“Back on top of the world“ – the ambition of the DFB and its national teams and academies cannot be denied. A year ago, work began under the new leadership of Oliver Bierhoff. After an intensive year, he presented the concepts of his strategy at the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt am Main on Wednesday. Bierhoff outlined his long term visions, and also elaborated on the work carried out over the past twelve months – underlining the changes and improvements made to the DFB and its national teams in order to get them back to where they were for years: the best in the world. Topics such as scouting and development of youth were discussed, in addition to the progress of youth international players and the management of national teams, all in conjunction with the services of the DFB-Akademie.
Bierhoff opened his presentation by talking about the current situation of German football, including the disappointment of Germany’s disappointing performance in recent years, highlighted by the firs-round exit of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. “I am convinced that although it felt that way last summer, German football is not far away from being the world’s best,” said Bierhoff. Germany’s performance in Russia was not a case of bad luck or misfortune; the distance may not be big, but it exists. The important thing is to overcome it. In his analysis, Bierhoff spoke of Germany’s successful history and emphasised the continuous improvement which lead to World Cup glory in 2014. He identified a big factor in the success being a change of direction in 2000, which saw the introduction of a new, broad development system for young players as well as the foundation of performance centres.
Bierhoff: “We need more of a ‘playground mentality‘ again“
Almost two decades later it is time for a new change of direction. Bierhoff said, “We need more emotion again. Despite all the systems, we also need to create space for the development of individuals. We need more playground mentality again.”
After Steffen Deutschbein, head of the National Teams and Academy department, explained the structure and responsibilities of the department and outlined its involvement in the DFB as a whole, he was followed by Joti Chatzialexiou, sporting manager of the national teams. This role sees Chatzialexiou, along with Meikel Schönweitz, have more responsibility than DFB sporting directors Horst Hrubesch, Hansi Flick, Robin Dutt and Matthias Sammer.
The sporting manager is responsible for all of the mens’ and womens’ football, the youth development system, the area of scouting and match analysis as well as the special teams of all the national teams. In this role he observes the development of world football and, together with league representatives, looks at its impacts on the German game. “Together with the league and clubs we aim to establish a successful German way,” he said. “We need to start making the most of our talent pool again, and also develop the boys and girls of our youth teams as best we can.”
“More freedom for creativity and enjoyment“
In order to achieve this, a cultural change may be needed, as Chatzialexiou, in contrast to the situation of 2000, avoided the use of “revolution”, preferring instead the use of “evolution”. The focus is on children’s football, the development system, the scheduling of tournaments and competitions and the education of coaches. The weaknesses were also mentioned. “Our analysis has shown that at least a third of the talent available to us is not developed to its full potential,” said the sporting manager. That needs to change.
Chatzialexiou wants to build on an age-specific development programme. “We must be able to convey more enjoyment and fun,” he says. For example, Chatzialexiou wants to adapt the structure of the youth game: “We make our youngest age groups play seven versus seven. It isn’t appropriate to them because they hardly see any of the ball and have too few decisions to make.” Alongside others, he is currently working with league representatives to develop new concepts. “It goes from the under-6 teams playing two versus two to the under-13 teams playing nine versus nine. We should also introduce some elements of football played on the street into training.” Chatzialexiou said, before repeating a phrase that Bierhoff had already used: “We need more of a playground mentality again. We need to create more freedom for creativity and enjoyment for our youngsters.”
What makes a good coach?
After Chatzialexiou spoke about players and improvements to be made, Meikel Schönweitz,head coach of the national youth teams, had his say. Schönweitz spoke about the coaches, “his team”: 21 coaches in the seven DFB youth teams. At the start, he posed the question of what makes a good coach. Professional skill, communication, social skills? What type of coaches should the youth teams have: former players? Laptop coaches? Specialists? The answer: all of the above.
“We have one head coach and two assistants in our youth teams,” said Schönweitz. “With that, with have three coaches in every team and three different types of coaches: the experienced one, the innovative one, and the specialist,” he added. To demonstrate his point, he gave the example of the U21 team with head coach Stefan Kuntz and his assistants Toni Di Salvo and Daniel Niedzkowski.
Coaches should “develop their expertise”
His team of coaches have vast areas of expertise at their disposal. “My job is to help the coaches to further develop their expertise,” said Schönweitz. He and his coaches have had to think outside of the box in the past, by taking suggestions from other sports for example. Schönweitz mentioned the visit to Google and to various NBA and NFL clubs. “We’re seeing things that we could take for our own work more and more. The goal is to get through to the players through the coach and fully develop talent. I see myself as a go-to for the players. We’re already looking at who has the upcoming tournaments in their sights and who could help us at EURO 2024,” he added.
Thomas Beheshti, team manager of the national side, provided an insight into what needs to be organised off the pitch: “We co-ordinate everything that needs to be organised off the pitch. We look after the players from the point that the manager picks them, until the point that they’re back with their teams.” The aim is to offer the players an ideal environment so that they’re fully-focused and can do their best on the pitch. “We create an atmosphere that always makes it something special to be called up to the national team. Wherever they come from, we make them feel at home,” he said.
Beheshti used the example of 2019 to demonstrate just how important this is: “If all of our teams qualify for the finals, we have 22 tournaments to organise with 137 players altogether.” He made clear that team management is a lot more than just getting Person A to Place B: “we’re not a travel agent.” The most important thing when managing the national team is to offer the experts an atmosphere in which they can carry out their work and perform with the team.
“Develop the elite of German football”
The final topic was one of the future; the DFB Academy. Tobias Haupt, the director of the academy, spoke about their four main priorities for 2019: the reform of educating managers, a special program for former players who want to be coaches, training for key positions in German football, and the DFB Academy as a place for innovation. “Our goal is to develop the elite of German football to the top international level,” added Haupt.
The DFB Academy wants to set out to be at the top level internationally. How can they do that? Haupt: “With the most competent team, the best infrastructure, and the most modern technology.” Talent turns into quality, and quality wins you titles.
Reform of training for German managers
“Our analysts have decided that we aren’t training our managers up to the level that is needed today.” This means that the first reforms in 11 years are being undertaken, together with Daniel Niedzkowski, the new head of developing football managers. Individualisation, flexibility, and digitalisation are all key words in the process. “The education will consist of a mix of virtual parts and on-site lessons going forward,” said Haupt.
The number of times that coaches have to attend during the Bundesliga season will be reduced by 50%, and 25% for people still just learning. “From May 2019, football managers will be able to do both at the same time without any problems for their everyday coaching routine,” said Haupt. He also named the head of the youth centres, sporting directors, managing directors and specialised coaches, from goalkeeping coaches to fitness coaches to sports psychologists, as key positions as well.
“The key positions require specific and activity-orientated training, and that’s what we’ll provide them with,” added Haupt. “That’s key for us in order to push German football into the future and celebrate success again. We want to be back on top of the world.”###more###