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Germany's FIFA Confederations Cup and U-21 EURO triumphs are the fruit of a carefully laid-out plan. - © © imago
Germany's FIFA Confederations Cup and U-21 EURO triumphs are the fruit of a carefully laid-out plan. - © © imago

Germany's Confederations Cup and U21 EURO triumphs, the latest fruits of the strategy to take German football to the world summit


When Julian Draxler lifted the FIFA Confederations Cup into the St. Petersburg sky at the end of June, he was the second Germany captain to be holding a major international trophy aloft in just three days.

Maximilian Arnold had previously done likewise in Krakow having brilliantly led the Under-21 team to victory over a highly-fancied, fantastically talented Spain side that was smothered magnificently in southern Poland.

Watch: Take a trip down memory lane with a look back at Germany's 2014 World Cup success

The catalyst for change

World champions at senior level in 2014, semi-finalists at EURO 2016, U21 champions in 2009, U19 title-winners in 2014, and four final appearances at U17 EURO level, including one win, in the last eight years: the long line of success runs deep across Germany's national teams, from the established stars to the young hopefuls, but it was not always the case.

Indeed, Germany's domination has its roots in the nadir that was EURO 2004. An unexpected run to the 2002 World Cup final had papered over the cracks which were ripped open in Portugal as draws with the Netherlands and Latvia were followed by defeat to the Czech Republic for a dismal group-stage exit.

"In 2004, German football was down. We took decisive steps," Joachim Löw said after taking his country to the summit of world football two years ago in Brazil. "We said, 'We have to invest more in the education so we are technically better.' This is the result of that work, beginning with Jürgen Klinsmann."

- © imago

All eyes on the future

Another key facet of Germany's success is the country's far-reaching scouting network. There are currently more than 300 centres nationwide aimed at spotting and encouraging young talent, potentially providing Bundesliga clubs with players they can develop into internationals in a merry-go-round of mutual benefit.

Thirteen hundred coaches, whom all must hold at least the UEFA B licence, watch 650,000 youngsters a year, making it very hard for talent to slip through the net, while coordinators ensure the centralised philosophy — instilled initially by then senior team coach Klinsmann back in 2004 — is adhered to nationwide.

"We have 80 million people in Germany and I think before 2000 nobody noticed a lot of talent," Robin Dutt, then the DFB's sporting director, told The Guardian in 2013. "Now we notice everyone."

The platform to grow

Playing regular first-team football in front of capacity crowds has certainly played its part. Bundesliga attendances last season averaged over 41,500, compared to 35,800 for the Premier League, its closest rival in that category.

But given many of the England side in Poland, for example, have struggled to hold down regular first-team places, they haven't had the chance to get used to that sort of atmosphere.

For the Germany players, like Arnold, Serge Gnabry, Niklas Stark or Yannick Gerhardt, once you have stepped out in front of Dortmund's 'Yellow Wall' whether you're playing for them or against them, can anything ever faze you again?

Watch: Discover the allure of Dortmund's SIGNAL IDUNA PARK


Master tacticians with big hearts

The accelerated development of budding Bundesliga players owes as much to the academies in which they are schooled as it does to the coaches whom eventually bring them through to the first team.

The Hennes-Weisweiler Academy near Bonn has been setting the benchmark for European football coaching since 1947, 16 years before the Bundesliga even came into existence.

It is fiendishly difficult to get one of the 24 annual places on offer, and once the entrance tests are passed, there are over 800 hours of classes to wade through conscientiously before attaining the equivalent of the UEFA Pro License.

By way of contrast, the same qualification can be obtained from the English FA after 202.5 hours. With the likes of new Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco and Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann recent graduates, the future of top-level coaching is in the hands of the Academy's disciples.

However, perhaps even more importantly, the quality seeps down the levels with some 28,400 B licence coaches, 5,500 A licence coaches and more than 1,000 tacticians holding the Pro licence in Germany in 2013, which ensures high-quality coaching from the grassroots up. The comparative figures in England were 1,759, 895 and just 115.

Watch: A tactical masterclass with Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann

Coaches in Germany receive a stellar education - that is no secret - but it is their holistic approach which sets them apart from their contemporaries elsewhere and, crucially, gives players every chance of succeeding on and off the pitch.

"When I went to Aston Villa eight years ago I told them our players, under-17, 18 and 19, go to school for 34 hours a week," Freiburg coach Christian Streich told The Guardian in 2013. "They said: 'No, you're a liar, it's not possible, our players go for nine hours."

The Freiburg approach is simple: you need to spend time in the classroom if you're to get time on the pitch. Better education in academic terms not only sets up those who don't make the grade for a life after football, but also gives those who do greater skills and opportunities.

Understanding tactics and advice given by coaches and backroom staff, processing information quickly and — crucially — decision-making are all enhanced by using the brain in the classroom.

"We give players the best chance to be a footballer but we give them two educations here. If 80 per cent can't go on to play in the professional team, we have to look out for them. The players that play here, the majority of them go on to higher education. And we need intelligent players on the pitch anyway."

The end(less) product

With the proverbial cogs perpetually in motion from the top down, Germany has struck football gold. From the ashes of EURO 2000, Die Mannschaft have risen to become world beaters in every sense.

The country boasts exemplary academies, coaches, decision-makers, homegrown players and stadia, but also exhibits a model attitude that has made international triumphs such as the 2014 World Cup, Confederations Cup and UEFA-U21 championship possible.

This is not merely a golden generation, however. It is a gold-plated recipe for success that transcends ages. The German football gift that keeps on giving.

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