How Germany’s academies produce the goods
SCHALKE 04 are the sleeping giant in the German league, yet their youth academy is one of Germany’s most successful, producing World Cup winners, Bundesliga stars and Premier League exports.
Germany has now qualified for Russia 2018, where they will defend the World Cup title they won in Brazil when four former members of Schalke’s academy were in the squad.
Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil, Juventus defender Benedikt Hoewedes and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Julian Draxler all came through the Gelsenkirchen club’s youth setup.
Schalke 04 are nicknamed “The Miners” due to Gelsenkirchen’s industrial setting and their youth academy, called the “Miners’ Forge”, has a long list of talented alumni.
Manchester City winger Leroy Sane, 21, Liverpool defender Joel Matip, 26, and Arsenal left-back Sead Kolasinac, 24, are just some of its graduates.
The latest starlet to rise from the academy to Schalke’s senior squad is 19-year-old Weston McKennie, a future US international in the making.
But what attributes make a future professional or a World Cup winner? “Talent is important, but that only gets you through the door,” Norbert Elgert, coach of Schalke’s U-19 team, said.
“Athleticism and skills as a team player are all important. Then there are also things which are often overlooked – character, personality, desire to improve.
“You have to have the confidence to elbow your way up in a squad of 25 to 30 players or you have no chance, but then you still have to be a team player.”
The 60 year old coach has seen an impressive list of names roll off the production line at Schalke since 1996.
Elgert is passionate about coaching and, with his flowing grey locks, adopts a father figure role.
“We put a lot of emphasis on education, right up to university entry.
“Whenever I speak to a player about their future, I always ask, ‘what is your plan B?’ We have to look past football, for those who don’t make it, get injured or get sick.”
His success with Schalke attracted an offer a few years ago from Bayern Munich, but Elgert, who was born in Gelsenkirchen, opted to stay.
He said Germany’s ability to produce talented young players stems from the lessons learnt from mistakes in years gone by – namely Euro 2004, when the Mannschaft failed to qualify from their group. “It was important for us to learn from the past,” Elgert said.
“It wasn’t just enough for our teams to be organised, we were overtaken by countries like Spain, Holland and Italy.
“The German Football Association has been very innovative with the academies and always kept an eye on what is going on in other countries.”
He clearly has strong links to his former players and eagerly asks how Ozil and Kolasinac, who joined Arsenal in June, are regarded in England.
His eyes light up when he describes spotting talent – like Ozil, when still a teenager. – AFP
ALUMNI: Germany’s Mesut Ozil is a product of Schalke’s academy.