How Ger­many’s acad­e­mies pro­duce the goods

The New Age (Free State) - - SPORT - GELSENKIRCHEN

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

PIC­TURE: AFP

ALUMNI: Ger­many’s Me­sut Ozil is a prod­uct of Schalke’s academy.

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