Salzburg - He may not have been involved directly in German football since stepping down as coach of FC Schalke 04 in June 2011, but Ralf Rangnick is still very excited about the development he's witnessed from the outskirts.
Working as the sporting director of seven-time Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg and German fourth-tier side RB Leipzig, the 54-year-old, who previously functioned as the head coach at VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96 and FC Schalke 04 either side of his stint at 1899 Hoffenheim, is intent on following the example set by the Bundesliga's structure at youth level.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com Rangnick discusses training techniques, up-and-coming talents, advantages for young players and the Bundesliga's role model status.
bundesliga.com: Herr Rangnick, youth development academies have been an integral part of the DFL Deustche Fußball Liga's philosophy for the last ten years and the work conducted by German clubs has been incredibly successful. In terms of talent development several current Bundesliga stars have emerged as a result of these academies. Do you see this organisation as a model for other leagues to follow?
Rangnick: Our [Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig's] aspiration is to deliver our best work at every level. With Leipzig we want to become one of the leading academies in Germany. In order to do this we require the necessary infrastructure, the right choice of talent as well as on-site support from qualified individuals. Football has undergone incredible changes over the last five years. Just taking a comparison of the distance covered by players during a single match, twelve kilometres is no longer the exception. In terms of the athleticism, this has almost become a completely different sport, which has naturally had an effect of the training exercises and workload.
bundesliga.com: German talents are already emerging as international stars in their early 20s, which of course attracts interest from big clubs in foreign countries. Is it fair to say that careers in the current environment move a lot faster?
Rangnick: That is the case, yes. The implementation of academies, as well as national leagues at youth level, have led to an acceleration in development. As a result the top talents are pushed to the extreme throughout the year. Even the incredibly gifted footballers are able to further improve their performances by continually competing with the best. Furthermore, a higher number of jobs have opened up for highly-qualified youth coaches in recent years. Thomas Tuchel, Christian Streich or Sascha Lewandowski were all Under-18 coaches until just recently and they have the courage to believe in younger players. In my opinion this is a logical step providing one is aware of the benefits to be had. For these reasons Germany currently boasts a wealth of top talent. Among the top leagues in the world there is nowhere else that has such a high proportion of young talents who operate as first-team regulars. The Bundesliga are leaders in this respect. Take Borussia Dortmund as an example. With a few exceptions, such as Sebastian Kehl and Roman Weidenfeller, the starting line-up could compete at Under-23 level. It's a similar story at Schalke when you take older players like Jefferson Farfan, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jermaine Jones out of the equation. It would be very difficult to find the same amount of young players in the top teams in England. That of course has to do with the fact we've consistently developed talents at the highest level for the last decade and that there are now additional opportunities for talented young coaches.
bundesliga.com: What exactly are the advantages that young players bring to the table?
Rangnick: Nowadays at the age of 15 or 16 the young players are trained at a high level of performance, both physically and mentally. As a result they have three advantages over older players. Firstly they recover a lot faster from their exertions between games. Secondly their capacity to learn is higher, one of the privileges of youth. Several of today's on-the-pitch styles of play are learned through mental exercises. Older players can also take steps forward in their development as part of a youthful side, the progress is simply more extreme in the case of younger talents. The third point is an unwavering team ethic. The ability to counterattack, the aggression in trying to win the ball and moving as a unit only works when done collectively. The performance both with and against the ball effects the entire team and requires an absolute altruism. Younger players often have a greater predisposition to invest in the team spirit because they're aware that they need it for their personal style of play. Those are the three main advantages of utilising young players, always under the assumption that alongside their talent and education, they are surrounded by a healthy environment. Mario Götze, Marco Reus, Julian Draxler, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Höwedes, the Bender twins, these are all intelligent, well-developed and incredibly talented individuals. They all boast the whole package in terms of their mental, physical and technical strength.
bundesliga.com: With its refreshing talent and coaches where do you see German football compared to other European leagues?
Rangnick: Up until recently other countries have envied the famous German virtues or individual players. Nowadays though, German coaches are acting as the role models for a younger coaching generation. I experienced that in a different way as I went about learning how to be a football coach at the age of 25. Along with a few like-minded colleagues in Baden-Württemberg we more or less developed a self-taught knowledge of football. We looked beyond Germany's borders at the likes of Arrigo Sacchi of AC Milan and Italy or Valeriy Lobanovskyi at Dynamo Kiev and the former USSR. Those were the games we analysed and it was those methods that I took on board, they were my role models. Today you can find much of what distinguishes the top level of modern football in Germany.
Interview conducted by Tim Tonner