Few teams trigger as much debate as England do. Even more importantly, few games generate the same amount of expectations on these shores as England vs Germany, one of those matches which, to use a terrible cliche, is slightly more than a game.
With most of the headlines focusing on how much better England are compared to the 4-1 shellacking they suffered in South Africa three years ago – hardly an achievement, considering the sheer ineptitude the Three Lions displayed in Bloemfoentein – it’s easy to get carried away with excitement and lose touch with reality.
Tonight’s game at Wembley is, after all, just a friendly. Played between two arch-rivals, yes, but a friendly nevertheless, nothing but another step towards next summer’s football carnival in Brazil.
The event might be low-key, but the build-up has so far been anything but, with some comments likely to ruffle a few feather ahead of tonight.
Dietmar Hamann, in particular, had rather damning words for England and English football as a whole.
“You don’t seem to need to have had many good games for your club to get a go,” the former Liverpool and Newcastle midfielder told a newspaper.
“We’ve seen that with Townsend, who only made his international debut a month or so ago. He has been on loan at nine different clubs – and yet he is being hailed as England’s new saviour.”
Hamann, a 2005 Champions League winner with Liverpool, has never been reluctant to speak his mind in public and he’s shown no sign of mellowing down after hanging up his boots.
However, his comments shouldn’t be dismissed a the bitter opinion of a man still smarting from the 5-1 humbling he suffered at the hands of the Old Enemy in Munich in 2001.
The two nations are, quite plainly, at different stages. While England rested the some of their stars on Friday ahead of tonight, Germany’s coach Joachim Low will field an almost second-strength team at Wembley.
While considering the likes of Marco Reus and Sven Bender as fringe players might be a tad disrespectful, the difference in mindset is evident.
While Low goes into tonight’s game looking to experiment some of the options at his disposal, Roy Hodgson’s men will be looking for a confidence boost, knowing full well that a defeat would see the feel good factor that emanated from reaching the World Cup evaporate within seconds.
Hamann’s comments merely highlight the gulf in quality separating the two teams.
One could argue that singling out Townsend might be unfair, but the Spurs man is a pertinent case study.
Despite being some way short of fully establishing himself at Premier League level – his performances with Spurs have been solid, but hardly spectacular – Townsend has widely been hailed, as Hamann correctly points out, as a “saviour”.
Granted, against Poland and Montenegro the England winger was superb but does he really have what it takes to perform against the heavyweights of international football?
Furthermore, the typical English obsession with “the next big thing” has backfired spectacularly in the past, when the “Golden Generation” abundantly talked the talk, but never quite walked the walk.
The same misplaced hype threatens to hamper the development of Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Jack Wilshere, England’s promises always a misplaced place away from becoming crushed by the weight of the expectations the media have placed on their shoulders.
The scarcity of English talent means that those homegrown good enough to secure a starting place in their clubs are automatically thought of as future England greats which, as Hamann correctly highlighted, is a very dangerous attitude.
“You can get someone who does really well in the Premier League, but may not make it at international level, while if someone performs in the Bundesliga, you know they will do the business,” said the German.
Spain, Germany and Argentina aren’t desperate for saviours, as they’ve developed teams more than capable to look after themselves, while England have not, blinded by their obsession to develop players as good as their European counterparts.
Talented players don’t develop a successful system, but a successful system can develop talented and successful players.