MUNICH — Bayern Munich has found the winning formula to being one of the top clubs in the world, while at the same time building the German national team.
It all started with what Bayern executive board chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge considered a “crisis” during the 2000 European Championship, when Germany failed to get out of the group stage. Rummenigge and other club executives sat down with the German federation and decided that youth programs would be the key to the future. After a successful decade and a half, during which Bayern developed the likes of German internationals Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller, Germany has become a dominate force in world soccer.
While other countries - like the United States, for example - are just starting to focus on youth development, Bayern has been riding a two-column system to the top, which includes buying players in one and building homegrown talent in the other. “We care about the players coming from the youth department for many reasons,” Rummenigge explained. “It’s good for the image, it’s cheaper and at the end it’s liked by the fans, the supporters. This mixture is very important.”
However, there is one problem: Players want to play for the first team, and with such a deep player pool, the opportunities to make it on the pitch with Bayern’s first team are slim, to say the least. But Rummenigge has a solution.
|BAYERN WANTS AMERICANS|
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would like nothing more than to see American and Chinese players at his club.
Why? Because the United States and China are the two main markets Bayern Munich is trying to tap into as it looks to extend its brand around the world.
"We are always scouting the whole world so the best would be to find one American and one Chinese player," said Rummenigge, with a chuckle. "But it's not so easy to find a real good quality at the end to bring (a player) to Bayern."
Rummenigge told Goal a story about assigning his scouting department to visit China for four months to find a player to bring to Munich. After an unsuccessful trip, the 59-year-old told them to go back.
"Unfortunately they didn't find one single player with the quality to play at Bayern," he said, "so I said, 'Maybe you have to go back.'"
Is it a safe bet that Bayern will hold on to its U.S. international as long as it can? Let's just say the odds are pretty good... until someone better comes along.-Mike Slane
“It’s getting more difficult for the young guys to come through in a quality team like Bayern,” Rummenigge said. “But we’re going a bit different than in the past. For example, [Pierre Emile] Hojbjerg, the Danish (player), did not play many games in the first six months of this season so we decided to give him on loan to Augsburg. So maybe that’s a model of more things we will do in the future because they need to play regularly in the Bundesliga possibly. And we hope in the end that when he comes back he’ll be ready to be a Bayern Munich player for the first team.”
This isn’t the first time a Bayern player was loaned to a Bundesliga club and certainly won’t be the last. In the past, Lahm was loaned to Stuttgart and currently Julian Green, a name American fans are certainly familiar with, is with Hamburg.
“It’s always worked,” Rummenigge said. “In the beginning we had the idea that maybe the second team under those circumstances could be a very importing thing, but players want to play in the Bundesliga and not in the third or fourth league. It’s probably the better system to give them on loan and then after one or two years come back and hopefully be a Bayern Munich player.”
In order to get these players on first-team squads, Rummenigge has stayed the course and has only loaned his future stars to German clubs, but that could change soon. When asked about Green’s development so far, Rummenigge listed England as a possible next move for the 19-year-old on his track to playing regularly for Bayern Munich.
“As of yet it has only been Germany, but I’m not afraid to give them to England, to other countries,” Rummenigge said. “It’s a different culture, but maybe it’s not so bad for them to develop not just on the pitch but off the pitch as well, so I wouldn’t be afraid to do so.”
Hasan Salihamidzic came to Bayern at age 21 from Hamburg. While he was part of Bayern's "column" that includes buying players, he has seen first hand just how difficult it is to break into Bayern's team as a youngster. Just imagine Green at the Bayern headquarters looking to bump established star attackers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery among others. On top of that, he would need to be the top forward on the Under-23 squad.
“It’s really difficult to come from the youth team at Bayern Munich. It’s really, really difficult,” said Salihamidzic, who played for the club from 1998 to 2007. “To win and not to feel the big pressure is really difficult. And to stay on this level and to work and stay motivated every day and to win all the games is really a big job. But that’s what players like Muller, Schweinsteiger and Lahm did, but it’s still very hard to do.”
It’s even difficult for established stars to get consistent playing time at clubs like Bayern, which is so deep that players like Robert Lewandowski are sometimes asked to come off the bench. However, for a club to stay good for long periods of time, you need to keep developing talent. And that’s why many German clubs have elite training grounds that keep the youth teams in the same facility as the professionals.
“The strategy of Bayern Munich is to bring in youth players almost every year if it’s possible,” Salihamidzic added. “They give them the chance and it’s up to the player to work and be hungry enough to win every game.”
Current Bayern defender Jerome Boateng has played outside of Germany with Manchester City but was quick to point out that Bayern is different than other major clubs. From the bottom of the youth academy to the front office, Boateng says Bayern is more than a club — it’s a family. That comfort level can only keep players around longer to work their way up to the top.
“It’s a different tradition and Bayern the club is really a big family,” said Boateng, who echoed the view that most within the organization share. “Everybody knows everybody — for example, the greenskeeper will eat with the president, so that makes everyone comfortable and everyone respects each other.”
It appears as though other clubs in Germany are trying to build that same camaraderie within their organizations. While all Bundesliga clubs have been required to have a youth academy since 2001, teams like Hamburg are building facilities that will house the youth teams alongside the senior team. So imagine a 19-year-old being able to train around the senior team and even have the opportunity to practice with them. This will not only help develop their skills but also motivate them to reach the same level.
Now, whether they make it to Bayern's first team or not, a bright future awaits for these young players. To be the best, you have to be around the best. And that's clearly a strategy for these Bundesliga clubs as they look to continue to build for the future.
“Sometimes there are one or two top performers from the Under-19 team training in the preseason with the professional team,” Hamburg youth director Bernhard Peters said. “But the step between is the Under-23 team so there is a very close connection between the U-23 and the professional team because they are training on the same ground here at the stadium.”
The U.S. soccer setup would like nothing more than to follow in Germany's footsteps. Why wouldn't the decision-makers want to take on the same model as a country that features one of the top three leagues around the world and recently won the World Cup?
It makes sense that former Germany international Jurgen Klinsmann is leading the way as U.S. Soccer's senior team coach and U.S. Soccer recently has appointed another Germany legend, Berti Vogts, as the program's technical adviser. It's also no surprise the future stars of the U.S. national team are dual-national players born in Germany. The model works.