It’s fair to say that Germany entered Euro 2000 in high spirits, with the team focused on defending the title that they won in England at the end of the 1996 tournament.
However, the German’s hotly-anticipated defence was left in tatters after just three group stage matches, including a narrow defeat to a similarly disappointing England side and a 3-0 thrashing against a slick and attack-oriented Portuguese outfit.
Not only was Germany’s reliance on an outdated sweeper system exposed during the tournament, but so too was the side’s failure to invest in youth development. This triggered sweeping changes to the nation’s grassroots game, however, which contributed to the side’s World Cup triumph in Brazil 14 years later.
How Did Germany Revitalise Their Youth Game?
It was former national coach Berti Vogts who first raised concerns about the prevailing state of the national game following his departure in 1998, having warned that the country’s success in 1996 masked a huge shortfall in young talent rising through the ranks in the Bundesliga.
In short, the side was resting on its laurels and relying on the talents of several aging superstars, while also deploying a sweeper system and man-marking philosophy that was becoming increasingly outdated in an age of increased fitness and off-the-ball movement.
While such warnings weren’t heeded, the performance at Euro 2000 left the German FA in no doubt that the national team was in crisis, with drastic and long-term action required to revolutionise grassroots football and create a viable supply line of players in the future.
In the 12 years that followed 2002, the German authorities built a staggering 52 centres of excellence to school the game’s most promising young talents.
It also set about establishing 366 regional coaching bases, which housed 1,300 professional (and full-time) coaches that taught the technical and physical fundamentals of the contemporary game.
These measures were part of a wider, £48 million investment in the grassroots game, with this figure subsequently doubling prior to the World Cup triumph in 2014.
Then and Now – Why the System Could be Braced for Further Changes
With the highest number of professional coaches in Europe and a centralised training program that was focused on cultivating technical ability and increased levels of physical fitness, the national team began to improve incrementally year-on-year.
Not only did the latter help to create a universal coaching structure that favoured a predetermined playing style and prepared players for life in the national side, but it also helped to drive higher participation rates in grassroots football and afforded players the time and space to develop their skills.
Following the World Cup win in 2014, some have argued that German’s grassroots infrastructure has stagnated slightly as the international game has continued to evolve at pace.
Fortunately, the FA and DFB committee has reacted far quicker to recent national team performances and the rising trend for buying exceptional young talent from overseas, by proposing further radical reforms at grassroots level nationwide.
One such measure involves so-called “mini-football”, which further emphasises the focus on technical skills such as dribbling and passing while optimising the enjoyment of young players and creating emerging talents that can fill obvious voids in the national team.
For example, leading Bundesliga sides have focused on purchasing a high proportion of young attacking dribblers from overseas of late, including Jadon Sancho from Manchester City.
So, future youth game reforms will look to cultivate this skillset, helping to develop fast and skilled players who can more easily retain possession in the wake of increasingly aggressive pressing tactics.
This project will be enjoyed by a staggering two million kids this summer, as it continues to gather momentum nationwide.
We’ll have to wait and see precisely how effective this measure is, of course, but it at least highlights the increasingly proactive outlook of grassroots football in Germany and the nation’s desire to blaze a trail for others to follow in the sport.