Talent Promotion in Germany
It's the summer of 2014, the German men's senior national team are world champions, the same is true for the U20 women, while the men's U19s are European champions. Three titles, won by outstanding teams. And while the players (not to forget their respective coaches as the buck stops with them) deserve a great deal of the credit, it would be wrong to single out any individuals as the flag-bearers of success. Praise is also – in fact, mainly – due to more than 26,000 clubs across the country, as well as to the DFB's systematic and much-acclaimed approach to talent promotion.
It all started with the German national team in tatters. Having exited EURO 2000 in Belgium and The Netherlands after the group stage with a single point from three games, prospects for the future looked dim. Coaching legend Dietrich Weise and then DFB President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder decided that the very idea of youth football in Germany needed a thorough overhaul. They agreed on the importance of introducing two key components: a tightly-knit talent scouting and promotion scheme, and an integral training and education system for elite youth players. A mammoth project that now rests on the sound foundation of some 26,000 clubs and the nation's schools. Because it's there – on the training ground and in kick-abouts during breaks between lessons – that children have their first contact with the game. At the same time, the DFB and its sub-regional associations lay the greatest store by producing as many qualified licensed coaches as possible to work with youngsters. In terms of setting up the right structures, the DFB has created a unique network of not fewer than 366 training centres nationwide where roughly 1,300 coaches provide once-weekly training sessions for the most promising 10 to 14-year-olds. This way, no talented youngster is left undiscovered, irrespective of where he or she lives.
Players standing out for their consistently good performances at the training centres stand a good chance of being invited to move up a step and join a club academy. Benefiting from first-rate sporting tuition and professional conditions, players can work on their strengths and weaknesses while competing against the best of their peers in the U19 and U17 Bundesliga, respectively. Emre Can, for example, joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 2006 and was later admitted to the FC Bayern Munich academy; Marc-André ter Stegen remained true to the club of his boyhood dreams, Borussia Mönchengladbach. Both of them soon received call-ups to the German junior national squads, with the U15s being the youngest team for talented teens to wear the Germany shirt and cut their teeth against international opposition. All this requires a considerable investment in time and effort. The number of training sessions often rises to six or eight per week, especially for those in the older age brackets. However, the DFB, its sub-regional FAs, and the clubs concerned all agree on the importance of an integral education where no-one neglects their school work. As a result, 68 secondary schools across Germany have now earned the distinction of being awarded the title of an "Elite School of Football", giving students the opportunity to pursue their footballing education and obtain a school-leaving certificate. It is no coincidence that many of the junior national team players who break through to their clubs' first-team squads take their Abitur, the German qualification for university entrance. Because everyone needs a second leg to stand on, not just on a football pitch.