trophies. They've won the Champions League three times in the last seven years with their seemingly telepathic football as each player knows exactly what to expect from their team-mates.

This understanding is no coincidence. There's no denying the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi could fit into any side in the World. But their talent is amplified when they share the understanding of each other's ability.

So, how is their understanding of each other's games so in-sync? Messi joined the club when he was 13. Xavi joined the club when he was 11. And Iniesta joined the club when he was 12. 

If these three players had joined a top flight academy in England, the relationship between the trio would have been stunted. Unlike the English leagues, Spanish youth and reserve teams compete in the nation's football pyramid. 

At the ages of 16, the trio were playing with each other competitively with Barcelona's B squad, who play in the Segunda Division (Spain's second division). 

In England these players would, typically, have played in their academy sides in uncompetitive fixtures until the age of 16. They would have limited first-team opportunities with a few substitute appearances every now and then. Soon after they would probably be sent out on loan to a lower league team.

Although sending youngsters out on loan may seem like a good idea, there are many reasons to suggest it may hamper a youngster's future rather than nurture it. 

This is why Barcelona rarely loan out players. They like to keep all their players playing together with the same philosophy throughout their youth levels. 

So when the players have reached the ability to make their step up to the first-team, they know exactly what is expected from them and already have a good understanding of their team-mates. They are familiar with the club's surroundings and are used to playing against older players of a good ability.

A quick glance at Barcelona's first-team squad and you haven't got enough fingers to count all the players that have progressed through their academy.

The idea of reserve teams playing in competitive leagues is shared by Spain and Germany. And It isn't just Barcelona who have benefited from this system. 

Many pundits consider that Barcelona's dominance in club football is coming to an end. A mantle to be picked up by European champions Bayern Munich. So how have Bayern Munich managed to catch Barcelona with their conveyer-belt of talent? Well, to follow suit and create their own superstars. 

Their squad, although heavily invested, still contains many players that have been with them their whole career progressing through the reserve teams. Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schweinsteiger to name but a few that have represented Bayern Munich II before progressing to the first-team.

So is it time for England to follow suit?

The FA have acknowledged the shortage in home-grown talent recently and have been trying to revamp the youth and reserve leagues. In 1999 they introduced the Premier Reserve League. But the league failed to provide the players with a competitive format. It was a million miles off the Premier League. 

The start of last season saw a major change in academy and youth football in England. A new league was created - The Professional Development League. The league is a major improvement on the Premier Reserve League, there is no denying that. There is more competitiveness between Premier League teams.

It is certainly a step in the right direction. More competitive football for the younger players, allowing them to remain at the club. A philosophy can be upheld throughout the youth ages and it allows future first-team players to play alongside each other before progressing to the senior squad.

But there is still a lack of competitiveness. Very few fans turn out to watch these games and they're considered more friendlies than league matches, especially when senior players who lack commitment play for a bit of match fitness. 

The players will be largely playing against youngsters like themselves. They will have no experience of playing against men of a good level until they, if they, get promoted to the first-team.

If the system is good enough, and it obviously is, for Spain and Germany there is no reason why the FA can't find a way to implement it. If the best football nations in Europe at the moment are successfully using it, then why aren't we?

Andre Villas Boas has identified the poor reserve system that exists in English football. He, when at Chelsea, believed that a new system should at least be tested throughout the English leagues.

"The youth development system in England in not right, in my belief," Villas-Boas, who's native country Portugal use the same system as Spain and Germany, said to reporters.

"The reserve-team league is not competitive and doesn't serve the progression of talent coming through. The gap between the reserve team and the first team is immense here. What happens in Barcelona B is a good model in terms of competitions. They promote talent. That's the main difference I see."

Former Germany striker and now Brentford manager Uwe Rosler also believes that England should attempt to emulate his native country.

Rosler was quoted in the Daily Mail: "I think, in terms of youth development, the system in Germany is better than here. Here we are having development games; there the second team are playing competitive football in the third highest league. Here the development games mean nothing. What is happening is that at 18, 19, 20 (years old) too many players are getting lost."

One of the first manager's to highlight the difference between Spain's reserve structure and England's was Rafa Benitez. In 2007 as Liverpool manager, he proposed that the country follows the example set by the Spanish. Benitez has plenty of first-hand experience of the youth and reserve systems in Spain having managed Real Madrid B. 

He told BBC Sport: "I would like to see reserve teams of the big clubs like ourselves playing in the football league. Why not if they have enough quality? It is clear that the reserve system doesn't work, the reserve league is nothing. You can see youngsters playing just 18 games a season, that is nothing. Certainly not enough for the development of these players.

"I used to be manager of Castilla, Real Madrid's reserve side, and I had players who were 18, 19 years old playing in the Spanish second division championship. 

“They were playing against men. They were winning and we finished sixth and fourth. The question is, what improves the quality of the players? 

These quotes were made by Benitez in 2007 and he was ridiculed by many. Six years on and his views are being echoed by many in England as they hope to enhance the future of the national side and the Premier League.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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