Ive done the same thing. Here, they expect you to feel comfortable on the ball in any scenario. German may be an option. That is an education in itself.
The facilities on offer twisted his arm. The first team and academy sides work side-by-side and mix together. My family have been moving across seas for generations to better our education. Young English players do have opportunities in the Premier League: look at Wilf and Nathaniel, or Joe Gomez at Liverpool. Yet, a month before he turned 18 and in the same week Englands Under-21s limped away from the Euros in the Czech Republic, Egbo was confirmed as a Borussia Mnchengladbach player. Borussia-Park, which can host 54,014 spectators, is out of town, with the clubs training pitches and reserves based on site. My mother went back to Nigeria for secondary school and university. Every time I walk down that corridor it inspires me, says Mandela Egbo. Lucien Favre, until he resigned as head coach this month after a poor start to the season, had two or three Under-23s train with his squad on a regular basis. Around 20 players have progressed from the academy into the senior side since the North Rhine-Westphalia club moved in 2004 from the Bkelbergstadion to the new 65m Borussia-Park, where Manchester City are the visitors in the Champions League on Wednesday night.. I would have looked to go out on loan this season at Palace but, when youre out on loan, youre away from your club and almost forgotten a bit, says Egbo, reflecting a situation Palace have since addressed with the appointment of Mark Bright as a liaison between loanees and their parent club. The roll call begins with Germanys Marcell Jansen. We get that here every week. Hiram Boateng and Jerome Binnom-Williams are gaining game time at Plymouth and Burton respectively.
Mandela Egbo says of the regime at Borussia Mnchengladbach: We do a lot more double sessions, so theyve installed rooms in the first-team changing rooms where players can sleep between sessions. Borussia is close-knit and homely like Palace, but everything is just bigger and he feels comfortable in new surroundings. That cant help but inspire you to try and be the next shirt up there, but thats only one of the reasons I am here. Ive heard the first-team head coach tell his players they need that because, around the box, were all about short, sharp and fast passes. In an age where young English talent invariably finds itself clogged in the bottleneck just below the first team particularly at Premier League clubs where the risk of blooding potential is balanced with the fear of dropping out of the money-flushed elite Egbos schooling will be rather different.
He was considered the next prospect likely to progress from junior to senior set-up, following Wilfried Zaha into the first team. The coaching at both clubs is a good standard but Ill definitely be a better all-round player in the long run by learning in Germany and adopting Borussias style of play.
Egbos early impressions are positive. There are other young migrs within the England set-up, but not many: Taylor Moore has been developed by the academy at Lens, now of Frances Ligue 2; Danny Collinge departed MK Dons for VfB Stuttgart in 2014. So, at first glance, it seems surprising.
Yet there is still room in that hall of fame for others to be mounted and, if all goes to plan, the next addition could be an Englishman abroad. The drills they put on are perhaps more technical. Were quite an international family. Photograph: Felix Huesmann/Demotix for the Guardian
Egbo would have expected to join their number had he remained at Selhurst Park. The right-back travelled with Palaces senior squad for their draw at Swansea last season and had been a regular in their development squad.
Well be given a ball and certain skills to practise on our own, which was something I did at a younger age group in England but which was steadily phased out for more teamwork exercises. To think that people might see it going well for me and it might motivate others to move out of their comfort zones and take a leap of faith, take a risk well, if that happens, Ill have done a half-decent job.
This month, while in rehabilitation from a thigh injury, he watched Aidy Boothroyds England Under-19s beat Germany in nearby Bergisch Gladbach, visiting the victors dressing room post-match and receiving assurances from the manager that Ive not been forgotten, theyre still watching. That was reassuring. Leaving the Premier League and coming here might look odd from the outside, says Egbo. He had done his research, both in terms of Mnchengladbachs glittering history and their revival over recent seasons, watching weekly Bundesliga highlights on terrestrial television back home in Hackney once he had become aware of the German clubs interest.
Palaces academy has provided a conveyor belt of talent, particularly when they were in the Championship. Now the work starts to get into the first team.
I’m not here to be ‘an English lad in Germany’. Whether it goes perfectly or doesnt go amazingly well, itll still be an experience, and that is something nobody can ever take away from me. It takes in Eugen Polanski of Poland, Chelseas perennial loanee Marko Marin and Marc-Andr ter Stegen, a Champions League winner with Barcelona in May. The idea is to be here for the duration of the four-year contract, and more if theyll have me. The aim of Max Eberl, the sporting director, remains to ensure a third of the clubs players have graduated through the academy.
The framed shirts hang along one side of the tunnel leading out on to the turf at Borussia-Park, a gallery of internationals and seasoned professionals that offers a reminder of what hard work can achieve. I’ve come here to learn, to speak the language, and to fit in.
Id read that the chances of coming through a club into the senior team were higher here than anywhere else in Europes major leagues [almost 15% of Bundesliga players were club raised in 2014], and obviously they are world champions and their entire system is aimed at youth development. Regardless, rivals such as Rot-Weiss Essen and Alemannia Aachen can draw crowds of 15,000 for home games.
He is now installed in his own flat close to the ground, with his parents regular visitors, given London is only a 55-minute flight away. Sullay Kaikai moved to Shrewsbury this month. Yannick [Bolasie] messaged me when I moved, saying: The real work starts now. Ive moved away to learn my craft, just as a student goes away to university. About mastering the ball.
The concept of B teams is resisted by the majority in England but Germany is evidence it provides a tough grounding. Their academy, like counterparts in England, caters from Under-9s with a boarding school for up to 12 young players housed at the stadium and three other colleges in Mnchengladbach having been granted elite football school status by the DFB. Photograph: Julio Munoz/EPA
Egbo has nothing but praise for everyone he worked with over seven years at Palace but moving to Germany, even without a word of the language, represented a clear step up in his education. We do a lot more double sessions, so theyve installed rooms in the first-team changing rooms where players can sleep between sessions. Even from being in the changing rooms after games, you see how much it means to every one of the players here to win a game. The Bundesliga games themselves are probably more technical and tactical than the Premier League, which is so frenetic. Ill take all that.
Egbo needs an introduction. When he is properly settled he intends to undertake an Open University degree, maintaining the studies his father, Freddie, has stressed are so important. I wanted something new.
Thats what everyone goes out on loan for, to gain that experience of needing to win because you have to provide for your family, to earn your lifestyle. Ive moved to a new country, taken a big step, but I havent achieved anything yet. It has implications on their lives. They won the Regionalliga West last season but lost out on elevation to the national third tier in a play-off to Werder Bremens reserves. I dont have any plans to head back to England in a hurry.
The likelihood is his football will also benefit from a spell abroad. Ive come here to learn, to speak the language, and to fit in with it all. The language is coming, slowly and steadily, but the idea of moving to a new country always excited me, Egbo says. That sums it up really. He is an England youth international, a member of John Peacocks Under-17 squad who won the European Championships in Malta in 2014 having claimed the Premier League clubs scholar of the year award the previous year. Here in the Under-23s youre here every day, you train with the first team whenever they need you, youre always under the eye of the head coach and, in the Fourth Division, youre playing against men.
But, whether I was playing football or in full-time education, Im at an age when people go away to uni. Those directly beneath the speakers, through which booms the local anthem Die Elf vom Niederrhein before kick-off, include the current Mnchengladbach midfielders Patrick Hermann and Mahmoud Dahoud.
Everything about this place is sports science put into practice, says Egbo. He is an 18-year-old who grew up in Hackney but was schooled in his football south of the river, the defender nurtured first at Afewee Urban, the club staffed by volunteers in Brixton which counts Nathaniel Clyne as one of its many graduates, then at Crystal Palaces academy in Beckenham. Im not here to be an English lad in Germany, he adds. Izzy Brown and Dom Solanke have made their debuts for Chelsea. Palace were dismayed, the compensation of around 200,000 distinctly inadequate even for a player who had not signed professional terms, but the youngster had spied an opportunity. Ive got cousins from Nigeria who are in England for work at the moment, and cousins, aunties and uncles who have moved to America. Apart from Danny at Stuttgart, there isnt anyone else who has made that move from England recently. Its more than just football. They saw me playing on the international stage and, after meeting the sporting director, the academy manager and the head coach, it was a no-brainer. The tactical coaching I received at Palace has stood me in good stead, but here its more about making yourself a better individual player. Both remain key members of their national age groups. This is normal.
Related: The Brixton volunteers who made Nathaniel Clyne an England player | Dominic Fifield
The Bundesliga, of the five major European leagues, offers the most obvious and well-trodden path for rookies into first teams with Germanys World Cup success of 2014 the result of the emphasis placed on youth development over the last 15 years.
Borussia Mnchengladbach supporters have seen around 20 players progress from the academy into the first team over the last 11 years. However, like many top-flight clubs, they have grown privately disenchanted with the development league and taken to loaning out brighter prospects to speed progress. When you go out on loan, its not a joke. The route for me was coming here. Whether Im playing in the Bundesliga every week in four years time, playing for England or even for Nigeria, Ill have taken in a new culture, lived in a new country, and hopefully learned a new language. Mo Dahoud, that last name, has just made his Champions League debut. But every player is different. Related: How German football rose from the ashes of 1998 to become the best in the world
I have to prove myself here. Instead, once fit, he will compete in the Uefa Youth League group with Manchester City who include his England team-mate Pat Roberts in their number Sevilla and Juventus, games which mirror the first-teams daunting Champions League section. More pertinently, Borussias Under-23s play in Germanys fourth division against senior sides. Everything is figured out and on site, whether that be the cafeteria, the gym, the training pitches. The club traditionally recruited from the local region, though recent years have seen their international scouting network spread. You cant just lose willy-nilly and shrug your shoulders, because it matters
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