German Football Set for Youth Development Reform

In 2018, the German men’s national team failed to make it out of the 2018 World Cup group stages, the first time in their history that this has occurred. Following this, Joachim Low’s side were relegated from the UEFA Nations League A, compounding what has been a miserable period for the x4 World champions. So, is youth development effecting their performance at senior level?

As well as their struggles at national level, Bundesliga clubs have also failed to meet expectations in European competition over recent years, with Bayern Munich having been convincingly eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League, while both Dortmund and Schalke were also beaten by English opponents in the form of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City respectively. It is only the success of relative minnows Eintracht Frankfurt, who defeated Benfica this week in order to reach the last four of the Europa League, that has given Germany something to shout about.


Having been the benchmark for many nations when it came to youth development some ten years ago, Germany are now asking themselves some very serious questions, with more and more foreign talent being eyed up by Bundesliga clubs in order to make up for a lack of home-grown talent. The success of Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson has caught the attention of many, while Bayern Munich were unsuccessful in their attempts to bring Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi to the German capital in January.


German youth teams used to be factories for talent, however the recent wave of youngsters has come from England, France and Eastern European countries. Having developed the likes of Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller and David Alaba over recent times, Bayern Munich have now had to start looking further afield themselves, spending €10 in order to bring in 18-year-old Canadian international Alphonso Davies. As a result, those at the top of the German game have concluded that young international players have skills that generally cannot be found at home.


Oliver Bierhoff, who scored the winning goal for Germany at Euro 96 and is now and is now the Sporting Director for the national team, recently stated that: "When clubs prefer to sign young English, French or Belgian players then there is only one solution. Young German players have to get better."


As a result, another reform in Germany is expected, similar to the one that was carried out following their group stage exit at Euro 2000. While this will not be quite as drastic, Bierhoff, along with others at the highest level of the German game know that something must be done sooner rather than later. One of the main concerns is that young German players no longer have what is known as “Bolzplatzmentalität”, a footballing identity developed away from organised competition.


It is also believed that German youngsters are more than capable of understanding more than one strategy, however they struggle to overcome difficult situations on the pitch. Many feel that the “street football” style development of English players often gives them an edge. The likes of Mesut Özil and Kevin-Prince Boateng were similar in their learning, however this has become something of a rarity for Germany more recently.


With their now being a greater focus upon quicker transitional play and more structured defensive unites, the game now favours those with speed and fast feet, something in which Germany have failed to produce on a consistent basis over the years. While this is a concern, there is no doubt that Germany have the tools in place to make the necessary changes. One eye will undoubtedly already be on the 2024 European Championships, where Germany will be the host nation. The gap between Germany and the top teams in the world is minimal at best, meaning that it would come as little surprise should they once again compete with the top nations when it comes to developing talent.


With the Bundesliga being viewed as a way of increasing playing time for many youngsters around Europe, it perhaps comes as little surprise that results have wavered slightly. However, previous examples demonstrate that it should only be a matter of time for both the national team and Bundesliga to return to the world’s elite.

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