Remember the summer of 2009? It was brilliant. The sun was in the sky and La Roux’s ‘Bulletproof’ had just dislodged Take That’s ‘Said It All’ off the top of the UK singles charts. Ok, maybe it wasn’t exactly a memorable time for music.
The same could be said for football as Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 side served us up another international tournament that we’d all rather forget after they were torn apart by a dominant Germany side in the European Championship final courtesy of a 4-0 scoreline. Ouch.
Not much else can burst your bubble like a beating at the hands of the old enemy. Yet, despite the defeat, we took plenty of hope from the performance of the Young Lions that had fought so bravely but failed spectacularly.
The state of the national game back then could not be described as stellar, but the majority of Pearce’s team were tipped for big things. However, what happened to the players that took to the pitch on that day?
Have they gone on to fulfil their potential and become world beaters, or have they drifted into obscurity, destined to become little more than also-rans?
Just to make us all feel a bit worse, we’ve also cast our eye over Die Mannschaft’s youngsters that absolutely mauled England in Malmö.
Goalkeeper: Scott Loach (0 senior caps)
The then Watford shot-stopper only featured because Joe Hart managed to get himself suspended in the semi final shoot-out and didn’t enjoy the best of evenings after letting a Mesut Özil free kick squeeze past him just after half time.
Playing at Hartlepool United after moving from Notts County on a free transfer in 2017, Loach left the north-east club at the end of the 18/19 campaign as his contract expired.
Right-back: Martin Cranie (0 caps)
The Somerset born defender has failed to kick on in recent years. He left Portsmouth for Coventry City a couple of months after the final and made over 100 appearances for the Sky Blues before signing for Barnsley in 2012.
He joined Huddersfield on a free transfer in the summer of 2015, having made 122 appearances for Barnsley. He has since moved to recently promoted Sheffield United after a short spell with Middlesbrough.
Centre-back: Micah Richards (13 caps)
The powerful and athletic defender was once tipped to become a future England captain. He had already forced his way into the senior setup before the Under-21 tournament in Sweden but dropped down to further his development.
Yet, after being completely frozen out by former England boss Fabio Capello, he struggled to re-establish himself in Manchester City’s side and spent several seasons stagnating on the Etihad bench.
He then moved on loan to Serie A side Fiorentina during the 2014/15 campaign before joining Aston Villa where he remained following their relegation to the Championship in 2016. Richards hasn’t made a single first team appearance in almost two seasons. As such, it has been confirmed that he will be released from the club this summer.
Centre-back: Nedum Onuoha (0 caps)
Solid but unspectacular. The centre-back started against Austria U21 in 2005 for England and was still playing for the youth side in 2009, but never managed to bridge the gap to the senior side.
He was pushed down the pecking order at Manchester City before he signed for QPR permanently in 2012. Onuoha is now part of one of the leakiest defences in MLS with Real Salt Lake.
Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs (10 caps)
Gibbs had at one point established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice left back. But injuries and most importantly Nacho Monreal’s form hindered his development, thereby limiting his England caps and now he’s at Championship side West Brom.
Touted to be Ashley Cole’s long-term replacement in the past, he is now nowhere near challenging the likes of Ben Chilwell, Luke Shaw and Danny Rose in the England set up. How times change.
Centre-Midfield: Lee Cattermole (0 caps)
If you’ve been in a midfield battle with Lee Cattermole then you will certainly know about it.
The midfielder left Wigan Athletic for Sunderland in the summer of 2009 as a reward for his impressive displays in the Premier League. He was part of the Sunderland side who suffered successive relegations down to League One.
He has not been handed an opportunity at senior level for England despite making 16 U21 appearances.
Centre-Midfield: Fabrice Muamba (0 caps)
The former Arsenal midfielder’s career is a tale of what might have been. Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest while playing for Bolton Wanderers at White Hart Lane and was forced into early retirement.
He is now a pundit and is also pursuing a career in journalism.
Centre-midfield and captain: Mark Noble (0 caps)
West Ham United’s local boy come good is one of several players that have failed to be recognised at senior level, despite playing regularly in the Premier League.
Hammers fans will tell you that the midfielder should have been an England regular for years. Opinion is divided elsewhere. However, Noble can count himself unfortunate to have never been given the call.
Right-midfield: James Milner (61 caps)
Formerly of Aston Villa, he signed for Manchester City in 2010 then Liverpool in 2015 and is the most successful player from this 2009 side in terms of winning caps.
Milner’s relentless energy not only made him the Under-21 team’s all-time capped player with 46 but has also seen him surpass the half-century mark with the senior side.
Left-Midfield: Adam Johnson (12 caps)
Recently released from prison after serving half of a six-year sentence for grooming and sexual activity with a girl aged 15.
Centre-Forward: Theo Walcott (47 caps)
Although Arsène Wenger was (predictably) reluctant to let the forward join up with the Under-21 side, the winger was a key member of the squad.
The suspended Frazier Campbell and Gabriel Agbonlahor were sorely missed in the final and Walcott was ushered into a centre forward role, but didn’t really get a sniff.
Walcott has since moved to play at Premier League rivals Everton, where he still continues to struggle for a starting spot.
Manuel Neuer – (87 senior caps)
The former Schalke man has gone on to become one of the most consistent goalkeepers of the modern era.
Neuer, who moved to the Allianz Arena in 2011, has won 18 trophies at club level and the World Cup with Germany in 2014 – a stark contrast to England’s Loach.
Andreas Beck – (9 caps)
The most experienced player at U21 level before the tournament started with 22 caps to his name, Beck went on to have a solid career with Hoffenheim before moving to Besiktas for £1.3 million in the summer of 2015. The defender then returned to Germany in 2017 with VfB Stuttgart.
His ambition of becoming a regular for Germany’s senior side have never really materialised, however, making just nine appearances since his debut vs. Norway in 2009.
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Benedikt Höwedes – (44 caps)
Handed the Schalke captaincy at the relatively young age of 23, Howedes has gone from strength to strength since the European Championships in Sweden.
The versatile defender made over 300 first-team appearances for his boyhood club before moving to Lokomotiv Moscow in 2018, as well as earning 44 senior caps for Germany. His career highlight will no doubt be winning the World Cup in Brazil, a tournament in which he played every single game for Die Mannschaft.
Jérôme Boateng – (76 caps)
One of the six members of the starting XI from the final versus England that have since gone on to win a World Cup winners’ medal, Boateng has developed into one of the calmest defenders around.
The defender backed up an impressive display for Germany at the U21 European Championships with a solid season for Hamburg, who just missed out on Europe. This triggered a move to mega-rich Manchester City where he failed to live up to make an impression on the first team.
After one shaky performance too many, Boateng soon found himself back in the Bundesliga and making a name for himself at a rejuvenated Bayern Munich side. The defender won a historic treble (Champions League, Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal) in 2012/13.
He is, however, among a clutch of players omitted by national team manager Joachim Low, who is trying to overhaul an ageing Germany squad.
Sebastian Boenisch – (14 caps for Poland)
A career crippled by niggling injuries, Boenisch was a dependable full back on his day, although he now finds himself without a club.
It’s not just clubs he’s swapped, though. The former Germany U21 man switched allegiances to his country of birth Poland in 2010 and has earned 14 senior caps to date – his last coming in 2013.
Fabian Johnson – (57 caps for USA)
Having already played for 1860 Munich, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, Johnson made a permanent switch to Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2014 after an impressive display during the World Cup that summer.
However, it wasn’t Germany that he represented on the biggest stage of all – rather the USA. The versatile defender/midfielder pledged his allegiance to his father’s homeland in 2011 and has gone on to earn 57 senior caps.
Given the competition for places in the current Germany setup, it looks like it was a wise choice for the sake of his international career.
Mats Hummels – (70 caps)
Another member of this talented squad to become a World Cup winner just five years later.
Starting the final versus England in defensive midfield, he looked so comfortable on the ball but has moved back to the heart of Germany’s defence.
Hummels became one of the best defenders in the business during his time with Borussia Dortmund, but won the third and fourth Bundesliga titles of his career with Bayern Munich having moved to the Allianz Arena in 2016.
Alongside Boateng, he too has now been omitted from the Germany set up.
Sami Khedira – (77 caps)
One of the few players from this squad to represent Germany at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, Khedira was arguably the biggest name in the U21 squad at the time of the final alongside Mesut Özil.
He stuck around at Stuttgart for one more season following the 2009 success, using the World Cup in South Africa as a springboard for his move to Real Madrid.
Despite having a jam-packed trophy room including La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Champions League winners’ medals, Khedira has always been injury prone and that trait has hampered the now Juventus midfielder’s chances of being regarded as one of the best in the world.
Gonzalo Castro – (5 caps)
Having already won five senior caps for Germany at the time of the tournament held in Sweden, you would have thought Castro was destined for the top of the game.
He finished the competition with two goals after scoring the opener in the final against England in the 23rd minute. However, despite having been an integral member of the Bayer Leverkusen squad for some 11 seasons, the now Stuttgart midfielder hasn’t made a single appearance for Germany’s senior side since 2007.
Mesut Özil – (92 caps)
Then with Werder Bremen, Özil was the star of the show in the final. His man of the match display spurred him on to have the best season of his career for the Bundesliga side – a campaign that earned him an illustrious move to Real Madrid.
After three impressive seasons at Real, the playmaker signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2013 for a club-record fee of £42.4m.
Although his performances have come under scrutiny during his time at the Emirates, Özil is undoubtedly a world-class talent with the ability to unlock any defence.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget the little old thing of winning the 2014 World Cup.
Ozil retired from international duty after the 2018 World Cup after being scapegoated for Germany’s group stage exit and coming under fire following posing for a picture with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Sandro Wagner – (8 caps)
The striker scored two goals in the final versus England and impressed so much so that Werder Bremen snapped him just six months later.
It was a move that turned sour, though, as the former Bayern Munich man found himself constantly switching between the senior and reserve sides, leaving the club having scored just five goals for the first team.
The 6ft 4in striker looked to be heading for the fringes of the German game a few years back, however, he enjoyed arguably the most successful spell of his career with Hoffenheim. That earned him another move back to Bayern Munich, scoring 10 goals in 30 games before heading to China with Tianjin Teda.