By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
Not long ago, the Ruhr area was synonymous with German industry. But since the closure of many coal mines and steel mills in the late 1900s, the small pocket in the North Rhine-Westphalia has gained a new reputation: producing talented footballers by the dozen.
Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus are just a few of the many stars of today’s game who were born in the Ruhr area. Indeed, even though it is just one eighth of the size of Catalunya, the region that contains Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Duisburg and Bochum can be compared to the Spanish territory in terms of the sheer quantity of classy players who called it home during their formative years.
It might at first come as a surprise that there is no European powerhouse that resides in the NRW. But the west of Germany contains many cities - and with them, many clubs - among which the local talents are distributed.
Indeed, Schalke, Dortmund, Monchengladbach, Leverkusen and Koln draw from talent pools all within 80 kilometres of one another. Bayern Munich, by contrast, have only Augsburg (65km) and Nurnberg (170km) as first division sides that can compete for academy recruits.
As for fanbase - and with it, market power - the mere fact that the stadiums of Germany’s fiercest rivals, Dortmund and Schalke, are situated only 30km apart clearly illustrates how divided the Ruhr area is. But, collectively there is a tremendous concentration of talent coming through the ranks of the region’s biggest clubs: Dortmund, Schalke, Bochum and Duisburg.
While the Ruhr area accounts for just 1.2 per cent of the land mass in Germany and only 6.3% of the country’s population, clubs from the former industrial centre have sent 23 players to the German Under-15 to U20 national teams this season. A further eight with ties to the Ruhr area have been called up to the U21 side.
Indeed, true to its industrial past, the Ruhr has become a factory that churns out footballing talents every year.
And now, as Germany's greatest rivals, Dortmund and Schalke prepare to kick-off for the 137th time in their competitive history on Saturday, Goal.com honours the top players to be born in and/or to play in the Ruhr area during their pre-professional years.
|BEST XI | Players born or trained in the Ruhr area
|Ruhr Youth Club: Schalke
|Ruhr Youth Clubs: Herten-Langenbochum, Schalke
||Ruhr Youth Club: Schalke
||Ruhr Youth Clubs: Bochum, Schalke
|Ruhr Youth Clubs: Schalke, Gelsenkirchen-Hessler, Buer, Bochum
||Ruhr Youth Clubs: S-W Gelsenkirchen, Rotthausen, Wattenscheid
||Ruhr Youth Club: Bor. Dortmund
|Ruhr Youth Clubs: Hombruch, Bor. Dortmund
||Ruhr Youth Clubs: Westf. Gelsenkirchen, Teut. Schalke-Nord, Falke Gelsenkirchen, R-W Essen, Schalke
|Ruhr Youth Clubs: Post SV Dortmund, Bor. Dortmund
||Ruhr Youth Clubs: R-W Obereving, K'hausen, Merk. Dortmund, Bor. Dortmund
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