After their dominant performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, including the 7-1 demolition of the host nation, the football world is wanted to understand how Germany transformed their broken team of Euro 2000 into a world-beating machine. PDP Editor, Dave Wright examines the resurrection of German Football.


Time for Change

It is well documented that after the team crashed out in the first round of Euro 2000, Germany took drastic action. Working from the bottom up, they underwent a total restructure of how they went about developing players. The DFB (Deutscher Fußball- Bund) implemented a nationwide academy system, the DFB Talent Development Programme, which emphasised homegrown talent, with clubs working in harmony with national team ambitions and placing a huge amount of importance on educating players outside of their football training.

By analysing the 10-year review of the new German system we can now see just how dramatic the changes were, and of course we now know just what the results were: a World Cup win in 2014 following an excellent performance in South Africa in 2010.

The process began with a decision by the DFB to implement 36 academies across all clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. The DFB realised in 2001 that the Bosman rule was stifling young German talent; they simply weren’t getting a chance.

Philipp Lahm lifts the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro Photo: Agência Brasil

Many people involved in the game in England would look at the nature of the English Premier League and relate to this plight, pointing at the talented English youngsters who are arguably not getting a chance due to overseas players saturating the league.

Following the DFB’s decision the German football landscape changed, and changed quickly, becoming a self- professed ‘youth football paradise’ according to DFB coach and Director of the Talent Promotion Programme, Jörg Daniel. Daniel claims that there are now over 27,000 clubs, comprising 1.8 million junior players across Germany, meaning the depth of players that the Germans have at the disposal is enormous.

It is the identity of the youth system that should define the identity of the first team, not the other way round. – Pep Segura, La Masia

The DFB maximised buy-in by engaging the football community in the design, development and implementation of this new plan. Traveling the country to visit clubs, schools and other key groups within the game, DFB representatives aimed to create a collective vision for player development in Germany. They created the blueprint for the national team’s style of play and the nation’s footballing identity. The bottom-up alignment between the grassroots and the national team is explained by Pep Segura, former technical director of La Masia, Barcelona’s fabled academy.

“It is the identity of the youth system that should define the identity of the first team, not the other way round. First-team managers should be chosen because they fit the identity of the club.”

The Patience Game

Many of us in the world of football are familiar with the term Long- Term Player Development, or LTPD. The German model is almost the textbook example of how LTPD can be implemented and provides success due to a truly player-centred, patient approach. In modern culture, we live in a quick fix society, always wanting to see results immediately. The same can be said for football. Academies are looking for technically gifted youth players, clubs want the best athletes and schools reward results, when in fact we need to be looking at developing the individual, over time, on a journey, and accept the ups and downs, the success and the failure.

Joachim Lo?w, German National Team Manager (right). Photo: viraj902101

Joachim Loew, German National Team Manager (right). Photo: viraj902101

Enter Joachim Löw (Jürgen Klinsmann’s understudy in 2000). Löw has played a major role in the revolution of Germany’s player development. He is currently one of the longest serving international football managers in the world, which demonstrates their commitment to patience and the trust they place in their people and their plan. The resulting success of the German National side should paint a picture for every football organisation around the world, that there is no quick fix.

If we examine the names of some of the best players to come through the DFB system since the inception of the DFB talent development programme, the list is long. Among some of the highest profile are the likes of André Schürrle, Thomas Müller, Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Mesut Özil, and Mats Hummels. These players are all now household global football names because of the system in place. Educated, coached, trained and conditioned for peak performance in Germany, they all made their way through the system to excel in their own league and abroad.


One of the key focuses of the German Academy system is the emphasis on education. Andreas Rettig, Chairman of the Academies Committee, says, ‘It must be possible to build a Bundesliga career with A Levels’, reiterating that the link between education and football is more important than ever.

Individualisation is the concept of learning specifically for the individual. It is a crucial aspect of any good football academy. Rettig elaborates, “Much is quite rightly said about the individualisation in training, therefore it is also logical to transfer this individualisation to education and professional training.”

In a recent article in The Guardian by Stuart James, he spoke to Freiburg FC’s coach Christian Streich about his visit to Aston Villa and the surprise they expressed at the amount of time players get to spend on education and schooling. James writes, ‘Freiburg place great emphasis on academic work, so much so that they like a selection of their staff to come from a teaching background, so that they can provide educational help whenever it is needed, including on the way to matches. It is not uncommon for players to do homework on the coach. Streich says that clubs have a moral obligation to think about what happens to those who fail to make the grade:

“When I went to Aston Villa eight years ago I told them our players, under-17, 18 and 19, go to school for 34 hours a week,” he says. “They said: ‘No, you’re a liar, it’s not possible, our players go for nine hours.’ I said: ‘No, I’m not lying.’ They said: ‘It’s not possible, you can’t train and do 34 hours of education.’ I said: ‘Sure. And what do you do with the players who have for three years, from the age of 16 to 19, only had nine hours a week of school? “They said: ‘They have to try to be a professional or not. They have to decide.’ I said: ‘No, we can’t do that in Freiburg. It’s wrong. Most players in our academy can’t be professionals, they will have to look for a job. The school is the most important thing, then comes football.’ We give players the best chance to be a footballer but we give them two educations here. If 80% can’t go on to play in the professional team, we have to look out for them. The players that play here, the majority of them go on to higher education. And we need intelligent players on the pitch anyway.”’

Most players in our academy can’t be professionals, they will have to look for a job. The school is the most important thing, then comes football. – Christian Streich, Freiburg FC

The ‘moral obligation’ at Freiburg involves putting the needs of the person before the needs of the player. The goal is to create an environment where the players truly believe that their best interests are at the heart of the club and it’s coaches. If players believe this they will naturally buy-in to all aspects of the academy. They will personally adopt the clubs values and are able to play with freedom when playing for their club and their coaches.

Freiburg’s dedication to education simply shows their commitment to putting the person before the player. However, this simple concept creates a solid motivational and psychological foundation on which all other relationships are built. It creates a belonging, a connection that facilitates trust while allowing freedom of expression.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the same value in education is at the heart of La Masia’s philosophy, FC Barcelona’s famed academy. In the European Club Association report on academies, FC Barcelona describes the overarching goal of their player development program.

…the most important thing is a willingness to learn. It’s the philosophy that ‘the result is not important’ – Xavi Hernández on Barcelona’s Academy

‘The ultimate aim of the club’s development system, alongside developing a technically skillful player, is to combine sport, personal development and academic education, and to instill in players the firm knowledge that to become an elite sportsman is extremely challenging, and to help children fulfil their true potential.’

Arriving at La Masia in 1997, this is Xavi Hernández’s insight into the environment created, and values promoted, at FC Barcelona’s Academy. “I was 11 when I arrived, and the football philosophy of this club was drilled into me, the most important thing is a willingness to learn. It’s the philosophy that ‘the result is not important’”

The other huge emphasis on education that the DFB share with the Spanish is around the quality of their coaches. Coach education is constantly evolving in countries all around the world.

At the time of the 10 year review’s publication, Germany had 1200 coaches with a UEFA Pro License, 5000 UEFA A Licensed coaches and a further 2500 coaches with a UEFA B. These statistics are significant.

As a comparison, in late 2013 Sky Sports reported some staggering statistics around UEFA Pro license holders. Spain has 2140 holding the world’s top qualification, Germany has over 1000, while England has just 203. With regard to the UEFA A license (the second-highest qualification), Spain is again top with 12,720 coaches, Germany has 5500 while England has just 1161.

The German emphasis on player and coach education is clearly paying off both in terms of the quality of education players get, and also the exceptionally high standards coaches must meet to be working with elite players.

Andre? Schu?rrle and Pablo Zabaleta, World Cup Final 2014. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Andre Schurrle and Pablo Zabaleta, World Cup Final 2014. Photo: Agencia Brasil

What have we learned?

The DFB took action when it was required. They not only consulted, worked in an open manner and engaged the football community on a national scale, but they also invested heavily in youth and domestic talent. They were brave enough to accept their model was broken and that without change, results would be the same. However, the education-based approach with which the DFB tackled the task, is to be applauded. They focused on more than just developing footballers, they recognised their moral obligation to develop good people and ensured that they had the best possible environment in which to excel. Not every DFB National Talent Programme player will become a star, or even a professional. But evidence suggests that they’re being given every possible chance.

Who could be next?

England: With the implementation of England’s Elite Player Performance Plan there is great optimism that the home of football is doing all it can to right the wrongs of previous failed player development initiatives and cultural issues. There is no doubt change is happening, but whether the EPPP is the answer is yet to be determined. Change must happen to ensure The FA and the EPL are working in harmony. With a youthful, positive and talented group of young players, there is no reason why they couldn’t be the pioneers of change in English football.

USA: Under the guidance of legendary German striker Jürgen Klinsmann, the USA continues to make huge strides forward. The MLS is growing year on year and football in the USA is on the up. Klinsmann was part of the initial German rethink whilst he was the manager of the German side, and the Americans no doubt have the funding to invest in the game. Their recent performances in South Africa and Brazil suggest they have the potential to evolve into a football juggernaut.

Colombia: Every World Cup has a fairytale team, and in 2014 it was Colombia, led by their exceptional striker James Rodriguez, a man due to commence his first season in the legendary white shirt of Real Madrid after his transfer from AS Monaco. Their performance in Brazil was nothing short of brave and outstanding. Could Colombia be the dark horse in 2018 and the team we will be writing about in four years time as a model for player development?

Belgium: Starting to earn a reputation as the new Netherlands, the talent pouring out of Belgium in recent years means that something is going right within their system. Players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and others are taking the EPL and international football by storm.

References dfl_leistungszentren2011_gb.pdf economics/are-uefa-coaching-licences-too- expensive may/23/germany-bust-boom-talentjun/01/football-coach-shortage-england Spain’s battle won”, 2010, para. 21

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