Germany has long been recognised as a breeding ground for talented young footballers, but the fact that three of its coaches – Julian Nagelsmann, Hansi Flick and Thomas Tuchel – have guided their teams to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals shows that the country is also ahead of the game when it comes to the men in the dugout.
It is in fact the first time in the competition's history that three coaches from the same nation have been in the last four at the same time.
Flick's Bayern Munich booked their place in the semi-finals with an extraordinary 8-2 win over Barcelona that sent shockwaves across the global football community. Nagelsmann's RB Leipzig also eliminated Spanish opposition with a 2-1 triumph over Atletico Madrid, setting up a tie with his former mentor Tuchel, whose Paris Saint-Germain side earned their spot in the last-four with a 2-1 quarter-final victory over Atalanta.
"It's a wonderful moment of success for German football," said Oliver Bierhoff, a former striker for Germany and Borussia Mönchengladbach, among others, and now director of the German national team and DFB academy. "We're delighted to have not only two German teams in the semi-finals, but also three German coaches and lots of our international players in the decisive phase of the competition."
The trio of coaches are each treading new ground, having never previously reached this stage of the competition. Flick could even set a new record if Bayern win their semi-final against Lyon: no coach has ever won their first seven successive Champions League outings.
Having already lifted the Bundesliga Meisterschale and DFB Cup, Bayern have another continental treble in their crosshairs. The previous time they achieved the feat was in 2012/13, when they defeated Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League showpiece. That was coincidentally also the last time that two Bundesliga teams made it to the semi-finals of the competition.
It may have been seven years since a German team won the Champions League, but it was only last season that another highly respected German coach, former Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp, guided Liverpool to the famous trophy. So what lies behind the success of these Teutonic trainers?
Just as budding young footballers enter training academies during their teenage years to develop their skills, so aspiring coaches are required to complete courses in order to conduct training activities and oversee matches at the highest level.
In Germany, coaches must obtain a Football Coaching Licence – the equivalent of a UEFA Pro Licence – in order to work in the country's three professional divisions: Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 and 3. Liga. Officially it is known as the Fußball-Lehrer ("Football Teacher") qualification, and the only place you can get your hands on one is at the prestigious Hennes-Weisweiler Academy in Cologne.
Founded in 1947 and named after legendary Gladbach and Cologne coach Weisweiler (who was in charge between 1956-1970), the Academy is highly competitive. Once a year, just 24 or 25 hopefuls are selected for the course after passing a demanding aptitude test. To even get a chance to earn their golden ticket, they must already hold a DFB A Licence, have a year of training under their belts, and belong to a DFB club.
Over 11 months, essentially the span of a normal season, the budding coaches study all aspects of the modern game, with a strong emphasis on practical application. The course underwent reforms in 2019/20 in order to make it more individual: students now spend most of the season working with the professional clubs who employ them, although they still participate in eight workshops in Cologne throughout the season. Improving technology also means that much of their assessment work can be carried out online via the DFB's 'digital campus'.
For the Pro Licence, UEFA stipulates a course of at least 240 hours, but coaches working towards their Football Coaching Licence at Hennes-Weisweiler will put in closer to 800 hours over the course of a campaign – hardly surprising that Flick, Nagelsmann, Tuchel and Co. are outdoing their continental counterparts!
The quality of coaching in Germany is in line with reforms enacted in the early 2000s, which aimed to improve the development of young players. As well as setting up regional training centres across the country, the DFB obliged Bundesliga clubs to open youth academies, each requiring at least two coaches with a Football Coaching Licence. The theory was simple: if we want to have the best players, we also need the best coaches.
Watch: How do Nagelsmann and Flick compare?
Flick, one of the top graduates from the class of 2003, was part of the revolutionary wave. Most football fans have only come to know the 55-year-old since he took over at Bayern last autumn, but he has been quietly making his mark on German football for almost 15 years.
In 2006, he was appointed as Germany assistant coach under Joachim Löw, who had obtained his own Football Coaching Licence alongside Jürgen Klinsmann and Matthias Sammer in 2000. A keen analyst, Flick began to compile databases of all national players at senior and youth level, paving the way for Germany's improvement at international tournaments.
After a disappointing group-stage exit at UEFA Euro 2004, Löw and Flick's side managed third place on home soil at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They were runners-up at Euro 2008 and third again at the 2010 World Cup, before finally conquering the world in Brazil four years later. Löw may have taken most of the plaudits, but Flick had a big hand in Die Mannschaft's World Cup success. And that was long before spurring Bayern on to new heights this season.
Watch: How Flick improved the Bayern defence
The excellence of the Hennes-Weisweiler Academy speaks for itself. It was no PR stunt when Hoffenheim made 28-year-old Nagelsmann their head coach in February 2016. At that point he was just weeks away from obtaining his Football Coaching Licence, finishing second in his class behind former Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco. While most of the German and international media were focused on Nagelsmann's age, TSG knew they were getting the real deal.
Nagelsmann's meteoric rise – taking Hoffenheim into Europe, and then the UEFA Champions League, before joining Leipzig and making them Champions League semi-finalists – is a testament to Germany's excellent coaching methods. The 33-year-old is renowned as both an innovator – using groundbreaking technology on the TSG training ground – and a sharp tactician.
He has already outwitted heavyweights Jose Mourinho (Tottenham Hotspur) and Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid) to reach the Champions League last four. And even the prospect of a potential final showdown against Flick's red-hot Bayern shouldn't faze him: Leipzig were the only team in the Bundesliga not to lose to the record champions this season, and the last team against whom Bayern failed to score.
Watch: How Leipzig have improved under Nagelsmann
Before thinking about the final, Nagelsmann will have to outfox his friend and former colleague Tuchel, under whom he got his first taste of coaching at Augsburg. The PSG boss completed the Fußball-Lehrer course in 2006, before following in Klopp's footsteps with successful stints at Mainz and Dortmund.
The 46-year-old has managed to do what his predecessors Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery could not – take the French giants into the last four of the Champions League for the first time since 1994/95. Having already lifted two Ligue 1 titles with PSG, Tuchel is now just two games away from becoming only the second man to win the Champions League with a French club, after Marseille's Raymond Goethals in 1993.
Whatever the outcome of what has been a fascinating Champions League Final Eight, there is likely to be more than a hint of Vorsprung durch Technik to the winning team. And don't be surprised to see Germany's forward-thinking "Football Teachers" continuing to dole out the lessons for many years to come.
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