the national team's performance added the finishing touches to a venture that the German
Football Association (DFB), at the initiative of its President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder,
had begun to prepare even long before the World Cup. Officially launched in mid-July 2002,
the "Extended Talent Promotion Programme" is a unique project in the youth football sector. |
"We want the promotion of talented young players to be at the heart of our policy," says Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder who has declared the successful implementation of the project his personal mission. It is thanks to his commitment that the DFB has now embarked on a programme whose dimensions exceed any other effort made world-wide as the following facts and figures will prove: with the beginning of the 2002/2003 season, approx. 22,000 girls and boys aged 11-17 will receive special training under the supervision of some 1,200 coaches, at almost 390 training base camps distributed all over Germany. 29 full-time co-ordinators will guarantee the smooth organisation of the project which will cost the DFB the considerable sum of € 10 million per year.
The DFB is convinced, though, that it is money well spent, not least in response to the harsh public criticism following the national team's early exit from the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France and an even more ignominious performance at EURO 2000 in Belgium and The Netherlands.
If DFB coach Jörg Daniel, the Director (Sports) of the Talent Promotion Programme, is to be believed, then "the DFB is a youth football paradise", with some 1.8 million youngsters playing the game in almost 27,000 clubs. Additionally, the DFB's sub-regional associations have always offered special courses and competitive matches for talented young players. Daniel has the greatest respect for the work rendered by the teacher-coaches at the German Sports-Oriented Schools, and since 1999 special training measures have been organised at the DFB's 122 training centres. And yet, says Daniel, "all that glitters is not gold. It goes without saying that the established structures have their merits, but there is always room for improvement in other areas such as geographical coverage, training frequency and the coaches' actual qualification. These are the problems we have to tackle in order to create equal opportunities for all talented players nation-wide."
For the latter group, taking part in the Extended Talent Promotion Programme is a historical
first: never before have players that young been targeted so intensively. DFB coach (and Rudi
Völler's "right hand") Michael Skibbe, explains why: "It is one of the programme's main goals
to find talented young players, and for them to benefit from the best possible training and
coaching. So, why not begin with children at their best learning age? Teach them a new drill,
a new trick - they absorb everything in no time." Experience shows that from the approximate
total of 300,000 children in that age bracket, some 10,000 will turn out to be highly talented,
which is exactly the number of children whose development will be specially fostered under
As regards the Under-14 to Under-18 group, "there are many late developers. Just look at Christoph Metzelder and Miroslav Klose who were well into their teens before they even joined one of the big Bundesliga clubs," says Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder. While it is usual for most promising players to attend a Bundesliga club's centre of excellence by the age of 15, the programme will be instrumental in not losing sight of the others.
Talent-spotting is only the first step; the second must be to nurture players' progress on a consistent basis. Accordingly, they need to be coached by capable coaches, in accordance with a standard methodology and, at the same time, taking into account their individual needs. Offered in addition to the regular club training, the once-weekly training sessions will focus on improving individual skills and tactical know-how. DFB chief coaches' instructor Erich Rutemöller: "Unlike your average club coach, a base coach is in a privileged situation because he can dedicate much more time to his players on a one-on-one basis." However, for a player to get invited once does not mean that he (or she) has a place guaranteed "forever". "We'll tell them they've got to show they're worth it. The door is always open both ways," says Rutemöller.
The Talent Promotion Programme is targeted at every talented player, no matter where they live,
or what club they play for. Everybody has a chance to prove they've got what it takes. The
programme will not only be a motivation boost, it will also mean that more and more people
will keep their eyes open for promising youngsters. For Jörg Daniel, a golden age for
football is on the horizon: "Naturally, not everyone will end up holding the Championship
trophy aloft, but eventually the programme will have a tremendous impact as both the
professional and the amateur game will benefit from a higher number of more competitive,
and better skilled, footballers."
With a view to ensuring the smooth functioning of this major project, the DFB has "created" the new profession of "training base co-ordinator". While these are regular DFB employees, they are unlikely to spend a lot of time at the DFB headquarters in Frankfurt. Instead, they will travel around the 29 regions into which the DFB territory has been divided. Choosing the actual training bases and equipping those with the necessary equipment, was the first task to be tackled. "Our list of requirements was pretty demanding but if you want to find the best players, you've got to provide the best possible training conditions," says Jörg Daniel. Next came finding the right coaches who have been given part-time employment contracts. Clearly, showing high commitment, dedication and motivation is just as important a recruitment factor as professional aptitude (the DFB's B-license is the minimum qualification for any candidate). The coaches receive a plan including the key projects, courses, and dates from their responsible base co-ordinator.
In addition to planning and realising the training sessions, a great deal of the part-time
coaches' responsibility is to visit clubs and find talented players, building up an information
network involving the clubs, club coaches and players. In fact, it is essential for them to
maintain a close working relationship with club coaches sending payers to the base training
sessions. Only then will they be able to tailor their own training programmes to the players'
individual needs and requirements, working on the weak spots while reinforcing their