Germany's not so secret key to success

By Mike Woitalla

It has been 24 years since Germany won its last World Cup and 18 years since it lifted a major trophy, the 1996 European Championship.

Fourteen years ago, when Germany was eliminated from Euro 2000 in the first round without a win, the German federation, in collaboration with the Bundesliga, revolutionized its player development system.

Germany’s 36 first and second division clubs were required to meet youth program criteria and now spend an average of $3.5 million annually on developing talent. The DFB created a network of 1,000 coaches and 350 venues at which youth players convene once a week for additional training linked to the youth national team program. The DFB also began tapping Germany's immigrant population.

There was also a change in philosophy. Two years ago, when I spoke with Paul Breitner, a member of Germany’s 1974 World Cup and 1972 Euro winners, he explained it this way:

“Part of the German character and mentality is to work -- and to work not just in business, but also in sports,” says Breitner. “Working, working, working, running, running, fighting to get more and more fitness -- but to lose more and more your technical skills. This was the one-way street of German soccer.

“Thank goodness that all the important people in the federation started to think about the horrible soccer, not just our national team, but also the Bundesliga teams were playing."

Breitner described German soccer in 1990s as 75 percent power and 25 percent skills: “Now we are more 60-40 -- 60 technical skills, and 40 power/fitness. Forty is enough.

“And therefore we have in 2012 the first soccer generation of the kids who were 13, 14 years old in 2004 and whom we changed from soccer workers to soccer players.”

At Euro 2012, the Germans lost to Italy in the semifinals. Two years later, they are favored to beat Argentina at Maracana in the World Cup final on Sunday and end the longest trophy drought Germany has had since it won its first of three World Cups in 1954.

But the revamping of youth development isn’t the only reason the Germans have regained their status as a world power and are so successful at tournament play. They also have a formula that so often serves national teams well -- as Spain demonstrated with its 2010 World Cup title sandwiched by two Euro titles with a core of players who played club ball together.

Coach Joachim Loew’s starting lineup in the last two games included six Bayern Munich players: goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Another Bayern talent, Mario Goetze, has played in four games and scored in group play against Ghana.

A national team with players who play together year round is most likely to have the chemistry needed to succeed at a World Cup. Especially when it’s one of the world's top clubs.

19 comments about "Germany's not so secret key to success ".
  1. Gus Keri, July 12, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    "A national team with players who play together year round is most likely to have the chemistry needed to succeed at a World Cup. Especially when it’s one of the world's top clubs." I hope this will be the case for England soon. 7 of England players in this world cup will be with Liverpool next season. This might improve England's chances in the coming international tournaments.

  2. Scott O'Connor, July 12, 2014 at 11:26 a.m.

    I'd say the 75% power/fitness and 25% skills matches where the US is now. Perhaps we're 80/20 and were 90/10 10 years ago. Nice blueprint presented for revamping a national team program. Also, one can't overestimate the benefits of the Bundesliga and La Liga superteams housing most of the national team players. Getting to play together 10 months a year like the Bayern players do as well as the Barcelona/Madrid players for Spain did was a huge advantage. Also Italy has done this as well when they won in 2006 with many players on the AC Milan - Juventus teams. MLS will never be able to make that happen where one team can house a core of our best players to play as a unit for club and country. I've often wondered why the other smaller teams in those leagues even exist - just to be the whipping boys for Bayern, Barca, Real, AC, Juve, etc... MLS has set parity as its priority. They've done a great job with that. What we'll never see with that is a true American powerhouse team that can compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and be a breeding ground for a successful national team core that plays together all the time.

  3. BJ Genovese, July 12, 2014 at 11:42 a.m.

    And JK is from that era of 75/25. He clearly focused on fitness being a priority for this team. Does he embrace this shift that German as well as American's desire in the way our teams play. Will he spend the money as US Soccer technical director to hunt for young talent that show a propensity to play this 60/40 style? We can only hope. They just picked a fresh u17 team. I would like to see some video of them playing to see if this technical side is coming thrue yet.

  4. R2 Dad, July 12, 2014 at 1:38 p.m.

    "The DFB created a network of 1,000 coaches and 350 venues at which youth players convene once a week for additional training linked to the youth national team program." Not mentioned is the fact that standards were met, and Germans are sticklers for meeting the letter of the law. Essentially, the Germans stuck with the program. Compare that to the US, which is all about rights and freedom of expression (for the coaches). We would have every coach running around doing their own thing because they know better, their kids have different strengths, every excuse under the sun to avoid doing what they are tasked with instructing. How do you change that without the status quo revolting? If the answer is to change the status quo, there had better be an iron-clad system to replace it.

  5. Tyler Dennis, July 12, 2014 at 2:11 p.m.

    The reason JK focuses on fitness is because the skill isn't there. But, if you can run and pressure the ball and take advantage late in a game, you have a chance.

    But, I'd also say, when the US has played attacking soccer down the wings, they are doing a much better job. Unfortunately, they have a hell of a time holding any kind of possession or systematically working themselves out of tight with quick passing and calm. They are getting better, definite improvement over previous years. But, we just aren't at the level of the top teams/players.

  6. Kent James, July 12, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.

    One thing that we have to remember is that Germany is much more compact than the US; so their 1,000 coaches and 350 training centers (as well as all the Bundesliga teams) would be in an area half the size of Texas (so Clint Dempsey would not have had to drive 2 hrs each way to get a high level practice). At this point, I'd take having those same facilities in our much larger space. The MLS clubs should put as much money as they can afford into this type of system, and the USSF should make sure areas not served by MLS clubs still have training centers.

  7. Santiago 1314, July 12, 2014 at 11:22 p.m.

    I don't think JKs Helicopter will take him anywhere near the U17...Hopefully he only does a "Katrina-Bush" Fly-By...Leave those Teams to Hugo Perez and Tab Ramos...That's the kinda player we WANT!!!

  8. David V, July 13, 2014 at 10:13 a.m.

    Remember too, since there wasn't the success of going to the end of the champions league for Bayern, they are all fresher (with the exception of Khedira winning it all at Real Madrid)... Ozil certainly has had the rest... there's a pattern seen for many years, go deep into the Champions League with a club team that has many national team players, and you're a bit warn out for summer tournaments

  9. David V, July 13, 2014 at 10:42 a.m.

    You want some secret sauce on Germany... read my next posts, written a few days back...

  10. David V, July 13, 2014 at 10:43 a.m.

    A VICTORY FOR FOOTBALL... the Germans having been chasing the Spanish for 6+ years... lost to them in Euro 2008, knocked out in the semis in 2010WC by the spanish, saw them destroy Italy in the final of Euro 2012, after being knocked out by Italy... When Spain won the Euro2008, and especially WC2010, remember (not that long ago), most of the world had been playing, as Cruyff likes to say "anti-football"... a big brutalizing, defensive affair... the world's game had turned ugly and Spain's WC victory was heralded as a Victory for football... the best team won, with an attacking creative mentality... Brazilian great Tostao, amongst several greats from yesteryear has said that this 2014 cup has been most enjoyable due to that renaissance which the Spanish started...most of the large teams, all at one point or another, said they would follow suit, they would take their queue from Spain, and become more creative, emulate the Spanish style...teams like Italy (good on them the last 4 years), England, the USA, etc, etc, etc., and including England... Germany did follow suit... they got rid of Mike Ballack (remember him stomping all over Xavi's feet during the Euro 2008 final? a Brute, the wrong kind of player, done with...) ... Bastian Schweinsteiger said he would study and emulate Xavi, which he did, the list goes on, and on... all the time, Jogi Low has been a humble man, showing grace in defeat, but working to implement that style, and helping his players to develop and mature... this has become a Germany that I could support and appreciate, not since the days of Kaiser Franz have I enjoyed so much this Germany... Brazil, on the other hand, and for whatever reason (do they not have the players they once had, or is it the less creative, flowing style of football most of their players now play in the English premier league that is part of the demise of what the world came to love about Brazil? or perhaps a bit of both), chose an ugly combative type of football (perhaps like the Dutch against the Spanish in 2010, after Cruyff told van marwijk that they could not beat spain) perhaps Scolari adopted this approach because he knew his team had no chance on the skill level (ANYONE who knows football could see this was a subpar team for years, and the ONLY reason why they were in the conversation about being champions was because of their history and because of the geography of 2014)... This is NOT and has NOT been the Brazil the world fell in love with in the late 50s, 60s, 70s, and the early 80s... Big Phil has been a big Jerk (compare him to Jogi Low and Vicente Del Bosque in both victory and defeat), the fans were vitriolic... what a tale of two countries...what a flip in headlines... "Creative Germans destroy way-over-their-heads Brazilian Thugs!!!" Part 1/2

  11. David V, July 13, 2014 at 10:43 a.m.

    A VICTORY FOR FOOTBALL Part 2/2 Good on Germany... the route they took, was good for them, and it is good for football... One can only hope a creative, attacking team wins the Argentina-Holland game... let's hope the Dutch thugs on 2010 with their Kung-Fu kickers remain either on the bench or out of the psyche Take note folks... including the USA... get away from hunker-down-and-hope-to-survive hunker down, brutal football, it lost again, yesterday. Germany's victory yesterday, was a win for world football …....... (a footnote would be that Pep Guardiola has helped many of these German players with his philosophy instilled at Bayern Munich-further helping along German national team players playing for Bayern)... the game is about possession, about creativity, about attacking (and yes of course organization too, but NOT organization alone, mixed in with thuggery)

  12. TK TK, July 14, 2014 at 11:04 a.m.

    I hope we look at the reason Germany is Champ. The development process of these players. Like the identification of these players at an ealry age. Here is a stat that SA should write on. Of the 23 players from this team 11 players played for the U17 German National team and most of those are the teams best players. All but one of the 23 players played for at least one U21 or younger National team. All but 2 played for the U20 or younger German National Team. All but 4 played for the U19 or younger teams. 15 of them played for the U18 or younger teams. The Spain team that won 2010 had similar stats. How is USA doing in that stat??

  13. TK TK, July 14, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.

    Playing together on a pro team certainly helps but playing together as a National Team since the youth years is certainly the most important factor for this German team and Spain's team in 2010. All identified early at U15, U16, U17, U18.

  14. David V, July 16, 2014 at 2:32 a.m.

    TK TK... if you are correct, Spain will dominate the future, current EU U21 Champs and myriads of success at youth levels... the other thing you don't understand about the culture in spain... most are naive about it... in the next post

  15. David V, July 16, 2014 at 2:35 a.m.

    Spain is made up of VERY independent autonomous regions... One MAJOR reason for their success is that in the past decade, they got over (at least enough to sporting come together) some of the political differences and players from all regions of Spain were a part of recent squad coaching selections

  16. David V, July 16, 2014 at 2:38 a.m.

    Gus... I just realized why you are so confused about Tiqui Taca, what it is, what Spain faced, that Germany hasn't, nor any other team in history... you're a fan of England... and the problem with your English teams is that the English league only has 2.3 Brits starting, on average, in the English league... it's pretty much hopeless for English football to succeed on the world level, or European level

  17. TK TK, July 16, 2014 at 9:47 a.m.

    David, I knew a few years ago about Spain' selections political selections in the past and that now that they have managed to put that aside they picked a better team. I think both things go together. Germany as well had a problem picking non full blooded Germans for the National Team in the past. Now we see a much more diverse German team that seem to be identified at an early age. 2 Wolrd Cups in a row with these tendencies. Cant be a coincidence?? Can It?

  18. TK TK, July 16, 2014 at 9:51 a.m.

    David, I also didnt say that it was neccessary to win at early ages to win World Cup Senior level. What I said was that most, if not all, 2014 German and 2010 Spain Teams were identified and picked for U16-U23 teams. Argentina's starting team almost all played for the U20 National Team as well even though it seems very few were picked for U17 team.

  19. TK TK, July 16, 2014 at 10:39 a.m.

    David, look at the African teams. Cameroon only has 7 players ever selected to a younger Cameroon national team and most were to U23 team. Nigeria?? Only 6 identified early by Nigeria national Team. Ghana has 11 players. Ivory Coast? 4 and Drogba not one of them!! All 4 teams have at least 3-6 that played for Euro National Teams like Germany, France, Netherlands, etc. at younger ages. Many bloggers here like to critisize on how African teams dont do well at World Cups as they should. Could this be why?? USA's make up is very similar to these African teams with so many Euro Born players (7) with most from Germany. Of the American Players born in USA 11 were identifed at U23 or younger but of those only 5 at U18 or younger.

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