German clubs are placing increasing importance on home-grown talent
It’s enough to make any football protectionist weep with joy. As befits a country which boasts the European Under-21 and Under-17 champions, Germany is making what many would regard as a much-needed stand for locally sourced talent.
While other leading European leagues continue to swoon at the sight of an overseas player and his heavily edited show reel, the Bundesliga is positively celebrating the indigenous.
Over the past decade, the average age of domestic-born players in the top flight has fallen from 28.8 to 25.3 and the percentage of home-grown under-23s is now a healthy 27.5 per cent, up two-and-half points from the low water mark of 1998.
These fledglings are not only found at clubs with financial constraints in the lower reaches of the table. Crucial to the continued well-being of the full national team, the kids are now colonising every competitive side in the land. Who said an overreliance on inexperience can only lead to the poorhouse? Certainly not supporters of Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke and Borussia Dortmund – all of whom are thriving after a massive transfusion of rosy-cheeked energy, fearlessness and skill this season.
While many of the league’s big hitters are struggling for form – this term’s absent without leave include Nationalmannschaft strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, Wolfsburg skipper Josue and Aliaksandr Hleb of Stuttgart – the new wave are experiencing no such problems.
Leverkusen owe much of their concerted title push to the consistently excellent fresh-faced guard of playmaker Toni Kroos and defenders Gonzalo Castro, Stefan Reinartz and Daniel Schwaab; the Dortmund duo of centre-back Mats Hummels and defensive midfielder Sven Bender are performing so well they could even make Germany’s World Cup squad; while Schalke coach Felix Magath rolled the dice to spectacular effect when placing his faith in utility man Benedikt Howedes, midfielder Joel Matip and full-back Lukas Schmitz.
Normally ones who prefer bring in haute couture threads from afar, rather than make the most of in-house designs, even multi-millionaires Bayern Munich are doing their bit for the rejuvenation process.
Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal, who finally seems to have slipped the bridle on the wild horses in his dressing room, has been an advocate of youth throughout his career and needed little prompting to extensively deploy defender Holger Badstuber and attacker Thomas Muller.
Winning on all fronts
Reasons for the “stay young and beautiful” trend are many and varied. The global recession, of course, has played its part, as has the lack of value for money in traditional transfer markets such as eastern Europe. Then there is the realisation that a successful do-it-yourself approach offers the chance to win on all fronts by rearing high quality, relatively cheap players who can later be sold on for a profit.
Beyond the generalities, however, each club has its own motives in going native. Instinctively, Leverkusen and Werder Bremen prefer prudence, huge debts have forced Schalke’s hand, and at Dortmund a spate of injuries and coach Jurgen Klopp’s natural instinct for risk-taking meant a change of the ground rules.
Yet above all else, clubs are turning to youngsters for the simple reason that they can. In the last decade a massive amount of time, thought and money has been invested in bringing the country up to speed with youth development. With 366 stutzpunkte (regional centres of excellence) and leistungszentren (elite academies run by professional outfits) now moving into top gear, the future of the German game could not be brighter.
“It has to be a commendable goal for clubs to have confidence in young players and not have the old, automatic reflex of signing an expensive foreigner,” says national team coach Joachim Low.
And who could argue with him?