One may mistake the title for the start of a poorly crafted joke. But such jokes are all too common and often over-told. This story however, is not.
This week Michael Mancienne was excused from England Under-21 training to sign a four-year deal at Hamburg, for a fee believed to be around £1.75m. Having spent the past two years on loan at Wolves, the versatile 23 year old joins the port-city club on the back of HSV sporting director (formerly of Chelsea), Frank Arnesen’s recommendation. On joining HSV, the London born defender had this to say:
“Hamburg are a big club with a lot of tradition and some fantastic fans. It’s a big challenge for me to be able to play for this club. It would be great if I could play a part in helping Hamburg get back into Europe.”
He’s right. Joining Hamburg will be a huge challenge for Mancienne. After all, the last Englishman to play there happened to be Kevin Keegan, who led the club to their first Bundesliga crown and won two European Player of the Year’s whilst he was at it.
Mancienne will be hoping to make a better start that Keegan – who was sent off for punching a VfL Lübeck player in a pre-season friendly and finished 10th in his first season. Michael Oenning’s side will be seeking a top 6 finish which should get them a Europa League spot at the bare minimum.
So Mancienne’s move makes him only the second English player in HSV’s history. This is a trend recurring across the whole of Germany. With only sporadic appearances of British players – Paul Lambert at Borussia Dortmund for example – at best, the Bundesliga has never really appealed to players of this shore. Having said that, it’s a similar story right across Europe, with no Englishmen in Serie A, Ligue 1 or La Liga. But why?
English players have long been thought overpriced. Why buy Andy Carroll for £35m when you could get Lucas Barrios for €4m? That does provide a sufficient explanation for the high-end players, but why don’t more fringe players like Mancienne make the move? Are they unwilling to leave home and learn a new language? Content to warm the bench? Are they just technically deficient? Are they worried that a move will kill any hope of an international call-up?
One theory is that the ‘success’ of the Premier League has warped players into thinking that they’re in the right place. That if they stay at a club long-enough they’ll eventually get a first-team opportunity. With some Premier League bosses unwilling to loan to other sides in the league, the Bundesliga should provide a good option for young players, but it doesn’t appear to do so.
Mancienne should be admired. He’s taken a bold step into the unknown to broaden his footballing education, and although he may be joined by other Chelsea products in the form of Patrick van Aanholt or Jeffrey Bruma, signing a four-year deal shows a willingness to succeed in his chosen path. Perhaps he’s smart. With Germany’s ever-improving UEFA co-efficient, the Bundesliga will have four Champions League places next term and Hamburg will fancy their chances of nabbing a spot.
With Josh McEachran also rumoured to be mulling over a move to HSV, the tide could well be changing. Or it could just be a case of Arnesen having a Chelsea-limited contact book.