Freiburg - “Oliver Baumann! Dennis Aogo! Sascha Riether!” Those were just a few of the responses screamed out by the holiday camp participants when asked which famous names had already emerged from the SC Freiburg academy during a visit to the Mösle-Stadion. The name of Matthias Ginter followed soon after.
A gamble which paid off
Born in Freiburg, Ginter joined Freiburg as an eleven-year-old, making his professional debut at the age of 18 and scoring the winning goal to boot. Almost two years on, he is now an established name in Christian Streich’s team, earning the accolade as Germany’s most talented up-and-coming star twice in a row - a feat last achieved by Mario Götze.
bundesliga.com paid Ginter and ‘his’ Freiburg football academy a visit this summer, ahead of his return to the day-to-day routine of a Bundesliga professional.
“It really was so quick - I never expected it to be like this,” said Ginter after making 36 Bundesliga appearances in 18 months. As early as the age of four, Ginter started playing football with SV March, and it wasn't long before the dream of becoming a professional Bundesliga player took hold. “When you play for SC in the youth teams, then of course you want to make it to the pros.”
The idea of a football academy goes back a long way, before Ginter was even born. It was when SC Freiburg gained promotion to the top flight for the very first time under Volker Finke, in 1993, that thoughts turned to how Freiburg could establish their place on the Bundesliga map: by investing extensively in home grown talent rather than buying expensive players.
To that end, in 2001 the Mösle-Stadion, formerly home of city rivals Freiburger FC, was transformed into a training centre with room for 16 residents. It was a financial risk, but it has more than paid off for the Black Forest club.
Humble role model
Ginter is a prime example of that wise investment. Making his debut on 21 January 2012, two days after his 18th birthday, he came on in the 70th minute of the match against Augsburg, scoring a late winner in the 1-0 victory. “You couldn’t have dreamt it any better,” said Ginter.
It did not go to his head though. “He’s a decent, grounded lad,” said teacher Kiefer, who has followed Ginter’s progress right up from the kids to the pros, bypassing the reserves altogether.
Four talented players promoted each year
The feeder-club concept has engrained itself in all of the staff. Head coach Streich started off as Under-19 coach in 2001, and his backroom staff Lars Voßler, Patrick Baier and Simon Ickert were involved in youth and first-team affairs over a long period of time. “The whole club is infused by this football academy,” said Andreas Steirt, who together with Kiefer is responsible for the academy’s organisational matters.
The transition from the academy to professional life is smooth. Since its foundation in 2001, an average of four players per year have made the step up into the first team. Ten players of the current playing squad were trained and brought up there.
Free time? Not likely!
An ordinary school education plays an important role in the dual concept. “School comes first,” said Kiefer. “Before anybody risks having to repeat a year, their training regime will be reduced.” The academy members attend schools in Freiburg, demanding of them a level of self-discipline to keep their schedules in order.
“I set priorities for myself,” recalled Ginter, who continued studying for his post-school diploma last year. “There was only football and school. I hardly had any free time. My daily routine consisted of getting up, going to school, training, eating and sleeping - that was it!”
Team thinking rather than hall of fame
But the “positive stress”, as Kiefer defines this time, has been worth it. This year, Ginter was awarded the Fritz-Walter medal for the best young player of his year group for the second year running. Making him a figurehead of the successful youth development would contradict the club’s philosophy, though.
“We don’t have a hall of fame,” stated Steiert, who prefers to remember the team achievements. In the corridor of the academy, there is another banner hanging from last year’s Under-19 DFB Cup triumph. Ginter attended the final against Hertha BSC Berlin. “Team thinking comes before everything in the Freiburg youth teams,” said Ginter.
Streich pays attention to character
That is no different among the first-team players either. You are not going to find any individual stars under Streich. Ginter’s former youth team coach, and now first-team boss has “had a major influence, not only on me, but also on all of the young players,” said Ginter. All of the players are the same on the field of play as far as the coach is concerned, no matter what their age.
The youngsters are nevertheless kept under close watch away from the field. “He asks about how school went and he pays attention to how we get on with each other.”
With Ginter, the methods of Kiefer, Streich and co. are certainly bearing fruit and the centre-back is far from being the finished article either. “You always try to improve in every game and I hope that I still have quite a way to go.”
Maximilian Lotz reporting from Freiburg / Ben Gladwell