Jamal Musiala (l.) and Florian Wirtz are just two of the young talents that have flourished in the Bundesliga. - © IMAGO/Silas Schueller/DeFodi Images
Jamal Musiala (l.) and Florian Wirtz are just two of the young talents that have flourished in the Bundesliga. - © IMAGO/Silas Schueller/DeFodi Images

Why the Bundesliga is the best league for young players


Received wisdom in football is that 'if you're good enough, you're old enough' and nowhere is that more true than in the Bundesliga, the world's most fertile breeding ground for A-grade youngsters. Don't believe us? Then just ask the likes of Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala.

Nowhere else in the global game are as many top-class young players blooded with such regularity. While other countries may produce the odd outstanding performer every few years, in Germany barely a season goes by without the next fresh-faced teen taking the senior stage by storm.

From 2022/23 Bundesliga Player of the Year Jude Bellingham, who moved on to win La Liga and the UEFA Champions League this past term at Real Madrid following his switch from Borussia Dortmund, to his successor and Bayer Leverkusen's title-winning inspiration Wirtz, the German top flight is the perfect finishing school for the continent's most exciting prodigies.

Musiala is another who has taken the league by storm, scoring 22 league goals in the past two campaigns - including the strike that clinched the 2022/23 Meisterschale for Bayern Munich on the final day of the of the season - and is now a key member of Julian Nagelsmann's Germany team

Watch: Florian Wirtz wins Bundesliga Player of the Season 2023/24!

Wirtz and Musiala are just two of the baby-faced wonders currently lighting up German football, with a host of players aged 22 or younger making a name for themselves: Mathys Tel, Jamie Bynoe-GittensKarim Adeyemi, Maximilian Beier, Benjamin Šeško, Enzo Millot, Aleksandar Pavlović, Jeremie Frimpong, Xavi Simons… the list goes on and on.

And this is by no means a new phenomenon. The Bundesliga has been polishing up rough diamonds for years, from homegrown talents such as Julian Brandt, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to imported starlets like Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland.

So how do the Germans do it? Simply put, by trusting their youngsters to perform. It is not a scattergun approach of throwing handfuls in at a time and hoping one of them survives, but by gradually improving them to the right level. Once there, they play.

"You're in and around the first team and you see all these top players training and I was just trying to learn and watch what they did," Musiala told bundesliga.com in 2022. "Just being around them was an amazing experience for me, and I tried to pick up as many things as I could."

Watch: All of Musiala's Bundesliga goals and assists in 2023/24

"I've been in a professional environment since I was 15, always with the first team," Bellingham explained shortly after his 2020 move from Birmingham City. "So, it sets you up perfectly. I felt very comfortable coming into the Bundesliga. My reasons for joining Dortmund? As I've said many times, I think the game time, what they offer young players in terms of opportunity on the pitch."

Those opportunities are backed up by the numbers. In 2018/19, players aged 20 or below racked up 33,741 minutes in the Bundesliga, with 24 of them appearing regularly (in 10 games or more). That was considerably more than in Serie A (21,761 minutes/14 players), La Liga (20,688 minutes/14 players) or the Premier League (19,081 minutes/12 players). No wonder the likes of Sancho, Musiala and Bellingham decided to leave England to try their luck in Germany.

Only in Ligue 1 were U20s given more game time (46,014/31 players), but it is worth noting that there were 380 games that season in France's 20-team top flight, 74 more than in the Bundesliga.

So that's the how, but what about the why? In large part it comes down to German football's revamp after the country's disappointing campaign at UEFA Euro 2000, where they finished bottom of Group A with just one point from three games.

Ever since then, professional clubs across the country must run and maintain youth academies, which have to meet strict criteria every year in order for the club to be granted its licence to compete the following season. In short, given the time, energy and financial investment in setting up such an infrastructure, it only makes sense to take advantage of it, rather than just investing heavily on the transfer market.

Still, German clubs have earned a reputation for adding the best youngsters from across the continent to their squads. Haaland is a clear example of that - at Manchester City, he has arguably emerged into the planet's best striker, but the 23-year-old spent two-and-a-half formative years honing his craft in the Bundesliga. A sensational return of 29 goals in 27 outings for Salzburg demonstrated his immense potential, which was developed into world-class ability in the German top flight. By the time he left Dortmund, the Norwegian had notched an eye-watering 86 goals in 89 club appearances.

Jude Bellingham burst onto the scene at Borussia Dortmund. - IMAGO/Tim Goode

Musiala only turned 21 in February, but already boasts 165 senior appearances for Bayern – not to mention four Bundesliga titles. Even during a 2023/24 upset by injury, he till notched up 10 strikes for the second season running. This past term, though, was about Wirtz, who was a creative force for Leverkusen as they romped to a maiden Bundesliga title. He was one of only two players to record at least 10 goals and 10 assists in the German top flight, and has joined Musiala as a vital cog for Nagelsmann's men.

Speaking about his move to Leverkusen from Cologne in 2020, Wirtz told bundesliga.com, "My switch to Leverkusen in the U17’s was solely my decision because I saw a better prospects for myself in Leverkusen - and it worked out that way too. I had a good coach and great players that challenged me and made me into a better player."

And who will be the latest unknown youngster to emerge in 2023/24? Only time will tell, but one thing's for sure in the Bundesliga: the next world-beater is always just around the corner.

A disastrous Euro 2000 was a turning point for German football. - imago sportfotodienst