In case you haven’t heard, Germany won their fourth FIFA World Cup tournament last night. Much has been made about how the collective trumped the individual, as most of the billing pre-game was centred around the German unit and how they would cope with one of the game’s best ever players Lionel Messi. They coped (as the result suggests) more than adequately with that threat but German football, after a little blip in terms of winning tournaments at least, last night accomplished what Franz Beckenbauer and others had imagined they’d do way back when they started putting the building blocks for this success in place back in 1999.
It seems hard to believe nowadays that the Germans haven’t always been this efficient, dominant, tactically brilliant unit that they are today but if you go back to the 1990s, the Germans had some real problems. They still won tournaments in the 90s; winning the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 but towards the end of the decade they started developing some of the problems we’ve began to see in English football over the last few years.
The Germans saw the amount of non-German players in their league rise exponentially from less than 20% in the early 90s to nearly 50% by the end of the decade, thanks to the television rights money and other financial windfalls coming clubs’ ways that allowed them to spend money on expensive foreign talent. Sound familiar?
The German FA revealed an extensive plan to fix this issue and bring back the production line that had made their international and domestic sides so competitive over the years – they were up there with Brazil after 1990 with three World Cup trophies each, and domestically German clubs had won 11 continental tournaments between them by the end of the 20th century. But still, the Germans could see the problems arising and as such, developed an expansive plan to fix the issues.
You may remember when St George’s Park opened back in 2012, nine years after its initial projected opening, that it was hailed as something to rival France’s Clairefontaine and Spain’s RFEF national training centre; facilities which had been at the centre of France and Spain’s respective international successes over the past 10-15 years. Beckenbauer (the German FA vice-president at the time), Dietrich Weise (the head of youth development in the German FA) and co. had a similar idea back in 1999, only they were forward thinking enough to realise that nothing should stop their project from going ahead. They believed that producing the talent that was good enough to challenge on the international stage was far more important than building a national stadium, which is one of the reasons why England’s national training complex’s development was postponed.
In essence, the German plan was twofold: they planned to build over 100 national talent centres across the country to help players in their early years get the kind of tactical and technical training that would serve them well in their professional careers; they also made it essential for each club in the top divisions of the country to build a football academy. Another benefit to them was that German citizenship laws were changing. The new laws were much more modern and allowed the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and some of the other non-German born players we see lighting up the national side today to become part of the German youth set-up. Everything just seemed to fall into place to allow this plan to work.
But still, patience was needed – none of this “we’ll win this tournament in this many years and we’ll win that tournament in that many years” – the situation actually seemed to get a bit worse before it got better as the foreign presence in the Bundesliga became even more saturated as by 2003 more than half of the players in the German top flight were foreign. The vast amounts of television rights money coming Germany’s way though soon stopped as the conglomerate that was backing them all went bust, putting most clubs into serious financial trouble. The solution was a perhaps painful but necessary one as clubs were forced to sell or cut loose some of their more average, but still expensive, foreign talent and replace them with the academy starlets that they’d been developing since the reforms proposed in ’99.
I remember my beloved Manchester United losing to Stuttgart in the Champions League with a bunch of home-grown players in the 03-04 season – I didn’t envy it at all because we’d made our success over the last dozen years with the Class of 92’ but looking back on it now having learnt what I have about the German youth system it just shows that what they were doing over there was working.
It was taking time, but it was working.
If the Germans are anything, as there style of play suggests, they’re patient and that patience paid off in the long-run as what has been the result of all that restructuring over the years reached its pinnacle last night. They might not have been the most convincing on the night, but they won the World Cup and it doesn’t get much better than that if you’re an international team; retaining it will be the next challenge and thanks to the hard work and planning that the German FA have put in over the last 15 years, it is very much achievable.
The English can learn a lot from this. They’ve had their initiatives and ideas over the years but it all seems to be a bit panicky and a bit all over the place. The Germans had a clear idea and they stuck to it – it took a long time but they got their rewards. The FA have been trying to copy the blueprints of European powerhouses for a couple of years now – we haven’t seen the results of it yet, but I’m confident we will. Unlike some of the high-profile names that have recently said we don’t need to copy these teams, I believe we absolutely do. Originality of style is neither here or there as that will come to show itself in time but football has become more of a results business than ever over the last 20 years or so and if copying these other teams is the quickest way to get results then so be it.
The problem, as I’ve said already, is sticking to a solid plan. It sounds simple enough but when you have the FA on one page and the Premier League seemingly on another. You’ve seen over the last few years with all this faffing around over a winter break and whether we should or shouldn’t have one in this country that it’s not a simple fix. It should be though; if we want success to return to international football in the British Isles we need a clear, concise plan that all parties are willing to stick to and abide to from the lower rungs of the game all the way to the top. Will we then be able to challenge the World elite on the international stage? I believe so. With a bit of patience and perseverance, stealing the traits of our cousins on the continent, the British could well reach the pinnacle again one day.