The appointment of Karsten Neitzel as head coach by Malaysia Super League club Selangor this week has brought the tally of German trainers currently employed at the club to three, following the appointments of technical director Michael Feichtenbeiner and assistant coach Lorenz Baumann before the start of the 2020 season.
The club that have been spending their last two years rebuilding under president and state of Selangor crown prince Tengku Amir Shah are now looking to realign their direction as a footballing organisation, and it seems that they are taking point from the right footballing country, judging from their most recent appointment.
The failure of the German national team in Euro 2000, in which they finished bottom of the group stage, sparked a major reshuffle on how the sport is organised at the club level and how their young talents are developed in the country. Its FA and clubs sat down, and came to a decision to put more emphasis on developing local youth trainees. Fast forward 14 years later, Die Mannschaft would go on to win the World Cup, with players developed under the reformed commitment to youth development.
Germany celebrating their World Cup win in 2014. Photo from Getty
While the German Bundesliga clubs are not known for its star power as compared to La Liga and English Premier League sides, they are famous for their steadfastness in young players. In 2017, the average age of Bundesliga players was 25.3 years, while seven Bundesliga clubs were in the top 15 list of European clubs with the youngest players' average age this year. The most obvious current example of this is 20-year old England star Jadon Sancho, who has already racked up over 80 appearances for Borussia Dortmund in the league alone.
Selangor's German bosses too are seemingly eager to emulate this commitment. Feichtenbeiner, taking over temporarily as head coach prior to Neitzel's appointment, handed over competitive Selangor first team debuts to four young players aged 20 or below; Danial Asri, Zikri Khalili, Aliff Haiqal and Mukhairi Ajmal.
And Feichtenbeiner also assured that Neitzel, whose appointment he had a hand in, will continue this commitment.
With the assistance of their reserve team in the Premier League, which Feichtenbeiner is a head coach of, their task of blooding younger players will be more streamlined, as the boys can be given senior football minutes in the second tier first.
But more importantly, the Red Giants' commitment to their younger players can benefit them financially.
Younger players and teenagers typically command lower wages than those who are older, especially for youngsters playing at the same club that developed them. In fact, a Selangor official once revealed to Goal that this is one of the reasons for the club to establish its second team; to capture potential stars at an earlier age when they can be acquired for lower wages.
According to a research conducted before the outbreak of Covid-19, the Bundesliga was the league with the second highest personnel expense to revenue ratio as compared among the other European top leagues; at 53 per cent.
As a club that are striving to grow modestly and sustainably (with officials who have repeatedly expressed the need for a salary cap to be put in place in the Malaysian league), Selangor should emulate the Germans' commitment to growing their own players and in turn making a financial profit from them, judging by how Bayer Leverkusen made EUR81 million from the sale of Kai Haverts to Chelsea, and Dortmund made EUR64 million when the same English club bought Christian Pulisic.
The Red Giants have smartly ensured that they will financially profit from Luqman Hakim's future when the teen sensation moved to Belgium, and they need to do the same with the Mokhtar Dahari Academy graduates currently on their roster, in order to fill their coffers.
Luqman Hakim. Photo from Sports Regime
But more than just commitment to unearthing young talent, there are other aspects of German football that the 33-time Malaysia Cup champions can emulate.
Coaches development is also an integral part of the renaissance. In 2017, the country had the second highest number of UEFA pro coaching licence holders; 887.
Bundesliga clubs' ability to draw massive matchday attendances and fans' involvement are also something that Feichtenbeiner and Neitzel can perhaps help Selangor look into.
However, there are still steps they need to take in order to emulate the so-called German way. Most tellingly, their grassroots activities need to be undertaken more seriously (their youth team and newly-established soccer school activities have been halted by the pandemic), considering that a Bayer Leverkusen youth coach once revealed to Goal during a 2018 Bundesliga-sponsored visit to the country that the club spend around five per cent of its annual operational budget on youth development alone. Surely signing national academy graduates to the second team does not count as youth development to German coaches. They need their own youth academy.
On the other hand, German football itself is not infallible. Their national team is currently underperforming again, with this article written just hours afer they were hammered 6-0 by Spain in the Nations League, despite having been led by the same manager who guided them to the World Cup title six years ago. However, they are quick to acknowledge the need for tweaks (as opposed to the need for a major revamp two decades earlier), and Feichtenbeiner and Neitzel must avail their club to the recent changes too.