Germany lifted the Fifa World Cup in 2014 but are not content to rest on their laurels. The bulk of that squad, seasoned as it was by such luminaries as Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer, represented the culmination of 14 years’ work by the German Football Association (DFB) and the teams of the German Football League to find and develop the best talent across the nation.
By John Portch
The current team is one of the favourites for the European Championships this summer and results from the extensive work by the DFB and the teams of the German Football League to ensure that young talent is found, developed and given an opportunity at grassroots level. The success of this initiative has become the envy of the soccer world, with several nations now looking to emulate the German model.
As Sporting Director of the DFB, Hansi Flick oversees talent identification. He says: “Talent promotion is an ongoing task that the entire German football community is involved in, beginning with all those thousands of small clubs across the country giving the youngest players a place where they can discover and further develop their enthusiasm for the game.”
Recognising the problem
By 2000 the national team was a shadow of the Germany teams that won three World Cups and three European Championships between 1954 and 1996. The nation’s best players were ageing and were difficult to replace. The team had underperformed at the 1998 World Cup and after another poor display at the 2000 European Championships, the DFB embarked upon a project to develop the type of talent that could deliver international titles once again.
If the talent of the century happens to be born in a tiny village behind the mountains, from now on we will find him.
The DFB searched for best practice and in 2002 established its Extended Talent Development Programme, which is made up of 52 centres of excellence across Germany for children aged eight to 14. The programme’s director, Jörg Daniel, said at its inauguration: “If the talent of the century happens to be born in a tiny village behind the mountains, from now on we will find him.”
The programme is served by more than 1,000 coaches with Uefa B Licences and was funded in its first years to the tune of €48 million annually, courtesy of the DFB and Germany’s professional clubs. That figure has now more than doubled.
Flick says: “Our focus is on training and educating these children’s coaches and we’re currently working on making coaching education more accessible and less time-consuming for them. Promising, talented youngsters receive more intensive training and promotion at the DFB training centres.
“Not all of the centre directors and their respective coaching staff have the Uefa Pro Licence, so that is our goal for the medium term.
“The best young talents get picked for one of the German youth national teams where they benefit from the expertise of the DFB’s youth coaches. This is another area where we’ve invested a lot of time and effort and, taking stock of the work done so far, I’m proud to say that we’re very well positioned, from Michael Feichtenbeiner (Under-15s) to Horst Hrubesch (under-21s).”
Learning from mistakes
When the senior team lifted the World Cup at the Maracanã Stadium, Germany could call upon such talent as Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller. It was a generation comparable with the West German team that lifted the World Cup in 1990. It took 24 years for Germany to reclaim the title and Flick and the DFB are adamant that the nation will not have to wait so long again.
We’ve already begun to build the future by paving the way for a new academy, scheduled to be operational in two years’ time. The academy will open up a whole new set of opportunities that we’re not even aware of today. I am quite confident that we’ll manage to be competitive – maybe even win titles – in the future.
“We are fully aware of the phrase ‘if you don’t go forwards, you go backwards’. After winning the 1990 World Cup, German football made the lazy mistake of just resting on its laurels without thinking ahead. That’s not going to happen ever again. Also, since then we have put a very efficient talent scouting and promotion system in place.
“We’ve already begun to build the future by paving the way for a new academy, scheduled to be operational in two years’ time. The academy will open up a whole new set of opportunities that we’re not even aware of today. I am quite confident that we’ll manage to be competitive – maybe even win titles – in the future.
“In addition, we have developed a game philosophy that’ll be adhered to across all our national teams, featuring some 17 guidelines for orientation. Even now you can see it’s beginning to take root, and the positive effects will become ever more evident.”