Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff warns England they must develop team spirit to be successful

The architect of Germany’s resurgence as a football superpower has warned Fabio Capello he must restore team spirit and pride before banishing the memory of the “worst” English World Cup squad in recent memory.


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Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff warns England they must develop team spirit to be successful

Oliver Bierhoff is putting his faith in SAP technology Photo: GETTY IMAGES

England manager Capello has claimed that the emergence of young players Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll is comparable to the talent unearthed by Germany prior to their run to the World Cup semi-finals last year.

But Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff, whose work with national coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low since 2004 has led to an overhaul of German football, claims success at international level is about more than the potential of rising stars.

And the former Germany forward believes that England — eliminated in the second round at the World Cup following a 4-1 defeat by the Germans – must work towards rediscovering the spirit of Euro 96 and focus on every aspect of the game if they want to challenge for international honours again.

“In the World Cup last year, it seemed to be the worst [England team], but in 1996 they were good and together.” Bierhoff said. “There was not a big communication and team spirit in the England team.

“It happened to me with Germany in Euro 2000 when we didn’t go through the group, but at the World Cup in South Africa we had a strong team spirit and the discipline to do what coaches asked of the players.

“England had quality players, but you could see they were not communicating any more.

“England has some excellent players, but something was missing. If you read some discussions from the outside and also what you saw on the pitch, there was no reaction. They were missing something, some basics that you need to bring.”

Bierhoff explained that those ‘basics’ start at a young age and revolve around instilling discipline, respect and pride into players before they become established stars Unblocked Games 77.

He said when he became involved with Germany in 2004 “we found that they [the players] just threw their kit on the floor after training and, on one hand, these were spoilt kids. But we created this situation. For 15 years, we had everything done for them — a bus driver, everything done perfectly for them.

“But we wanted to give them initiative, so now the players all divide up the socks and the shirts, the shorts. It’s a rule they developed by themselves. You must give them their own identity.

“A national team is a national icon, the property of people, and we [the national teams] don’t pay our players anywhere near what they get for their clubs, so it is more a matter of pride at being selected among the 20-23 best players in the country.

“We tried to develop something which you can feel now — someone who is excluded from the group, wants to get back into the squad.

“At the end of the day, to be remembered as a true great you need to play in the World Cup finals and the players know this. If you play a great World Cup, then you become part of football history. That is something that for sure motivates the players.”

The current stand-off between the Football Association and Arsenal and Liverpool, who are set to fight plans to name Wilshere and Carroll in the under-21 squad for this summer’s European Championship in Denmark, highlights the age-old tensions between club and country in England.

But Bierhoff insists it is beneficial for all parties to have players involved at major tournaments — regardless of the age group.

He said it is “crucial” for clubs to work with national teams, and added: “I think the development of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller would not have been the same at Bayern Munich if they hadn’t played in the national side. Each helps each other. We try to show there is a relationship between the Under-21 team and the senior team which is very important.

“We wanted also to give the players a certain identity and philosophy, irrespective of whether you are under-15, under-16, under-21 or senior team.

“If you let players feel, by communicating, that it is very important for their development and their personality that they have a good under-21 tournament, then they do well.

“It was a very good thing for us in the World Cup that a lot of our players like all played together in the under-21 side. They all had success together so it helped team spirit so a lot of work was already done when they progressed to the senior side.”

The Bierhoff plan

Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the Germany team, claims England must follow the path to football rehabilitation before thinking of winning the World Cup.

Here is the former Germany striker’s blueprint for success:

1 – End club versus country stand-off: Resistance from Arsenal and Liverpool to Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll being selected for U-21 duty this summer would not happen in Germany, where Bierhoff claims clubs such as Bayern Munich appreciate how international success goes hand-in-hand with the development of their players.

2 – Instil respect at a young age: Working in tandem with coach Jurgen Klinsmann in 2004, Bierhoff banned players from throwing dirty kit on the dressing-room floor for kit-men to collect. The move was done to prevent players becoming ‘spoilt.’

3 – Flood domestic football with domestic talent: Fifty-three per cent of players in the Bundesliga are home-grown due to the investment in youth football in Germany. There is no limit on foreigners in Germany, but Bierhoff believes strong youth systems produce talented players, avoiding the need for foreign imports.

4 – Build for the future and stick with the plan: Bierhoff and Klinsmann cleared Germany’s old guard in 2004 and promoted youth, with last year’s World Cup semi-final finish a reward. The Germans also highlight Spain’s success in forging a young team and allowing them to grow together.

5 – Put glory before money: German footballers are told that, while they can earn big money and fame by starring in club football, they must achieve success at a World Cup to become legends and earn their place in the history of the game.


How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line

Nation that suffered an embarrassing Euro 2000 now boasts both Champions League finalists thanks to a system that values coaches and nurtures indigenous talent

SC Freiburg's Sebastien Kerk

Robin Dutt has a lovely problem on his hands. Sat in his office in Frankfurt, the man who replaced Matthias Sammer as the sporting director at the German Football Association last August, taking on responsibility for the development of young players and coaches, doubts there is any room for improvement. “We are at the top level and it’s difficult to go above that,” Dutt says. “If we are in the year 2000 and we are at the bottom it is OK. But nobody sees anything wrong here.”

A decade or so after the DFB travelled the world in search of best practice, Dutt smiles at the irony that other nations are coming to them for advice these days. Dan Ashworth, the Football Association’s newly appointed director of elite development, was among recent visitors, spending three hours with Dutt, the former Bayer Leverkusen and SC Freiburg coach, in a meeting that must have been enlightening.

German football is booming, reaping the rewards of the strategy drawn up after their dismal performances at Euro 2000, when Germany finished bottom of their group. Forced into an overhaul of youth football, the DFB, the Bundesliga and the clubs decided that the development of more technically proficient homegrown players would be in everyone’s best interests. This led to the creation of academies right across the top two divisions.

The fruits are there for all to see. Joachim Löw, Germany’s coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players – Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gundogan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) … the list goes on – and Dutt says there are more coming through in the under-21 side who will travel to Israel for the European Championship next month unblocked movies.

As for Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley, the DFB proudly points out that 26 of the players Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund named in their Uefa squads this season are homegrown and eligible to play for Germany. More than half of those players came through the DFB’s talent development programme, which was introduced in 2003 with the aim of identifying promising youngsters and providing them with technical skills and tactical knowledge at an early age. Covering 366 areas of Germany, this impressive initiative caters for children aged 8 to 14 and is served by 1,000 part-time DFB coaches, all of whom must hold the Uefa B licence and are expected to scout as well as train the players. “We have 80 million people in Germany and I think before 2000 nobody noticed a lot of talent,” Dutt says. “Now we notice everyone.”

Some youngsters attending the development programme are already affiliated with professional clubs but others may be only turning out for their local junior side, which means the weekly DFB sessions are also a chance for Bundesliga teams to spot players.

It is the opposite of what happens in England, where the FA relies on clubs to develop youngsters. Dutt smiles when it is suggested to him that the DFB are doing the clubs’ recruitment for them. “But if we help the clubs, we help us, because the players of our national teams – the youth teams and Joachim Löw’s team – come from the clubs,” he says.

The incredible depth of Germany’s coaching resources, as well as the DFB’s close relationship with Bundesliga clubs, helps to make the programme. According to Uefa, Germany has 28,400 (England 1,759) coaches with the B licence, 5,500 (895) with the A licence and 1,070 (115) with the Pro licence, the highest qualification. It is little wonder that Ashworth said last month that there will be no quick fix for English football. The country that invented the game has forgotten that we need people to teach it.

For Germany, post-Euro 2000 was about changing philosophies as well as employing more full-time coaches and upgrading facilities. The DFB wanted to move away from playing in straight lines and relying on “the German mentality” to win matches. Instead coaches focused on developing fluid formations that required the sort of nimble, dexterous players who would previously have been overlooked because of their lack of physical strength.
Freiburg academy

“In the past there were a lot of big players. But look at our players now,” Dutt says. “You realise that an important thing for a football player is technique and then the height of the player, ordinarily, will be small. [Diego] Maradona, [Andrés] Iniesta, Xavi – all little players. In the defence we think we need big players. Mats Hummels is big but he is very good with the ball. In 1982 Mats Hummels wouldn’t have played in defence, he would have played at No10. In the 1970s, [Franz] Beckenbauer was playing football and [Hans-Georg] Schwarzenbeck was running after the English players – if he got the ball he gave it to Beckenbauer and the job was done. But now Schwarzenbeck is Hummels, and Hummels plays like Beckenbauer and Schwarzenbeck.”

If one club has led the way when it comes to producing young players in Germany it is Freiburg, who have won the German equivalent of the FA Youth Cup four times in the past seven years. Their 25-man first-team squad consists of 10 homegrown players, six of whom started in the 2-1 defeat against Schalke last Saturday, when Freiburg needed to win to pull off the unimaginable and qualify for the Champions League. Beckenbauer was among those who travelled to Freiburg’s Mage Solar Stadion hoping to see history made.
Christian Streich

Under the tutelage of their erudite and colourful manager Christian Streich, a qualified teacher who worked in the club’s youth setup for 16 years, Freiburg were one of the stories of the Bundesliga season. With an annual wage budget of only €18m (£15.4m), which covers the coaching staff as well as the first-team squad, Freiburg’s fifth-place finish was a remarkable achievement, even if Streich was unable to conceal his disappointment that they will be playing in the Europa League, rather than the Champions League, next season and that four of his best players have been snapped up.

Last week the Guardian went behind the scenes at Freiburg, whose location, on the fringes of the Black Forest, is every bit as impressive as the work that goes on at the football school. The facility, which has four pitches including a small stadium, cost €10m in 2001, before the academy reforms were introduced and at a time when Freiburg were relegated from the Bundesliga, which gives an idea of how committed they are to producing players.

Freiburg has neither the financial wherewithal nor the desire to compete for overseas talent, so there is no chance of Streich, or any of his staff, being spotted with an agent in São Paulo brokering a deal for a teenage Brazilian. Of the 66 players in the under-16 to under-19 age groups in their academy, all but two are eligible to play for Germany. In keeping with the ethos of the club, where there is a wonderful sense of community, every senior academy player earns the same.

Across a sizeable area where they face little competition from other Bundesliga clubs, Freiburg work closely with five amateur feeder teams who receive a part-time coach to train children aged 8 to 11 twice a week. The most promising players are invited to attend the academy during school holidays and for occasional tournaments at weekends. “We believe it is not good for a nine-year-old to play [regularly] for a professional football club because it changes the reasons why he plays football,” says Sebastian Neuf, a member of the football school’s management.

Once a player reaches under-12 level things change. Those who live within 40km of Freiburg train at the football school up to four times a week and play in a league, where teams can win a title and be relegated, a major difference to the way academies are run in England. The earliest an academy player would take part in competitive football with a professional club in England – where the theory is that it “should be about performances, not results” – is at under-18 level.

Dutt offers an interesting response when asked about the rationale behind the league system. “It’s important for the mentality to have some games in the year you have to win, but it is not the main thing. The main thing is to do good training.

“For the Germans this system is very important. It’s like golf. If I play golf in England, no club wants to know my handicap. If I go to play in Germany you have to show your handicap. If you play with a guy you don’t know, the first question is: ‘How do you do?’ The second question is: ‘What is your handicap?’ Germans want to reach something, they want to go up.”

There is no shortage of silverware on show in Freiburg’s academy, yet the club are not obsessed with winning leagues and cups and acknowledge there is life outside football. Through a nationwide elite schools programme supported by the DFB, the 16 players who board on the top floor of Freiburg’s three-storey academy building, along with those who live with host families and travel from home, are able to continue their education around their football schedule, which sometimes means training before and after lessons.

Freiburg place great emphasis on academic work, so much so that they like a selection of their staff to come from a teaching background, so that they can provide educational help whenever it is needed, including on the way to matches. It is not uncommon for players to do homework on the coach. Streich says that clubs have a moral obligation to think about what happens to those who fail to make the grade.

“When I went to Aston Villa eight years ago I told them our players, under-17, 18 and 19, go to school for 34 hours a week,” he says. “They said: ‘No, you’re a liar, it’s not possible, our players go for nine hours.’ I said: ‘No, I’m not lying.’ They said: ‘It’s not possible, you can’t train and do 34 hours of education.’ I said: ‘Sure. And what do you do with the players who have for three years, from the age of 16 to 19, only had nine hours a week of school?

“They said: ‘They have to try to be a professional or not. They have to decide.’ I said: ‘No, we can’t do that in Freiburg. It’s wrong. Most players in our academy can’t be professionals, they will have to look for a job. The school is the most important thing, then comes football.’ We give players the best chance to be a footballer but we give them two educations here. If 80% can’t go on to play in the professional team, we have to look out for them. The players that play here, the majority of them go on to higher education. And we need intelligent players on the pitch anyway.”

What is clear is that those who are good enough will get a chance at Freiburg, which makes the €3.5m the club put into the youth academy every year (about 10% of turnover) feel like a sound investment. Against Schalke, in what was one of the biggest games in Freiburg’s history, Streich gave Sebastian Kerk, a Germany Under-19 international, his debut. Nobody at Freiburg batted an eyelid.

While Freiburg have been investing in youth for years, not least because the club’s existence depends on it, Streich acknowledges that huge changes have taken place across all Bundesliga clubs, in particular when it comes to attitudes towards coaching, where a “jobs for the boys” mentality has largely disappeared. He believes England needs to rethink its own approach.

“They have to look to build coaches in England. They have a lot of money and they have bought players. But for me the most important thing is to educate the coaches in the youth academies.

“Before in Germany, if you played in the Bundesliga for a few years, clubs said: ‘We’ll take them to manage the under-17s.’ But they had no education to be a coach. Sometimes the same thing happens in England – I saw this. On the pitch these players played very well but that doesn’t mean they’re a coach, and now this changes in Germany. And then under-15, under-17 and under-19 coaches, they gave them a salary so they could do this work full time. Coaches came from university, who had studied sport, they mixed it up and then it got better.”
Freiburg academy

Streich smiles when asked what he thinks of some of the top English clubs, which spend millions on youth programmes despite there being no obvious pathways to the first team. “You can’t compare someone like Manchester City with SC Freiburg, it’s saturn and the moon,” he says. “We played against Manchester City’s youth team here, in the Black Forest, some years ago and also a few years later. They had one player from Sweden, one player from Finland, one player from Brazil, one player from here, one player from there. ‘What do you do next year?’ ‘Yeah, we buy eight or nine players.’ ‘What about scouting?’ ‘We have 20 people scouting at youth [level].’ We only have four for the professionals.”

Frank Arnesen, who is full of admiration for Streich’s work at Freiburg, has been on both sides of the fence and is well qualified to compare the merits of youth football in Germany and England. The Dane, who has just left his position as sporting director at Hamburg after working for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the same capacity, believes England has the best facilities for young players but feels the spending power of Premier League clubs denies academy graduates the chance that exists in the Bundesliga.

“The money is a big part of the problem in England because clubs go out and buy finished players instead of waiting,” Arnesen says. “Young players need to make mistakes to get better, but managers think they can’t afford [for] that to happen. You see the squads, even in the smaller clubs, they get players from all over instead of bringing young players through.”

Arnesen believes that the introduction of the “50% plus one” rule in 2001, which requires Bundesliga clubs to be owned by their members, has helped to promote homegrown talent. In the absence of foreign benefactors it makes financial sense, and also appeals to the supporters in control, to give young German players an opportunity.
Freiburg academy

The landscape could not be more different in the Premier League, where the majority of clubs are in foreign hands and English players in the minority. It is hard, almost impossible, to imagine Germany accepting that situation, not least because the success of the national team is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“I think one thing is very important, coaches who are coaching for the national team of Germany, from upstairs to down, they are very respected and it’s a good job to have. In England I am not so sure about that,” Arnesen says. “I think there is a feeling that to work for a club is much higher than the FA but that’s not the case in Germany.”

It was one of the reasons why so many people were surprised when Ashworth, who was attracting interest from leading clubs because of the exceptional job he did as sporting director at West Bromwich Albion, opted to take up a high-profile but extremely challenging position with the FA at its new national football centre at St George’s Park, where it remains to be seen whether he will get the support he needs from the Premier League and its clubs. Arnesen, who recently met Ashworth at Hamburg, believes relationships need to change in England.

“The FA [must] create a situation where it is an honour to be there and you need help from clubs,” he says. “Hamburg have one of the biggest defensive talents in Germany, Jonathan Tah [the national Under-17 captain]. Sometimes he is training from Wednesday to Friday [with the DFB] and he cannot play Saturday in his own game for Hamburg. We did not think that was correct so we sat down and talked, and that is what the Germans do.”

Dutt agrees. “I spoke three hours with Dan about this,” he says. “It will be better for England if the clubs and the association talked together. If you see the English clubs, there are a lot of foreign players and not many from England. Chelsea win the Champions League and then the Europa League, so they have success. But the English national team, I don’t think they are successful at this time.”

The Elite Player Performance Plan, which the Premier League introduced a little more than two years ago, feels like the last throw of the dice for youth development in English football. Millions of pounds are being pumped into academies, with clubs free to cast their net far and wide for players who will have more contact time with coaches than ever before, albeit with no promise of greater opportunities to break through. Time will tell whether it works.

Back in Frankfurt, Dutt is looking at his watch before his next meeting. There is just one final question for him before he heads off: why is it that Bundesliga academies so rarely bring in players from overseas? “If you want to get an African player, or a player from Brazil, you need money,” he says. “It’s cheaper to bring through your own player from Germany. And we have enough players here.”

How German football rose from the ashes of 1998 to become the best in the world

In an extract from a new book, Das Reboot, Raphael Honigstein speaks to one of the unknown heroes of the German football revolution, which ultimately led to the country winning the 2014 World Cup
Germany celebrate winning the 2014 World Cup
Germany celebrate winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; they were a side transformed after the ignominy of failure at France 1998. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Dietrich Weise lives in Heilbronn, in former US Army barracks that have been converted into a modern housing estate. “The best thing about my apartment is that there’s no one above me,” he says. “I can’t stand it when somebody throws parties above me late at night. This way, I have peace. That’s what I have always wanted. It’s nice when you’re happy and content in old age.” Weise turned 80 in November 2014.

He has bought cake for his visitor. Käsesahne (cheesecake, but the lighter, central European variety). Four slices are lined up on a little table in the living room, which doubles as his office. Built-in cabinet: cherry. You can hear the coffee dripping through the filter. “Shoot. What do you want to know? Do you want milk and sugar? Help yourself, it’s all here.”

Weise suffered a severe heart-attack in 2013 Unblocked Games 66. His life was saved with seconds to spare. He has recovered well since. He still goes to watch amateur football regularly, in Heilbronn or Neckarsulm, talking to pensioners on the touchline. Bundesliga stadiums are not his world any more, the travelling takes too much out of him. “The engine is getting weaker all the time,” he says, and looks at the floor. “Maybe I’ve worked too much in my life. And I’ve probably kept too many things bottled up, sadly.”

He was an early prototype of the modern trainer. Not a dictatorial patriarch, more like a sensitive teacher, willing to listen to key players before coming to a decision. He was a man of hard work and details; sideline theatrics were not his genre. “In Frankfurt and Kaiserslautern the fans sometimes said: ‘This guy is falling asleep on the bench.’”
On Second Thoughts: the 1974 World Cup final
Scott Murray
Read more

He chuckles. In 1974, Weise won the World Cup for West Germany. One of his Eintracht players did, anyway. Kind of. “It was my idea to make Bernd Hölzenbein a left-winger,” he says, suddenly. “We had many good right-wingers in the Bundesliga at the time. Uli Hoeness ran up and down the touchline, and Jürgen Grabowski was the god of crosses. So I said to Bernd: ‘Look, what happens if you come in from the left?’”

Weise jumps out of his armchair, spreads his legs, ready to take on an imaginary opponent. He drops his shoulder, turns inside on his right. “When you cut in from the left as a right-sided player, you attack the weaker side of the right-back.” Weise takes two steps forward. He turns around to pretend that he’s the defender now. He hits his left thigh and makes a face as if he’s just been “done”. Now he’s the striker again. The carpet is slipping. He takes aim. His right slipper comes off and hits the wall. 1-0, Weise.

In the 1974 final, Hölzenbein attacked the Dutch box, employing the Weise move. He cut inside on his right foot, then went down after a sliding challenge from Wim Jansen. A dive, in all likelihood. Penalty by left-back Paul Breitner, another right-footed player playing on the “wrong side”, It was the equaliser and Germany were 1-1. These days, fielding so-called “inverted wingers” on the flanks has become a standard ploy.

West German football was at the peak of its powers in the mid-70s but Weise noted something odd. Why were the youth teams not winning any trophies? “We were by far the biggest football association in Europe but we didn’t even make it to finals in the youth tournaments. I believe that was down to politics. The DFB [German Football Association] was a huge machine then, with representatives from all the regional federations. They wanted to see their players getting picked. That meant that better players from the bigger states were left behind because somebody, somewhere, insisted on the inclusion of his guy.”

After his appointment as youth coach by the German FA in 1978, Weise set out to find talents in places where others hadn’t bothered to look. He went to see hundreds of youth games all over the country, turning up unannounced at training sessions. “Sometimes I looked at a player five times. I wrote everything down in a large file.” He carefully takes it off the shelf. The German FA have plans to include it in their newly built football museum in Dortmund, he says.

Most youth games kicked off on Sunday morning at eleven. There were no videos or DVDs then. But Weise decided that all competitive games should be covered. He recruited senior professionals to join in the hunt. “Gerd Zewe, Wolfgang Seel, Ernst Diehl all worked for me in various parts of Germany. Klaus Allofs was doing the games in the west of the country for me. The trick was never telling them which players I was interested in. I wanted them to have an open mind. In return, the German FA paid them expenses, mileage.” Fortuna Düsseldorf striker Allofs was a fully-fledged international, a European Championship winner in 1980. Different times.

Weise’s network unearthed players who managed to win the Under-18 Euros in 1981 under his guidance, West Germany’s first ever international trophy at youth level. “In the semi-final, we beat France, at last. Their development work was exemplary.” That same year, Weise also won the U20 World Cup in Australia.

He takes a framed team photograph from the cupboard and gently puts it on his lap. “Michael Zorc and Ralf Loose were key players, Roland Wohlfarth was an important forward. We had Ralf Falkenmayer. Rüdiger Vollborn was in goal.” All those went on to become very successful Bundesliga professionals. Zorc works as Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director now.

Weise also coached the generation of the 1990 World Cup winners. “I worked with Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Thomas Berthold and Olaf Thon. Hansi Flick [Joachim Löw’s assistant at the 2014 World Cup] was one of my boys, too. He played in the U18s at the 1983 Euros.”
Wolfgang Niersbach, the President of the German Football Association, poses with Dietrich Weise, right, during a reception to celebrate Weise’s 80th birthday in November 2014.

Weise had achieved everything in the space of three years but youth development was still not being valued by those in the higher echelons. “I was able to introduce a second ‘A’ youth team, so that we had an ‘A1’ and ‘A2’ going forward. The French copied that. But that was all I could do, really.”

Weise left his post in 1983 to coach first, Kaiserslautern and then Frankfurt again. With the exception of the U16s in 1984 and 1992 [European Championship], no German team would win another youth competition until 2008.

The call came in August 1996. National coach Berti Vogts had urged DFB president Egidius Braun to do more to foster youth development. The German FA were only concerned with the youth national teams then. The real footballing education was in the hands of the powerful Landesverbände, the regional federations, and the clubs.

Vogts’ idea was to install one German FA coach inside each regional federation to conduct additional sessions for gifted kids who weren’t part of the club system. That suggestion was turned down out of hand. It was considered unrealistic. The regional federations didn’t want interference from Frankfurt.

Braun called Weise, who was the manager of Liechtenstein at the time, and instructed him to come up with a more viable blueprint. Weise: “He said that Germany would be bidding for the World Cup in 2006 and that we needed to have a competitive team in place in case we won the vote.”

The decrease in talents was then widely seen as a sociological issue. Football was suffering thanks to the appeal of video games and individual activities, like going to the gym, the theory went. There were also mutterings about the current generation of teenagers being maybe a little too comfortable and well-off; too soft to defend their birthright against the post-Bosman influx of foreigners. “In Germany, there is very little social pressure to improve your position in society through sport,” said German FA youth coordinator [and later assistant to national coach Rudi Völler] Michael Skibbe in 2001. Nonsense, said Weise. “I told Braun that there was enough talent in Germany. We just didn’t get to them. And the ones we did get to didn’t spend enough time training with the ball.”

Together with his assistant, the fresh-faced former Darmstadt pro Ulf Schott, who had just graduated in sports science, Weise visited all the regional federations, and other national associations; they spoke to managers in other sports, too. What they found in nine months of research was that youngsters who didn’t happen to play for one of the professional clubs were falling through the cracks. They had to rely on the federal associations, the FA sub-branches in every state, for recognition and development.

If they called you up for the Länderauswahl, the elite selection of the federal association, you had a decent chance of being spotted by a big club and moved on from there. But if they didn’t, you didn’t. Schott: “There were big differences as far as the federal associations’ ability to look after these kids was concerned. Some didn’t have the finances, some didn’t have the manpower. We thought that was unfair. Every kid playing in Germany should have the same opportunities. We also found that not all big clubs were doing as well as they could, in relation to their financial resources. Our proposed first step was the introduction of a comprehensive talent-spotting and development scheme, with the help of a network of 115 regional centres. These were supposed to develop 13 to 17-year-olds. We also wanted to support the Landesverbände, so that they could work more regularly with the best 11 and 12-year-olds.”

That was in spring 1998. The German FA said no. Too expensive. “I told Braun we needed at least DM2.5m [£825,000],” says Weise. “He went mad and looked at me, his eyes popping: ‘Where are we supposed to get that from?’” Weise explained that youngsters needed good coaches. A whole new bus load of coaches was needed, in fact.

“It wasn’t enough to have a few coaches at the regional federations. And the fathers who were coaching youngsters in their spare time in many clubs didn’t have any real qualifications either. That’s not sufficient. Papa can’t be the solution.” “Pater Braun”, Reverend Braun, as the parochial president’s nickname went, was immovable. “Let’s see what the World Cup brings, they said,” recalls Schott.

A disastrous quarter-final exit against Croatia, the end of Vogts as national manager and a win for the hosts, who had systematically re-engineered their talent development in the years leading up to the competition: that’s what France ’98 brought. And a window of opportunity. Within four weeks of Germany’s 3-0 defeat in Lyon, the German FA board approved Weise’s concept. DM3.2m (just over £1m) was made available to set up 121 regional centres (Stützpunkte) that would provide two hours of individual, technical coaching for 4,000 13 to 17-year-olds, once a week.

In addition, up to 10,000 boys under 12 would receive lessons by the Landesverbände. Total cost: DM5.2m per year. “The plans had been in the drawer for a while. We have now dusted them off and improved them,” said the DFB vice-president Franz Beckenbauer.

Weise and Schott crisscrossed the whole of Germany for an entire year, looking for suitable locations for their new network. They saw hundreds of clubs in the most remote, provincial spots imaginable. Weise sweet-talked village councils into making their pitches and sports halls available, hired dozens of former professionals to work as coaches, provided equipment and even petrol money to enable parents to drive their children to the centres. Growing up far away from any footballing hot spots should no longer be a bar to enjoying a first-class football education for any German youngster. “Everyone was supposed to have access to a regional centre within 25km of his home. That was the idea,” says Weise.

Weise vaguely remembers speaking at the first-ever convention of youth coaches in 1999 but nobody reported his comments. “There was no real interest in the whole subject then,” says Schott. “Everybody paid lip service to youth development, it was one of those things that people were happy to be associated with but when it came to putting ideas into practice, it was tough.” Nevertheless, the Bundesliga clubs realised that the establishment of academies was the necessary next step. They agreed to Weise’s and Schott’s programme – a couple of months before Euro 2000, as it happens.

The DFB made it compulsory for the 18 top teams to build performance centres by 2001–02. Money was the main obstacle: “How much will it cost? Is that really necessary?, were the reactions,” says Schott. But there was also some resistance at the ideological level against fostering the elite. “Werder Bremen doesn’t want to follow the principle of selection,” the former Werder general manager Willi Lemke, a Social Democrat politician, said in 1998. “We have a social responsibility. We are obliged to provide leisure activities for children, promote the motivation to perform, teach them solidarity and team spirit.”

By 2000, the majority of professional clubs knew that change was necessary, however, says Volker Kersting, who has worked as youth director at Mainz, one of the country’s most innovative clubs, since 1990. “We saw that we were getting behind internationally. The German FA were kicking in open doors.”

The German national team’s ineptitude at Euro 2000 had pulled the rug from under the last doubters’ feet. “After that tournament, the outcry was huge,” says Schott. “Everyone was demanding reforms, especially after the right to host the 2006 World Cup was awarded to Germany in July. What they didn’t know was that a lot of things were already happening on the ground, because the media had taken very little interest in the subject before.”
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Looking back, 1998 was the pivotal turning point, not 2000. The changes were formalised in October 2000, when the DFL, a body of the 36 Bundesliga clubs in divisions one and two with a large (but not total) degree of financial and regulatory independence from the German FA, was formed. The Bundesliga 2 clubs at first resisted the academy system, due to its high cost, but they, too, were eventually persuaded. Running an academy became a condition of obtaining a licence to play professional football in both divisions from 2002–03 onwards. In the first two years of the new regimes, the 36 clubs invested a combined €114m (£77.5m) into their elite schooling.

It was the German FA’s turn to improve their own infrastructure again. The Stützpunkt education for 11 and 12-year-olds was taken out of the hands of the federal associations and centralised: the national network was increased to 366 locations; 600,000 talents could now be seen at least once by the 1,300 FA coaches each year. The annual budget was raised to €14m. Weise: “A million more or less – suddenly it wasn’t a problem any more.”

“Youth development must be the focal point of our work,” said the new DFB president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, “everything needs to be done in order for us to have a team that can challenge the world’s great [sides] in 2006.”

In 2003, the German FA introduced a special licence for youth coaches to ensure a uniform level of competence. A year later, a nationwide U19 Bundesliga, split into three geographical tranches, came into being. The B-Junioren (U17) got their own national league in 2007. “People don’t really talk about it that much but I believe the introduction of the junior Bundesligas was a vital part of the reform process,” says Ralf Rangnick, a former youth coach at VfB Stuttgart who went on to become one of the country’s most respected managers. “Pitting the best of the best nationwide against each made it possible to compare players and increase the quality. It also, indirectly, forced clubs into spending more money on youth coaches.”

Weise retired in 2001, aged 67. “I didn’t want to hear any whispers in the hallways: ‘What is that old man still doing here?’” His work was done.

“When I saw the Löw team triumph at the World Cup in the summer of the 2014, I thought now and again: ‘oh man, oh man, oh man. You have had a small in part in that, you’ve worked on that.’ The football we are playing today is based on those ideas. At least 10 players who are involved in the national team today we would have never found otherwise. Think of Toni Kroos. He hails from a small place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. No one would have looked at him.”