Commentary

Soccer made in Germany and the reality

Could the recent FIFA Confederations Cup championship coupled with UEFA U-21 championship be a coincidence for German MNTs? I personally believe in luck and coincidences in soccer results, but they are usually limited to a game or two.

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)
2002
2 DQ DQ
2003
GS DQ DQ (16) DQ
2004
GS (16) GS GS DQ
2005
3 QF SF DQ (16) DQ
2006
3 GS DQ 4
2007
DQ DQ SF 3 5
2008
2 (16) 1 DQ
2009
DQ 1 QF DQ
R16
2010
3 DQ
DQ
2011
DQ DQ DQ
3 2
2012
SF (16) DQ
2
2013
DQ GS DQ
DQ
DQ
DQ
2014
1 1 GS
2015
SF QF DQ
DQ
DQ
2016
SF 5 SF
2017
1 1 R16 SF

DQ: Did not qualify.
GS: Group stage.
QF: Quarterfinals.
SF: Semifinals.
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.

In summary:

-- 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 (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) 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.

26 comments about "Soccer made in Germany and the reality".
  1. Ben Myers, July 11, 2017 at 7:46 p.m.

    US Soccer still needs a well-documented and organized Talent Development Program, followed by all coaches starting at the lowest level. Right now, the US has a crazy quilt of club soccer, high school soccer, college soccer, lower tier semi-professional and professional leagues with MLS allegedly at the top of the heap. There are tons of unlicensed and under-licensed coaches in the wild. This is not an organized approach to the development of elite players. It is chaos, and strictly random if a player becomes good enough to be considered for USMNT duty. Shame, Sunil! Shame, Garber!

  2. Kris Spyrka replied, July 11, 2017 at 10:16 p.m.

    Ben Myers, you are on point. The Leistungszentren (performance centers) are the key to producing players. But, coaching/managing/training, this is a cultural difference between Germany and the rest of the world. Football is your job, you are not a part timer! You go to school for it, you earn a degree for it Fussballlehrer. There is a structure here like every profession in Germany. The butcher, the baker, the auto mechanic, everyone is educated in a system and has to pass a Meister exam before they are released on the public. You can't just wing it like here in the USA. It's the wild west here, always has been, always will be. If you have the foundation, at least you can adjust if things go wrong, here we just jump to the next new gimmick, we have no patience for LT development. and that's everyone in the US Soccer food chain.

    Ironically, Klinsmann (the guy we hired, did not have this education)I just finished an article (retrospective) on Klinsmann that Der Spiegel released today. He lent some important accents to their program that made them successful, but the Germans view him with mixed emotions, there were the successes but also the failures.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 9:37 a.m.

    Come down Ben. A country like Germany, where football is far and away the #1 sport just implemented this system within the past 15 years or so. The US was basically starting from scratch in the 1990s. It takes time to build a development infrastructure. But I guess it's easier to blame the people in charge. By the way, according the article the 1. and 2. Bundesliga teams speng 120 million Euros (about $150m) just in 2013-14 on development. Where is that type of money coming from in the US?

  4. uffe gustafsson, July 11, 2017 at 8:59 p.m.

    This a huge country how could they possibly see all the talent? Yes MLS have finally started academy teams, but how about the vast geographic in between the proffectinal team cities.
    I think you asking for a impossible task.
    We live in Bay Area and as good of a soccer community we are don't think the US soccer have the ability to see all the players unless u are in one of the clubs that gets their attention.
    So lots of players never get seen.
    And the clubs that do have their attention only a few can be part of that club, traveling to one of those clubs are impossible for most families.
    And how about the clubs in the areas that don't get have MLS academies or just to remote.
    They have great players but it's just to diffecult to get seen by anyone that have input on any national team whatever age group you looking at.
    And not to talk about the money it cost to play club soccer.
    I think you all not realizing what kind of task this is. Do our club have relationship with any national trainers, doubt it as in most clubs in this country
    So in the end it's players that can get those relationships thru their national recognize clubs or if you lucky to get into like a ODP or similar events.

  5. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 9:34 a.m.

    It's not impossible, it just takes time. We are far ahead of where we were 20 years ago but still have a long way to go. We are still building the infrastructure.

  6. Ben Myers, July 12, 2017 at 10:01 a.m.

    @ "Fire Paul Gardner Now" The lack of a cohesive soccer infrastructure in the US is the same today as it was after the 1994 World Cup. So here we are, 23 years later, with essentially small incremental changes and some improvements in player development. The current members and candidates for the USMNT try hard and give their best, but they are products of a deeply flawed system, and a system to which the pooh-bahs of US Soccer pay scant attention. Competent leadership comes from the top. So does incompetent leadership. The US is currently incapable of producing world-class players deserving of consideration for a hypothetical place on the national team of any of the top eight FIFA-ranked national squads. USMNT candidates who have played extensively in western Europe are, on the average, more advanced technically and tactically then their counterparts who play in MLS, the home of brutally ugly and chaotic soccer.

  7. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 12:40 p.m.

    Really? In 1994 we had MLS and DA? MLS is 21 years old and improving. Give it some time, these things don't happen overnight.

  8. R2 Dad replied, July 15, 2017 at 9:15 p.m.

    FPGN, Kris and Ben are correct. Waiting for things to improve is a wish rather than an expectation. There is an appearance of a foundation because the DA exists, but it's a house of cards waiting for the next "big thing" to come along to further confuse/mix/disrupt the status quo. See ECNL vs DA as an example. There is a perception that if just have the right market-based approach all things are possible. But MLS has thrown sand in the gears and US Soccer doesn't seem to have an independent opinion. How many more generations of players are YOU willing to bypass before we get the structure our country deserves? If you want to know when we're making progress, wait until the heads of US Soccer/MLS start talking about soccer IQ as the most important topic INSTEAD of facilities, grit & resolve, and cardio. Until that day, forget about "progress".

  9. Kent James, July 12, 2017 at 10:21 a.m.

    Another insightful article by AG on development. The German system has clearly become dominant, though it seems to me that the Germans are building on their historic tendencies (exceptionally good technically and tactically, athletic with good team defense), which may leave less room for creativity (the system doesn't seem to produce the creative stars like Messi and Ronaldo, which may be impossible for any system to create). I think the US has made a lot of progress, though we do have a ways to go. But I think aspect of the German system we need to import is the system of teaching centers, where licensed coaches help spread best practices broadly (and they should also be able to identify talent that come to these centers).

  10. Kris Spyrka replied, July 12, 2017 at 12:06 p.m.

    Kent James, exactly right. It's not the material, it's the methodology and practice of how to apply that material in training sessions; systematically, age appropriate, and periodized, from Babini to International Pro level.

    I've had knowledge exchanges with some Bundesliga and English FA coaches and trainers and recently asked one of them for some advice on a GK session. What came back was material authored here in the USA (I had seen it before), and available to everyone on the internet, if you know where to look. My point is, the world is flat, and we all share the same public information, so how do we disseminate and train the content correctly?

    The progression of a serious German soccer coach looks something like this: Player (optional), Sporthochschule (there's a famous one in Cologne), club apprenticeship with ongoing education from DFB (federation) and UEFA (UEFA Pro License being highest level), and then work a top level club or Bundesleistungszentrum (performance center) at one of the top tier clubs spread out geographically. Our facsimile of the performance center is the DA now, some DA's forming around MLS clubs, like here with the SJ Earthquakes. But, I can tell you having audited both the MLS version and some of the local DA training sessions for both boys and girls, this is where the gap is the widest when comparing to Germany.

  11. Nick Daverese, July 12, 2017 at 10:38 a.m.

    When the kids are not in school in Germany there playing football. In ever playground there is a caged in small football area. I heard there digging up the graves of people buried in cemeteries in Berlin. Because now people are being cremated left and right. In their place they are constructing more soccer fields. Funny I know someone when he dies in his well he will be buried just outside his soccer field under a shade tree. So he will not have to miss any games just because he is dead.

  12. Kris Spyrka, July 12, 2017 at 11:32 a.m.

    "Fire Paul Gardner Now" we've been sorting things out since much longer, from where I start keeping track is 1972, when I started playing. And as far as the USMNT, it doesn't seem to matter what pro league is established (MLS, NASL, USL, PDL, NPSL and whatever else was around) or what infrastructure happens to be in vogue, the USMNT seems to always be on it's own satellitic trajectory, floating around out there in space, on a four year cycle that leaves us wanting after ever WC so it seems.

    Next threat China: The German Federation DFB and China have agreed to a deal that four Chinese teams play in the Regional Liga this next season. I believe they will each get four fixtures on the Germans season calendar. Four German clubs opposed the deal including Waldhof Mannheim (my old club), but in the opinion of the opposing clubs, the DFB Mafia rammed this down their throats (there must have been money involved). This is happening folks. Maybe why Merkel and Xi Jinping were sitting next to each other all G20 long.

    FWIW: Totally agree with Ben Myers last statement.

  13. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 12:42 p.m.

    We didn't qualify for a world cup from 1950-1990. Now getting out of the group stage in the minimum expectation (which we have done in three of the last four world cups). And that's not improvement? LOL. Give me a break. I get the frustration that we are not a footballing superpower yet but to act like we are in the same spot we were back in the dark ages is willfully ignoring reality.

  14. Kris Spyrka, July 12, 2017 at 1:01 p.m.

    No, we were better in the dark ages (3rd, 1930 WC), won our first international against Sweden 1916. Definition of insanity, doing the same thing every four years and expecting different results. Even the superpower's retool when needed.

  15. don Lamb replied, July 12, 2017 at 1:09 p.m.

    Bringing up results from 85-100 years ago as if they were somehow relevant now would probably be a better definition of insanity. Above, you said that it doesn't matter which American pro league we are talking about, but the fact is only MLS has really prioritized youth development. The growth of a second and third division will be huge parts of the infrastructure that will work in concert with MLS' efforts at the top. Finally, worrying about China because they are playing a handful of way lower division games in Germany has to be at least close to the pinnacle of American soccer paranoia/inferiority complex.

  16. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 3:34 p.m.

    Seriously? 1930? If that's the best you can do that should make you reexamine the validity of your arguments.

  17. I w Nowozeniuk, July 12, 2017 at 1:12 p.m.

    IMHO, U.S. development lacks the proper criteria to evaluate a player and than a process to hone that talent. I.E.,there are too many foreign players in MLS that don't belong and the clubs keep playing them even if they bring little to the table; instead of playing inexperienced Americans who have potential.

  18. Kris Spyrka, July 12, 2017 at 2:09 p.m.

    Don Lamb. Just bringing up the history, since we are a results driven society. Yes please, bring on the growth of second and third division leagues. I played for a top US Amateur Club, and had there been a viable progression path in this country back then many of us would not have ventured abroad.

    As far as China, not paranoid, just pointing out that they are making strides, throwing resources at the problem, and fast tracking with nations that have best practices in place. So they are starting at the top. But is it a paranoia/inferiority complex when you lose in major tournaments in the U's (women's) to countries like N. Korea, or your U23 don't qualify for an Olympic Games?

    I w Nowozeniuk, agreed, too many foreign players come here to retire, home grown younger players do need the touches. On another subject, how about the youth going to develop over the pond? We've got Bayern, Real Madrid, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, and, and, and, all camped out here on the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego affiliating with youth club soccer to grab prospects. How does MLS evolve, if talent goes the other direction?

  19. don Lamb replied, July 12, 2017 at 2:26 p.m.

    MLS has its share of youth prospects. It's a great thing that American prospects have opportunities domestically and abroad. Some will do better by staying closer to home, while others will do better by moving abroad. Still, most of these prospects will not pan out. The women's side certainly has its issues with player development. The men's side does too, but it is evolving and growing rapidly. There will be plenty of bumps in the road with things like the two Olympic failures, but the overall progress is there and will pay off over the next 5-10 years. If it keeps going at the current pace, there could be a much bigger payoff just a little bit further down the line.

  20. Kris Spyrka, July 12, 2017 at 3:11 p.m.

    Agree Don, it's never been 'this' good domestically. We just need to keep improving, one club at a time.

  21. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, July 12, 2017 at 3:36 p.m.

    See - now that makes sense.

  22. don Lamb replied, July 12, 2017 at 3:44 p.m.

    Amen, Kris. There are four or five that are doing a really good job, and a bunch that have a lot of catching up to do. BTW - I was at Waldhof Mannheim a few months ago -- great little club. Very cool that you played there. cheers

  23. Bob Ashpole, July 13, 2017 at 1:32 a.m.

    I am sorry, but I believe that as long as the focus is on developing elite clubs and teams rather than developing elite players the US will reach the top of the men's game. We also won't stay at the top of the women's game that way. I agree that we should look at what works for other countries, but time and time again I see people taking away the look of another person's good ideas but not the substance of the ideas. For example the USSF started technical centers but staffed them with club coaches unlike Germany who uses full time FA coaches to train and evaluate the top teen players at the technical centers. No dual allegiances (club and country), so no conflicts of interest. The group of coaches share what works and doesn't work and adapts best practices. So the peer group of professional coaches are developing the process, not a manager at headquarters who is not actually training and evaluating players.

  24. Bob Ashpole replied, July 13, 2017 at 1:34 a.m.

    "... the US won't reach..." rather than "will" My apologies for any confusion.

  25. ROBERT BOND, July 13, 2017 at 10:19 a.m.

    Mannschaft zuerst, nicht jeder Spieler fuer selbst.....

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, July 13, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.

    Developmental coaching has a different focus, even in Germany.

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