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 Kai Havertz, Jadon Sancho and Julian Brandt, to name but a few.
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.
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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 honing them to the right level. Once there, they play.
"I just want to play football and I'm getting that opportunity here," said Sancho. "I'm very grateful to Dortmund for giving me this chance. I want to keep working hard and I'm happy to be a part of this club and want to make history with it. Playing for England is something I'll never forget, I need to thank Dortmund for that. Without this opportunity I wouldn't have made my [international] debut."
Sancho's experience is backed up by the raw data. In 2018/19, players aged 20 or below played for 33,741 minutes throughout the Bundesliga season, with 24 of those appearing regularly (in 10 games or more). That is considerably more than in Italy's Serie A (21,761 minutes/14 players), Spain's La Liga (20,688 minutes/14 players) and England's Premier League (19,081 minutes/12 players).
Only in Ligue 1 were U20's given more game time (46,014/31 players), but it is worth noting that there are 380 games per season in France's 20-team top flight, 74 more than in the Bundesliga.
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So that's the how, but what about the why? In large part it comes down to German football's revamp after their 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 license 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.
"I've had guys in the US national team ask me what it's like in Germany," said Schalke's Weston McKennie, who made his debut for the Royal Blues aged 18 in May 2017, a year after joining the club's youth academy. "I tell them, 'dude, it's amazing'. If you want to go somewhere, I'd come to Germany because you get opportunity. They buy you because they actually see potential in you."
That potential is invariably developed into world-class ability. Christian Pulisic and Luka Jovic are recent examples, but they are by no means anomalies. Leroy Sane (who was 18 when he made his Schalke debut), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (18) and Bernd Leno (19) were all thrown into the deep and as youngsters, while Timo Werner, Julian Draxler, Mario Götze, Niklas Süle and Brandt, among others, were all 17 when they made their top-flight bows. All are now full internationals.
So who will be the next world-beater to emerge in 2019/20? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain in the Bundesliga: there is bound to be at least one.
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