Saturday, 22 October 2011

Pick of Young Players Turns German Football From Bore to Score


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The Jakarta Globe by Pangeran Siahaan

Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda (down) of Marseille steals the ball from Mario Goetze (up) of Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League soccer match between Olympique Marseille and Borussia Dortmund at Velodrome Stadium in Marseille, southern France, 28 September 2011. (EPA Photo/Vincent Damourette)Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda (down) of Marseille steals the ball from Mario Goetze (up) of Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League soccer match between Olympique Marseille and Borussia Dortmund at Velodrome Stadium in Marseille, southern France, 28 September 2011. (EPA Photo/Vincent Damourette)
There was a time when watching Germany’s national football team was like attending a classical music concert.
 
Just as I once fell asleep in a Chopin recital, I could never really fathom the excitement of watching the effective yet unattractive brand of football favored by the Germans. As former England striker Gary Lineker once put it, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”


I’m not old enough to have witnessed legendary figures on the pitch like Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s or Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the 1980s, but having watched Germany play prior to the last World Cup, I can say that they didn’t play the most aesthetically pleasing game of football in the world. 


Gone are the days when Germany relied on a few talismanic individual players like Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn on the pitch. The German team now appears to consist of several footballing artists, strengthened by a couple of colossuses like midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.


What’s so fascinating about German football these days is that even when we think we have seen everything yet from youngsters like Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, or Sami Khedira, another generation of young German talents is already ready to step up.


Mario Goetze, the teenage sensation from the reigning Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund, already looks like an integral part of the team. He has played a handful of matches with the national team and seems to have the world at his feet. Another young starlet, Toni Kroos of Bayern Munich, is now a starter in his club and recently established a place in the national team, too.


You only need to glance at promising names like Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund) and Benedikt Howedes (Schalke) to see that German football is now producing young talents like Daimler manufactures Mercedes-Benz.


With today’s vast array of excellent players ready to be selected, it’s hard to believe that 14 years ago Germany was so sorely lacking in creative talent. You might remember Sean Dundee, the South Africa-born player with no German background who was fast-tracked for German citizenship in 1997 because the country desperately needed a striker. A similar case also occurred when Germany’s then-manager Erich Ribbeck persuaded Brazilian striker Paulo Rink to answer his call-up. Rink, who turned out to have German grandparents, earned 13 caps between 1998 and 2000.


Prominent German football writer Raphael Honigstein wrote that the German FA once realized that the future wouldn’t look bright if the country didn’t reinvent itself. It introduced a new concept for producing young and skillful German footballers. The FA built 121 national talent centers across the country to help kids aged 10 to 17 train with technical training. Each center employed two full-time coaches, with the scheme costing almost 20 million pounds ($31 million). The other important change made was requiring all professional clubs in Germany to host youth academies.


The effort to nurture more young talent in Germany gained momentum when financial difficulties hit the Bundesliga in the early 2000s. Most clubs couldn’t afford the wages of well-paid but mediocre foreign players and turned to their academy products instead. The percentage of foreigners in Bundesliga was high, around 60 percent, but the number quickly fell after the financial crisis.


This youth policy, paired with the liberalization of citizenship laws that makes integrating young footballers from migrant backgrounds possible, has been fruitful, as products like Ozil and Goetze have proven. Having seen the trend, we shouldn’t be too surprised if in a year or two we will see another Goetze pop to the surface.

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