By Mike Woitalla
Bayern Munich, Germany's richest and most successful club, buys international stars (eg Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben) and top domestic talent (eg Manuel Neuer and Mario Gomez) -- but its starting lineup usually includes four or five homegrown players.
“Every time Bayern has been very successful it’s had a lot of players from its youth program,” says Director of Sport Christian Nerlinger, who himself joined FC Bayern as a 14-year-old and won league titles and the UEFA Cup with Bayern in the 1990s. “They have a special identification with the club.”
The club spends about 5 million euro ($6.5 million) a year on its youth program.
“It is not a question of budget,” says FC Bayern President Uli Hoeness. “If we need 5 million, that’s OK. If we need 7 million, we will do it. Because you cannot give a limit. You spend what is necessary. One year 4 million, next year 6 or 7 million.”
Last year, Bayern sold Munich-born Mehmet Ekici, who joined the club at age 8, to Werder Bremen for 5 million euros -- but Hoeness insists the youth program’s focus is on boosting the first team.
“We are not a selling club,” Hoeness says. “Our aim is always to invest money for players who can play for Bayern. If sometimes you can sell a player like Mehmet Ekici for 5 million – OK, that’s fantastic, it pays for one full year the academy.”
In Part 2* of our interview with Werner Kern, the head of the Bayern Munich youth program shares more details about the club’s approach to youth soccer. ...
SA: How do you want your coaches to behave on the sidelines during games?
WERNER KERN: It’s OK for them to give some instructions from the sidelines. But it should always be positive and constructive -- and it shouldn’t be constant. If it’s constant it will make the players self-conscious and nervous.
We want coaches to help, but not disturb. To be supportive, to build players up, but also to point out when they do something wrong. ...
Starting at U-14, U-15, we do video analysis with the players.
SA: What value is placed on winning at the youth level?
WERNER KERN: It’s a double-edged sword. If you want to become good, you need to learn how to win. Winning does play a role, but not winning at all costs.
You’ll find another club that has many more youth national team players than we do, because they “hire and fire.” They get physically strong players so they win -- they’re born in January or February -- they help the team win, and then they get tossed out the next season. We don’t do that.
I’m totally against cutting and recruiting at the youth level to win games. I say, we must always look, does that player have a specific potential to become a special player or doesn’t he?
Another point is also important. You always need a couple of players who are physically strong who can help the others win. It’s not only about winning, it’s about experiences of success. If you lose every game then you think, “There’s something wrong with me.” You do need to win, but not at all costs. We judge the youth teams on how they're playing soccer and on if they're ultimately producing players for our first team.
For example, at the U-15 level -- an age group where players are going through growth spurts. You’ve got really little players and ones who are like full-grown men. We support and protect the small players who might be at disadvantage but have the potential to become great players, like Philipp Lahm [the 5-foot-7 outside back who captains Germany and Bayern].
SA: It’s a common held belief that free play, or street soccer, is a key to the development of exceptional players. …
WERNER KERN: It used to be like that – that kids would come home from school and play with friends. But the whole infrastructure has changed. There’s almost no unorganized soccer. Now the kids have a longer school day. The school is so demanding that they don’t have time play streets or in the park.
That’s what prompted us to invest in development. That’s why we coordinated with the schools that they have soccer twice a week at school.
SA: Is it a concern that kids only play supervised soccer?
WERNER KERN: That depends. I believe creativity grows out of freedom. That’s true. But we must also link creativity with the things that are necessary to play successfully. I, for instance, require that players dribble, but in offensive. We don’t want players to dribble in front of their own goal and lose the ball, but nor do we want them to boot the ball aimlessly up field.
We want them to take chances, to dare to dribble, but in the right situations. There are many small practice games that help them comprehend when to dribble and when to pass. They get many chances to dribble and to figure out the right time.
SA: What’s Bayern Munich’s playing style philosophy?
WERNER KERN: We want to play active soccer. We want to defend high and we want to possess the ball as much as possible because we believe that we learn and improve when we possess the ball a lot. When you’re chasing the ball all the time you’re not learning a lot.
You must, of course, learn the elements of defense, but we want to act not react.
*(Read Part 1 of the interview with Werner Kern HERE.)