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.