The reforms have really paid off

The current state of German football is a testament to the hard work and the manner in which it has developed and evolved over the past decade.

Everything changed for Germany after EURO 2000 — a tournament considered by many as the country’s worst ever performance since the World War. Following a humiliating quarterfinal exit to Croatia in the World Cup two years earlier, an ageing team was found desperately wanting. Die Mannschaft crashed out in the group stages after a draw and two defeats, finishing at the bottom — behind Portugal, Romania and England — and some German newspapers wrote the team off as a “dying football nation.”

A 39-year-old Lothar Matthaus started every game and the coach, Eric Ribbeck, saw his team net just one goal and concede five. Change was imminent, not a choice. And what followed was a fundamental change in the philosophy, with youth development at the fore.

Germany was, in fact, on top of the football world in 1997. Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, the two Ruhr Valley powerhouses, had won the Champions league and UEFA Cup, respectively. A year before, Berti Vogts had clinched EURO 1996 against the Czechs. Franz Beckenbauer’s claims, after winning the World Cup in 1990, that “Germany would be unbeatable for years to come” were beginning to ring true. But there seemed to be an imbalance in the system. The influx of quality, young, local players had dried up, with newly-rich Bundesliga clubs flushed with TV revenue going on a spending spree and the number of foreigners doubling from 17 percent in ’92 to 34 percent in ’97. This figure rose to nearly 50 percent before the domestic season kicked off in 2000.

Michael Ballack of Germany (centre) sets off to celebrate after netting the match-winner against South Korea in the 2002 World Cup semi-final in Seoul.-AP

After studying the academy models of France and Holland, the German Football Association (DFB) sprang into action with a massive overhaul of grass roots development. An annual budget was set up to ensure that all 36 Bundesliga clubs from both divisions invested in youth academies and maintained their existing facilities at a national standard.

The new reforms started producing results, with many local players (accounting for nearly 60 percent of the league according to recent figures) seeping through the system and flourishing at the highest level. A youthful German side, displaying technical prowess, skill and dexterity, went on to reach two international finals (the 2002 World Cup and 2008 European Championships) and finished third in the 2006 (as host) and 2010 World Cups. Germany also excelled in the under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels (2010).

The current state of German football is a testament to the hard work and the manner in which it has developed and evolved over the past decade. Despite not winning a major trophy since EURO 1996, Germany remains the most decorated footballing nation, after Brazil, with an exhausting collection of three World Cups (1954, 1974 & 1990), four WC runner-ups (1966, 1982, 1986 & 2002), four WC third-places (1934, 1970, 2006 & 2010), three European championships (1972, 1980 & 1996), three European runner-ups (1976, 1992 & 2008) and an Olympic bronze medal (1988)!

* * * Legends in the own right

Credited with the creation of the `sweeper' position in football, Franz Anton Beckenbauer was and still remains one of Germany's greatest ever sporting icons. Elegant on the ball, tactically aware and a great leader in his days, `Der Kaiser' won the World Cup as a player (1974) and manager (1990), and was voted European Player of the Year twice (1972 & 1976). In fact, he would never have played for Germany had his coach Dettmar Cramer not intervened at the right time. An 18-year-old Kaiser refused to marry his girlfriend, who was pregnant, leading to the German federation banning him from the youth set-up. However, Cramer intervened and brought him into the team. The rest, as they say, is history!

Lothar Matthaus played under coach Franz Beckenbauer in the World Cup-winning team of Italia 90. After being on the losing side in the 1982 (Italy) and 1986 (Argentina) finals, the win against Argentina was sweet redemption. A veteran of five World Cups and 150 international caps, both records, he also won the European championships in 1980. Matthaus claimed many honours with his club side Inter Milan, but the Champions League remained the only major to elude him.