Cologne - FC Schalke 04’s last-gasp 2-1 victory over Hertha Berlin was as much a triumph of the Royal Blues' never-say-die-attitude as it was of the club's renowned Knappenschmiede youth academy.

No fewer than five graduates of the Knappenschmiede were named in the starting line-up on Matchday 9, including goal-scoring captain Benedikt Höwedes and match-winner Max Meyer.

Knappenschmiede core

© imago / Chai v.d. Laage

"We're playing really well," said 20-year-old Meyer afterwards, thriving in what is already his third full season with the Schalke seniors. "The pictures of us all celebrating together on the pitch as a team are great. I don't think anyone saw us winning so many games with such a young side. If it carries on like this and we stick together, I think we'll have a good Hinrunde."

Happily defying the experts, third-in-the-table Schalke are already enjoying their best start to a Bundesliga season since 2012/13 with . Breitenreiter made it clear when he was unveiled as Roberto Di Matteo's successor that he would rely heavily on homegrown talent, and the former SC Paderborn 07 head coach has stayed true to his word.

Goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann has kept four clean sheets in nine matches, Cameroon international Joel Matip has matured into one of the Bundesliga’s most complete defenders and 19-year-old Leroy Sane has had a direct say in more league goals than any other Schalke player this season (three goals and two assists). Like Höwedes and Meyer, all three are products of the famed Knappenschmiede system.

Model club

© gettyimages / Baron

Away from the coal-mining communities of Gelsenkirchen, meanwhile, there are over 50 members of the Knappenschmiede alumni earning a living as a professional footballer, three of whom - along with Höwedes - helped Germany to their fourth FIFA World Cup crown on 13 July 2014.

Mesut Özil scored the second goal as Arsenal FC beat defending Bundesliga champions 2-0 in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, Julian Draxler played his part as VfL Wolfsburg moved top of Champions League Group B with a 2-0 win over PSV Eindhoven and Bayern’s Manuel Neuer, despite a night of highs and lows in north London, is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper of his generation - if not all time.

For the Knappenschmiede's current crop of young talent, there is no need to look elsewhere for inspiration. The above-mentioned examples attest to the fact that Schalke take grassroots football very seriously indeed. Not only that, but they also give their players ample opportunity to shine at the highest level. In an age when many up-and-coming local prospects struggle even to get a look in, it is a refreshing change.

Dietmar Nolte/Christopher Mayer-Lodge