German Youth Development
Over the last few weeks and months, a lot has been said about the German youth development in football - whether it was regarding club football or the national team - and more importantly, from an English perspective, in which areas Germany has an advantage over England.
However, coverage usually stops there. There is rarely a full description of how youth development in Germany is set up, or only bits and pieces are thrown at you. Therefore, I will try to lay out the basic features and stages so you can, first of all compare it to the youth development in your respective country, and also understand more about German football and why it may work as well as it does currently.
In my opinion, there are three main pillars that hold the whole development program together: special football centres, either realised through football bases (usually for the under 11 to under 14s, in some regions even younger groups), elite schools that combine education and football and finally, the academies of the professional clubs. We will discuss that stage in more detail in a minute.
The second pillar is the introduction of competitive leagues, with champions and relegated teams from the under 12 level onwards. This stage teaches the players a winning mentality and a sense of competitiveness. It is not merely about performances, but results are important as well.
The final pillar exists to enable any player to play at the highest level at any given age - particularly from the under 17s onwards. That begins with a real Bundesliga format for the under 17 and under 19 sides and ends with the introduction of B-sides into the highest amateur (4th division) and the lowest professional league (3rd division). But we will come to that again.
However, the best infrastructure is nothing without proper coaches. That is why only licensed (UEFA B license), well trained coaches have been put in charge of these training groups, regardless of whether it is under 18 or under 11 teams. For a youth development to be effective and efficient, you need to know the stages of development. You could listen to Arsène Wenger on this as well.
In general, there are three main stages for each player.
Stage 1 - age 6-14: here, it is all about the improvement of skill and technique. If at the end of that stage, you do not have any technical ability, you probably will not make as a professional footballer.
Stage 2 - age 14-16/17: here, the focus is on preparing the player physically. That does not necessarily mean sending him to the gym five times a week, but rather teaching him how to be physical. How to use the body to shield the ball, how to go into tackles etc,.
The final stage from 16/17 onwards would be the tactical education. Depending on the position, as well as individual cases and exceptions (for example players who suffered long term injuries), the final two stages could be interchanged. It is therefore extremely important that this structure has to be kept in mind and has to be implemented into the teaching methods and structures at basically every level. And with that, we are back at the training of under 11s to under 14s.
From 2002/3 onwards, the German football association started implementing football bases, led by professional coaches, all over the country, with the aim to allow every player access to the best coaching. Not every player in that age group is fortunate enough to play in the academy of a professional club. Hence, if he is good enough, he will be allowed to train at such a DFB base once a week. The main idea of it is to ascertain if players that up to that point, who had not yet been scouted, are still able to improve and become the best player they can be.
On a more personal note, having been part of that program myself, I can confirm it is a vastly enriching experience to train in a group full of quality players and under professional guidance - even if it is just once a week. Success in these bases and subsequent improvement frequently leads to players being given chances or places in the elite schools or academies. To give you an overview of these centres: altogether, there are 366 bases at the moment, spread across the country.
DFB bases (for players that are not part of academies):
Elite schools (high level of education and football training):
Academies (youth system of professional clubs):
Finally, let us come back to the development of the under 17 and under 19 players. As mentioned, for each age group, there is a Bundesliga. Divided into three regional groups, teams play a standard season modus and in the end, the best four teams enter the semi-final. However, this is fairly standard and can be found in most countries to a similar extent. There is a national cup as well, similarly to the FA Youth Cup. Again, fairly standard. The most drastic difference comes in the adult stages, with the introduction of B teams, or 'II teams' as they are called in Germany, into the 3rd or 4th division. For instance, Dortmund's II team is currently playing in the 3rd league while Bayern's II team is part of the Regionalliga Bayern (4th division). All in all, a concept similar to Spain's, where B sides are even allowed to play in the Segunda División, but completely different to the British approach.