As the England team once again made its way home after yet another disappointing showing at an international tournament, the German team were blazing a trail to an historic World Cup victory on South American soil. Favourites from the start, Joachim Low’s men were worthy winners. So, can the FA learn something from this incredible German success story? Or is English football destined for a future where mere qualification for the World Cup Finals is regarded as success?
The youth game is key
One of the main differences between the England and Germany teams is the fact that many of the Germans rose up through the international ranks together. Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng all played an integral part in the 4-0 demolition of England in the 2009 U21 European Championship.
The German team at Brazil 2014 was a solid, cohesive unit because many of the players understood their teammates’ game. They had played with each other for several years going into the tournament, so they were able to slip into their stride with ease. Interestingly, the only England player in the 2014 World Cup squad who played in the 2009 final against Germany was James Milner. Coincidence?
Co-Operation at all levels of the game.
Unlike in England, Germany’s footballing authorities have a clear, cohesive plan that includes a common goal – maintaining a quality, competitive national team. The German FA (the DFB), the professional clubs and the Bundesliga itself have a structure in place to nurture and develop talent, which includes the need for clubs in the country’s top two divisions to have their own youth academies in place.
Although a similar academy system was actually created in England back in 1998, the same sort of success has not been enjoyed by the English national team. Perhaps this is because the German system of youth football is more prestigious, and includes promotion and relegation. Or perhaps it’s because rich clubs cherry-pick the best English talent (think of Jack Rodwell), and leave them to rot in the reserves. It may also be down to the fact that we’re not nurturing talent, control and technique at an early enough age.
The dominance of the English Premier League
Only a couple of decades ago, the Bundesliga was one of Europe’s less fashionable domestic competitions, yet it is now lauded as being one of the world’s most prestigious. And unlike in Spain, England and Italy, the majority of the talent in Germany is home-grown. What is perhaps most impressive is the fact that the German league has managed this feat without sacrificing the quality of its national team – something the Premier League and the FA could take inspiration from.
Way back in 2003, the German FA implemented a nationwide development scheme, which included splitting the country into more than 350 regions, and the introduction of more than 1,000 coaches – who all must hold a UEFA ‘B’ coaching licence as a minimum requirement. UEFA published a report recently which revealed that there are six times more ‘A’ licence youth coaches in Germany as there are in England. More worrying, however, is the fact that there are nine times more ‘Pro’ licence holders in Germany. It seems there is far too much emphasis on club football in England – the result of enormous revenue streams that dwarf those of the Bundesliga and every other domestic league in the world.
A change of emphasis at schoolboy level
The system for scouting youth players in Germany couldn’t be more different to the system operating throughout England. In Germany, players between the ages of eight and 14 are coached by DFB-affiliated coaches. Their technique and control are nurtured, and they’re given the opportunity to develop without the constant pressure of winning football matches. It is at these coaching sessions that the best young players are snapped up by top German clubs.
In England, club scouts take their academy recruits straight from local youth teams, Boys Clubs and schools. There is no intervention from FA coaches in most cases, which means youngsters miss out on a critical stage in their development. If the Football Association were to adopt a similar approach to their German counterparts, perhaps English players may develop the touch and control so many commentators think they currently lack.
The Premier League is far more lucrative and popular than the Bundesliga – both domestically and around the world. There is absolutely no excuse for the England national team to be languishing in the third tier of international football when Germany is winning World Cups. The solution is simple: the FA needs to take a leaf from the German youth football book.