By Mike Woitalla
Bayern Munich stars, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Mueller, often cross paths with the youngsters at the club's Sabener Strasse grounds -- though they arrive in a different manner. The pros drive Audis provided by the team sponsor whose license plates end with their jersey numbers. After parking in the underground garage, they stop at the autograph station to sign shirts, balls and pictures that will be sent to fans. The youth players come mainly after school by train or in buses provided by the club. A small group of them live in the club's dorms.
Bayern fields one team at age group from U-8 to U-17, and a U-19 and a U-23 squad. The U-23s serve as Bayern’s second team and plays in the fourth division against clubs without an age restriction. Bayern's annual budget for the youth program, including the second team, is $6.5 million.
Bayern’s youth program mirrors that of Barcelona – the most successful in its country and a source for the core of the national team lineup. Germany finished third at the 2010 World Cup and second at the 2008 European Championship, having fallen to Spain at both tournaments.
Germany went undefeated in qualifying for the 2012 European Championship and last year beat Brazil (3-2) and the Netherlands (3-0) in friendlies -- while regularly fielding four or five field players who came out of Bayern’s youth program, including Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Mueller.
Bayern’s youth program is comprised of 185 players, 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.
Werner Kern, who has served as the head of Bayern’s youth program since 1998, was also assistant coach of Bayern’s senior team in 1970-77. We spoke with Kern in his office at the Sabener Strasse clubhouse about the team’s youth program. …
SOCCER AMERICA: How does Bayern approach the youngest age groups?
WERNER KERN: Our youngest group is the “Base” group: 7-year-olds to 10-year-olds. These U-8s to U-11s play 7-v-7 on small fields.
We do not have a set goalkeeper at those age groups. We rotate goalkeepers because we know, with the back- pass rule, the goalkeeper must be a good soccer player.
We move all the players around positions, because they need defensive skills and offensive skills. The need experience in back, upfront, on the left side and the right side.
They need to learn ball technique … the fundamentals. Controlling the ball, moving with the ball. The short pass. Begin to comprehend individual tactics and within a small group.
SA: What’s the format at U-12?
WERNER KERN: They play 9-v-9. At the U-13s we move up to 11-v-11 because the new regional league begins at U-15 and they need two seasons to get used to 11-v-11. It’s questionable we should already have a regional league at U-15 because the travel can be too demanding.
SA: What’s the league play like for the younger levels?
WERNER KERN: We always play against older teams. Until U-17, Bayern’s teams always play a year up. That’s because all our players are scouted, so they should be better. And they need to be challenged.
SA: What do you look for in coaches at the youngest age groups?
WERNER KERN: With the youngest age groups, the most important for me is the personality. That they are role models and that they know how to communicate and relate to children.
And it’s also beneficial if they’re parents, because then they know how to treat children in an age-appropriate manner.
I have had great experiences with young coaches who come out of the university having studied education -- but also having a soccer-playing background is important.
SA: How does Bayern find talent?
WERNER KERN: Each age group has a scout, and we have a network of scouts. We focus first on talent in Bavaria.
SA: At what age do players join the residency?
WERNER KERN: Age 15 is the youngest we bring players into our residency, and that separates us from many other clubs.
We don’t want to take players out of their family house earlier than that. It’s important that children grow up with their families. We feel that’s crucial.
SA: How many players are in residency?
WERNER KERN: We have a dorm with 13 apartments for 13 players who live with us. That’s a small number, so the challenge for our scouts is to really pick the best.
And they have done a superb job. Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber all lived here.
SA: So the vast majority of players commute …
WERNER KERN: Yes. We have two buses that pick players up after school, one for the north and one for the south. The others generally take the train, like Thomas Mueller and Philipp Lahm did. [Mueller, 22, and Lahm, 28, both joined Bayern at age 11].
SA: What’s the turnover of players?
WERNER KERN: We only have scouted players. Players we pick. No one can come to FC Bayern and say, “I’ll play for a youth team.” And we’re constantly looking for talent. And each year, if we find better players, then the worst players must leave. We help them find new clubs.
All players are with Bayern at least one year and then we assess if they stay or are replaced.
(Look for Part 2 of the YSI’s interview with Werner Kern on Friday.)