World Cup's German Soccer Players Were Constructed, Not Self-Made?
It's no doubt that the summer of 2014 will be remembered as the 'Summer of Soccer.' One has only to look at the viewing audience to get a sense of its immense popularity. The coverage of this year's FIFA World Cup continues to break records in the United States alone - both on television and online.
While the 2014 NBA series averaged 15.5 million viewers and the final game had 18 million watching -- whereas the 2013 World Series average 14.9 million, with 19.2 million watching the final game - to date Univision's 2014 World Cup audience has reached close to 74 million total viewers -- in advance of the final game being played.
Bearing in mind that Univision is only one outlet - and that there are millions of other viewers catching the games on ESPN, ESPN2 & ABC -- and that the NBA and World Cup games were shown during primetime versus most of the World Cup games shown earlier in the day - these stats become even more impressive. This coupled with the fact that when the U.S. was eliminated in the quarter finals but continued to watch -- it's clear that soccer as a sport has become part of our zeitgeist.
With that said, and while Americans are exceedingly proud of their team to have made it as far as they did, one has to wonder what makes teams like Germany excel above the competition - setting a new bar of excellence in the sport? Why is it when some teams can only rely on a handful of standouts to pull off a win, Germany's field of players are almost all exceptional?
In the United States, we celebrate the "self-made-man" as part of the American dream, and feel that hard work and sometimes a dose of good luck will make us achieve greatness. And in many instances, it does. But in the field of sports, it's been proven that dedication for greatness goes far beyond the stereotype.
In Germany, the construction of soccer players is more methodical than philosophical and took a dedicated full generation to build. The investment of time and energy in this initiative was the result of a poor showing at the 2000 European Championship, when they finished bottom of their group. According to a Bloomberg report, traditionally in Europe, club teams had been responsible for developing their own talent. Some, like 'Barcelona' in Spain and 'Ajax' in the Netherlands rely on dedicated youth academies to isolate players at an early age.
The DFB which is the governing body of football in Germany took a slightly different tact. They developed a standardized national program for kids, that started the construction process at the ripe old age of 6. It then followed a 14-year plan to select young players among 80 million Germans who could really play soccer, train them and get them attached to a professional team.
Run throughout the country, the training program is administered by coaches who have to obtain a license from the DFB. Then by age 8, as the players mature, professional scouts look for the cream of the crop that can matriculate to the actual club programs.
For over a decade leading up to the World Cup, the amount that professional club teams spent on youth development almost doubled, to about 85 million euros a year. The launch of the new academies, training centers and coaching programs overall are said to have cost almost $1 billion in total.
The German stand-outs at this year's World Cup are the exceptional by-products of this national campaign. For example in the fall of 2000, 11-year-old wunderkind Thomas Müller left his hometown to join the Bayern Munich's youth academy. Fourteen years later he leads Germany's golden generation alongside his contemporaries that rose in the ranks with him.
Constructing soccer players took a lot of planning on the part of the Germans, but the seeds of their 14-year investment are bearing fruit for the world to see, while setting the bar exceedingly high for others to achieve, going forward.
Attentively, Americans are heeding the call and learning from these best practices. So much so - they've imported a solution to approve their own game - namely with Jürgen Klinsmann - the renowned German coach who led Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and brought our team to a decent finish, ending with the quarter finals. Now, perhaps the government might start thinking about funding and developing their own 'construction' process of young soccer players for 2018 and 2022. As we learned, it takes a generation, and the clock's ticking!