Frankfurt - When Germany finished bottom of their group at the UEFA 2000 European Championships, it triggered a nationwide response that shook the country's game to its very core.
Every angle covered
A grassroots overhaul and, above all, the introduction of purpose-built training academies provided the bedrock for a new era in German football that has since earned unparalleled .
“The aim of building performance centres is to optimise the nurturing of talent in the licensed and upper-amateur domains,” read the relevant guidelines at the time. “The performance centres shall ensure that talented youth players receive a high quality education across all age groups.”
In practical terms, that meant that all Bundesliga - and eventually Bundesliga 2 - academies were required to have at least four outdoor pitches, as well as an indoor sports hall to ensure that players didn’t stagnate during the winter months. The DFB Elite Youth license or equivalent became compulsory for coaches, while the employment of one doctor, two physiotherapists, a rehabilitation and/or fitness coach, a teacher and psychologist was mandatory.
Education, education, education
The guidelines also emphasised the importance of a good education, with areas such as gambling, match fixing and anti-racism receiving particular attention. Moreover: “The club will ensure that every player has the opportunity to get the best possible high school diploma and will encourage the compatibility of school work and a career in sport (individual career plans).”
The 36 clubs across Germany’s top two divisions have only been too happy to oblige, investing over one billion Euros combined in their respective training academies since 2002. “The youth setup is at a really high level in Germany,” explained DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH director of match operations Andreas Nagel. “Such is the clubs' commitment to the maintenance of the youth academies that the minimum sporting requirements are often exceeded, usually on a voluntary basis.”
Proof in the pudding
It’s a success story that owes much to the DFL’s meticulous licensing laws to which all clubs must adhere if they wish to compete in either the Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2. Since 2002/03, the rules and regulations pertaining to youth academies have been a key component of the eight-page document and together comprised the first element of the recently ended 2015/16 application process to be exclusively completed and submitted online. Furthermore, the clubs have decided that in order to evaluate the qualitative standards on behalf of the League Association and the German Football Association (DFB), performance centres will be required to be certified.
Gold stars can be expected across the board on that front in any case, for a system that has produced coveted world champions such as FC Bayern München sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer, Borussia Dortmund defensive rock Mats Hummels and VfL Wolfsburg forward Andre Schürrle to name but a few. The average age in Germany’s groundbreaking top flight is also on the wane, with the likes of FC Schalke 04 forward Leroy Sane (19), SV Werder Bremen goal machine Davie Selke (20) and Eintracht Frankfurt string-puller Marc Stendera (19) just the latest in an unfaltering line of academy graduates to have taken the Bundesliga by storm.
Stefan Schinken/Adaptation: Christopher Mayer-Lodge