Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich; England vs. Germany?

This piece has previously appeared on SB Nation as a UEFA Champions League final preview.

Image courtesy of Markus Unger; attribution below*

It is seldom A Good Idea to reduce any narrative of contest to one of England vs. Germany; like ‘economising’ a la bin-bag sans bin, doing so tends to attract rats. And in any case Saturday’s Champions League final, between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, is much more interesting than such jingoistic reduction allows.

You can see that for yourself elsewhere though (this is a good place to start) because this little corner of the Internet is all verminous jingoism.

Here’s the situation. Last week, Joachim Lowe, that svelte rhinotillexomaniac, named Germany’s 27-man, provisional squad to little fanfare: ‘Ooh, will Per Mertersacker be fit in time?’ This week,Roy Hodgson, already subjected to more tabloid abuse than his German counterpart despite an unimpeachable record of keeping the massed corpses of germs which wash up in his nose out of his mouth, named his 23-man England squad (along with a list of 5 standbys) to some apathy and a surprising amount of outrage: ‘meh’ / ‘#HodgsonOut’.

The mixed reaction to the England squad exposes two related and already well-evident truths: first that England don’t have that many very good players (‘meh’) and second that a lot of their fans are deluded (‘#HodgsonOut’). (There is a third truth, that people think its funny to tweet mock outrage at Gareth Bale’s omission, but it isn’t so we’ll move on).

This apparently trivial dialectic exposes, though, a more pertinent truth about England’s current problems; a pertinent truth, moreover, which is well illustrated by the promised reduction of Chelsea-Bayern to England-Germany.

Note: for the purposes of this comparison, phrases like ‘the England squad’ or ‘Hodgson’s resignation collection’ will refer to the official 23-man squad (incidentally, why was this named a full 13 days early? Was Roy Hashtag that concerned that Stuart Pearce would jump the gun?) plus the 5 reserves as this provides closer numerical equivalency with Germany’s 27-man provisional squad.

England’s squad contains 5 Chelsea players: Ashley Cole, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge. Germany’s has eight Bayern players: Manuel Neuer, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez.

So Germany have the best of it; 8 representatives to England’s 5 (or 7-4, taking into account Terry and Badstuber’s suspensions). On a purely numerical level, then, and assuming that having players involved in club football’s biggest game is meaningfully indicative of a national side’s strength (an admittedly vexed notion – but there’s loads of way stupider stuff all over the internet, see), Germany’s squad is superior.

But we, probably, already suspected that. What brings it home, and also provides something by why of answering why this should be so, is a closer look at the players.

Bayern’s German contingent has an age range of 22 to 28 with a mean average of 24. Chelsea’s Englishmen range from 22 to 33 and have an average age of 28 (if we discount Sturridge – the standby – Chelsea’s vitals rise to 26-33 and 30). Or, we could do it modally; by which method Bayern’s Germans are 23 and their opponents are 33.

This, clearly, is not the most scientific of models (and even if it were, my laboratory would have been exposed as woefully out of touch by England’s victory over Spain and Chelsea’s over Barcelona) but it does indicate a paucity within the England squad of players who are both – like Muller, for example – experienced and youthful, wily and spry. One suspects that, given the popularity of the ‘peak years’ paradigm, a squad which achieves this blend will win more than it will lose against one which doesn’t.

As the inclusion of Sturridge, as well as those of Joe Hart, Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, indicates, England do have good young players. But they are also green and, as is the case with Chelsea on Saturday, they will have to rely on more experienced heads (and, unfortunately, more ‘experienced’ bodies) in order to have any chance against real contenders, like Germany, whose squads are concerts of know-how and, just as importantly, can-do.

* Image courtesy of Markus Unger; some rights reserved.

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