How come the German MNT won the 2014 World Cup so convincingly and three years later won both the Confederations Cup and the UEFA U-21 championships, while also playing the semifinal in Euro 2016? Well, the story starts in 2002 with the DFB (German soccer federation) starting to implement its Talent Development Program. It was initiated due to the pathetic results by the German MNT in 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. The "master plan” -- as the Germans like to call it -- is still dynamic and active today.
In the modern day and age, you have to rely on planning for a sustainable success. Not only you have to rely on planned development, you also have to modify your plans using the current trends and technology to keep up with the modern game. So the planning process has to be a dynamic one.
For example, Greece won the Euro 2004 as a result of the new development program it started in the 1990s. The Greeks did not maintain and update the program and now the Greek soccer is at second tier in Europe. That definitely was not a sustainable success story.
If you look at the results of the last 15 years of German MNTs (2002-2017), you will realize a couple of things.
German National Teams (2002-17):
|YEAR ||WC (32) ||CON (8) ||EC
(24) ||EU21 (8) ||WU20 (24) ||E19 (8) ||WU17 (24) ||EU17 (8) |
|2003 ||GS||DQ||DQ (16)||DQ|
|2004 ||GS (16)||GS||GS||DQ |
|2005 ||3||QF||SF||DQ (16)||DQ |
|2008 ||2 (16)||1||DQ|
|2009 ||DQ||1||QF||DQ ||R16|
|2011 ||DQ||DQ||DQ ||3||2|
|2012 ||SF (16)||DQ ||2|
||DQ||GS||DQ ||DQ ||DQ ||DQ |
|2015 ||SF||QF||DQ ||DQ ||DQ |
DQ: Did not qualify.
GS: Group stage.
R16:Round of 16.
Note: In parentheses is the number of teams in the tournament.
Successful periods in the early years -- like third place at the 2006 World Cup Germany hosted -- cannot be attributed to the “master plan." It must be cyclical and circumstantial. The last three years, though, is definitely attributable to the “master plan."
For many years, the German U-17 and U-19 MNTs did not even qualify for the annual European Championships. That is, they were not one of the best eight teams in Europe in their age categories during those years. How come the products of these years later on became members of the most successful MNT on the planet? The answer is simple: Like the goal of developmental academies of professional clubs, the youth national teams’ goal is not to win the European or world championship but rather develop talented players for the "A" team. Even at the highest level, development comes before winning.
The lesson to be learned from this table is very simple but also very painful. Patience is a major factor in developing a world-quality team, whether it is a professional team or a national team.
Well, you might wonder what this “master plan” is. It is only a click away from you. If you are a youth development enthusiast or a coach, you can download the file and look at the details. But the bottom line is that the “master plan” is a program implemented and mandated by DFB.
-- Every professional team (Bundesliga 1 and 2) must have youth development centers from U-13 to U-19. There are some standards for these centers. If the club doesn’t’ meet these standards, it either gets relegated or is not allowed to participate in the professional leagues
-- DFB initiated the Local Player Rule, which stated that in your pro-team a minimum of eight players need to have been educated locally. That must be a minimum of four by the club and the rest can be from any club within the DFB.
-- The DFB has 45 centers of excellence and 350 regional centers with 200 full-time and 1000 part time coaches for youth players
-- They work closely with regional associations.
Definitely, it is an expensive program. Since the launch of the performance center system, clubs and the DFB invested more than 700 million euros ($800 million). In the 2013-14 season alone, the 18 clubs of the Bundesliga 1 invested 90 million euros in their youth, whereas the Bundesliga 2 still invested 30 million euros.
DFB needed to convince the professional clubs to implement it. Like the EPL, the Bundesliga is not run by the DFB. At the end of the day, DFB is the boss of soccer in Germany and they used their status to convince the professional clubs for the implementation of the master plan.
For professional clubs, especially for those with owners, the success of the MNT is of minimal interest to them. As long as their team wins, they do not care much for the MNT. Hence, it is more difficult for the English and Italian FAs to convince clubs for radical changes in youth development. This is a fact that hurts both England and Italy. In both countries, most of the clubs if not all, have owners. In Germany, the owner cannot have the majority share of the club. In Spain, most clubs are non-profit associations. Needless to say the German and Spanish MNTs do better than English and Italian MNTs since the German and Spanish FAs can be more convincing over the clubs.
What can we learn from the German “master plan”? We tried to learn from it by appointing Jurgen Klinsmann as both the technical director of U.S. Soccer and the head coach of the USMNT. Well the first position requires and tolerates patience but the second doesn’t. Klinsmann should have seen this fact, but instead asked for both and lost both after a few bad results.
There are a number of similarities in the German and the USA soccer landscapes. They are both big and wealthy countries with millions of registered players. Both have no infrastructure problem. Demography of both nations is very diverse. For example, when Germany won the U-21 European Championship in 2009 against England, it had a very cosmopolitan background: Russian (Andreas Beck), Polish (Sebastian Boenisch), Ghanaian (Jerome Boateng), Nigerian (Dennis Aogo, Chinedu Ede), American (Fabian Johnson), Spanish (Gonzalo Castro), Tunisian (Sami Khedira, Anis Ben-Hatira), Iranian (Ashkan Dejagah) and Turkish (Mesut Ozil). One can say the same for the USMNT. Diversity is a fortune for soccer.
But the similarities end there. Soccer is the number of sport in Germany; at best it is the fourth sport for USA. Hence, there is no real soccer culture in our country yet. Although U.S. Soccer is the governing body of soccer in the USA, it is not the unique, ubiquitous and powerful boss of soccer like elsewhere. It does not enforce any youth development standards to professional leagues. It looks like it does not have real enforcement power over the state associations. There is more than one youth soccer league structure in the country. The list goes on… I know and understand that there are historical, legal and political reasons for this lack of exertion of authority.
U.S. Soccer introduced the Development Academies (DAs) to the soccer landscape, which was a correct move. They even hired Double Pass to “audit” the DAs, the same company that audits German Bundesliga’s academies. The difference is that their audit in Germany counts with carrots and sticks, but here it is just a recommendation to the DAs.
Just ask yourself of the four points of the DFB’s master plan I have summarized above, how many of those can be implemented by U.S. Soccer? Be sincere.
As I said earlier, I know and understand the historical, legal and political challenges for U.S. Soccer. On the other hand, U.S. Soccer should realize the immense powers of FIFA has bestowed on them as a member federation.
Every country needs its own master plan. As USYSA, says think globally and act locally. Do not copy the German “master plan.” Use it as a guide along with other master plans. Once you have your master plan developed, you only need two things: Exertion of authority and patience. There is no good reason why the USMNT cannot be a world soccer power like Germany in 10-15 years. It takes time and perseverance. Anything earlier is just a dream.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.