How Germany can show Australia the way forward for youth development

Germany’s World Cup triumph can be attributed to their youth development overhaul – and contains many important messages for Australian football

The Socceroos international friendly against Germany is an intriguing opportunity for the Asian champions to test their credentials against the reigning world champions.

Germany’s success at the 2014 World Cup was widely attributed to their youth development system, which was overhauled in 2001 after the national team failed to qualify from the group stage of Euro 2000.

The solution was a bottom-up approach, with the Bundesliga instituting that every team in the top flight of German football must implement a youth academy. Eventually, academies became compulsory for all professional teams in Germany.

Interestingly, unlike in other developed football nations such as Spain and the Netherlands, there was no set playing style at these academies. Rather, the focus was on the quality of facilities. As the Bundesliga’s Ten Years of Academies Report states…

“For clubs to be issued their licence, they had to hire full-time youth coaches, whose respective qualifications are taken into consideration when grading the academies, with those earning higher grades receiving higher funding. Moreover, appropriate training grounds had to be build, a medical department establish and co-operation with schools initiated.”

To this end, Germany implemented a rating system for each academy to determine the quality of facilities. Double PASS is devised of eight categories ranging from football education to infrastructure, with the total rating (out of 5000) determining the level of funding each academy would receive.

The success of this revolution was evident ten years later. The Ten Year Report revealed that the number of Germans in the Bundesliga has increased, and that 52.4% of Bundesliga players in 2012 were trained in academies – and most obviously, the national team, with a core of German-trained and German-based players, won the World Cup. The trophy was a vindication of the brave change in direction.

There are many lessons to be learnt in Germany’s model, many of which were discussed after the World Cup. In an Australian context, it is appropriate to compare it with our National Curriculum, which aims to implement a consistent model of football across all teams. The Curriculum’s emphasis was on restructuring coaching pathways and a national playing model, with all coaching courses completely overhauled.

The new system emphasises that coaches take a game-based approach to coaching, with a focus on what the Curriculum considers to be the optimal playing style – a proactive, possession based approach best manifested in practice by the style of play of Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos.

In contrast, Germany’s model did not focus on specific coaching styles nor playing styles, but instead emphasised the implementation of youth academies and elite schools in the domestic league. There were guidelines for player development, but these focused on the development of the player as a whole person, emphasising a holistic approach to their growth. Australia’s model, rather, focuses solely on the development of the player, emphasising the development of technical skills such as dribbling and passing.

Obviously, there are key factors such as higher player participation and enormous financial investment that gave Germany the opportunity to implement such a model. Nevertheless, despite these differences, in this light the lack of attention give to youth development in Australia appears a grave concern. It is only recently that clubs have recently turned their attention to the development of these facilities; prior to this, the emphasis has always been on the survival of the new top-tier clubs in the reformatted A-League.

This in spite of the previous technical director, Han Berger, identifying youth academies as crucial to the long-term development of Australian football. The National Development Plan specifically recommends many of the key principles of Germany’s model, including accreditation for elite schools and the implementation of compulsory academies at professional clubs. Very few of these recommendations were actually implemented.

Now, ten years on from the A-League’s inception, this appears a missed opportunity, especially in light of Germany’s success. Fortunately, steps are beginning to be taken to rectify this. Sydney FC recently appointed Kelly Cross to oversee the creation of a new academy program, while Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets have had long-established academy programs in place. Adelaide have appointed Guillermo Amor to oversee the creation of an academy system, while Melbourne City’s owners have also pledged to invest in this area.

Furthermore, while the entry of the youth teams of the two Melbourne clubs into the Victorian NPL is also encouraging, Germany’s model highlights the need for player development to start from as early as the age of 10 – a demographic no A-League club is yet to truly capture.

The German model clearly highlights the benefits of mandatory youth development at professional clubs. When Australia face the world champions, it’ll be worth reflecting not only on the quality of the opposition, but also on how Germany got to that destination. There are important lessons Australian football can learn from the process they undertook.

By Tim Palmer

Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He is currently Assistant Technical Director, Head of Player Development & Video and a coach at NWSF Spirit, as well as working with the Pararoos. Previously, he has worked as an analyst with the Socceroos, and in the A-League.

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