England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce tells UEFA.com why his players should take inspiration from Germany and use next summer's finals as a springboard to senior success.
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It is fitting that Stuart Pearce's England side should be meeting Germany in their first warm-up match before next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals in Denmark.
After all, in Pearce's mind, Germany provide a perfect recent example of how success at the increasingly high-profile U21 event can provide a springboard to both individual and collective achievement on the senior international stage. "The exposure is becoming greater and you just have to look at the World Cup this year and look at the Khediras, the Özils of this world – players that have gone to a World Cup on the back of an U21 tournament, and that experience that they have taken from the U21s has helped them when they got to South Africa."
It is little surprise Pearce cites Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil – he is speaking from personal experience as coach of the England side beaten 4-0 by a Germany team including that pair, Jerome Boateng and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the 2009 U21 final. Twelve months later, the same players helped the German seniors defeat England 4-1 at the FIFA World Cup, with Pearce a spectator on the bench alongside Fabio Capello. "All of those players maybe gifted the German national side a youthful energy," he reflected.
Pearce believes a successful U21 side should provide "at least maybe five players" for the senior squad and can provide examples from his own team from the 2009 finals in Sweden. "I'll be saying to my players that there is great experience to be had here," said Pearce, speaking to UEFA.com after last week's draw in Aalborg.
"We've been fortunate in the last two tournaments – we've got to a semi and a final – and I think the likes of Joe Hart, [Theo] Walcott, [Adam] Johnson and [James] Milner, that all played in the tournament [in Sweden], have all gone on and stepped on the senior stage now. So there is great experience to be had." Even for those players like Walcott who had already played senior international football, the U21 event offers a valuable experience. "It is not coming down, for me it's about gaining experience to be a better player," he added.
England's first opponents in Denmark, Spain, could well offer two examples of this in World Cup winners Juan Mata and Javi Martínez. Spain, like Germany, are another country Pearce believes England should aspire to match. "I think the Spanish model is what a lot of eyes around Europe are looking at, if I'm being honest. I went to the German federation [recently], and Matthias Sammer mentioned the Spanish model – building from the bottom, being successful at these younger age groups – the U21s, the U19s – and pushing those players onto the major stage of a senior World Cup."
As for England's prospects in Denmark, Pearce, 48, hopes the experience of his two previous campaigns – a semi-final appearance in 2007 and a runners-up spot last time out – will serve him well as he pits his wits against Spain, Ukraine and the Czech Republic in Group B. "Now we've had a couple of hits at it, we think we're going to go there, as a staff and as a manager, with more experience now than we did for the last two campaigns.
"Some of the decisions we will make this time around will be based on what worked and what didn't work for the last two tournaments. And we feel as though we have that little bit of tournament experience going for us now. But I'll only be as good as the players that are in the squad, and how they perform, and that's the same for all the nations."