By Mike Woitalla
On Saturday, two clubs that have often boasted about their youth programs, meet in the decider of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the UEFA Champions League. A look at the players who helped Chelsea and Bayern Munich reach the final reveals just how successful they are in developing players.
Chelsea can point to just one player who rose from its youth ranks and contributed to its 2011-12 Champions League run: The 31-year-old John Terry, who is suspended for the final, joined Chelsea in 1995 at age 14.
Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, he has reportedly invested up to $150 million in its academy program and in 2005 he put Dane Frank Arnesen in charge of producing homegrown talent. Since 2008, Chelsea started partnering with U.S. youth clubs “to assist the growth and development of U.S. soccer at the grass roots.” Yet under Abramovich, Chelsea's youth movement has yet to bear fruit and the club remains dependent on the Russian billionaire’s purchase of established stars. (Arnesen resigned last season.)
Bayern, Germany’s richest club, also buys stars, such as Mario Gomez, Franck Riberyand Arjen Robben, but Bayern’s youth program has been streaming talent to its first team and the German national team.
Six key contributors to Bayern’s campaign came out of its youth program. They include five who after Saturday’s game will join Germany’s Euro 2012 squad:
Outside back Philipp Lahm, the 28-year-old Bayern and Germany captain, joined Bayern at age 11. Forward Thomas Mueller, 22, the Golden Shoe winner at the 2010 World Cup, also arrived at Bayern at age 11.
Midfield linchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger, 27, joined the Bayern ranks at age 14 and Toni Kroos, 22, moved into the Saebener Street dorms at age 16. Central defender Holger Badstuber, 23, arrived from VfB Stuttgart at age 13.
Bayern brings few foreign players into its youth program, but 19-year-old Austrian David Alaba moved 220 miles east from Vienna to Munich at age 16.
With Alaba and Badstuber out of the final with yellow-card suspensions, 22-year-old Munich-born Diego Contento, who’s been at Bayern since age 5, is expected to get his first Champions League action of the season.
Bayern spends about 5 million euros ($6.5 million) a year on its youth program, including its U-23 team that plays in the fourth division.
“It is not a question of budget,” says club 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.”
Hoeness insists the youth program’s focus is on boosting the first team, not earning money on transfers. But last year it sold 21-year-old Munich-born Mehmet Ekici, who joined the club at age 8, to Werder Bremen for 5 million euros -- enough to fund its academy, which includes dorms for 13 players, for a year.
Bayern’s 185 youth players are aided by 29 full- and part-time coaches, three goalkeeper coaches, two fitness coaches, seven physiotherapists, one doctor and six academic tutors. The club employs one scout for each age group.
“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.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goalswith Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)