Many children and young people dream of a career as a professional soccer player. There are definitely top talents. But even of them only very few succeed in realizing their dream – despite the support systems. Where is the problem?
When Valentin Beckert steps onto the football pitch at the DFB base in Neutraubling, he draws everyone’s attention. At 1.90 meters tall, the 14-year-old towers above his peers, with whom he plays in the East Bavarian regional selection. The best juniors from the Bavarian Forest to Bayreuth train or play together once a week here in Neutraubling near Regensburg.
So many talents in one place also attract the scouts of clubs from the first and second federal leagues, who have already brought quite a few youth players to their youth academies from here. The players know that. Valentin, too, has his parents drive him more than 100 kilometers every week to get closer to his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
Too little match practice for football talents
Despite talented players like Valentin Beckert, Rudi Völler sees “dark clouds” gathering with regard to the next generation of footballers. The national team’s new sports director has to deal with a steadily declining number of U23 players in the Bundesliga.
Joti Chatzialexiou, sporting director of national teams at the DFB, also confirms that there is a lack of top talent in the national team and for individual positions. “It’s not that there are no top talents in German youth football, but there are too few players who then develop into top players in the professional field.” According to Chatzialexiou, this is partly due to the fact that talents do not get enough match practice in the first teams. On the other hand, the competition in the youth sector must also be designed in such a way that courageous, creative actions are encouraged. Means: more football games instead of tactics.
Valentin Becker (centre) has a clear goal: to be a professional soccer player
Few make it to the pros
There are two funding structures in Germany, some of which complement each other. In addition to the DFB bases, where talented amateurs are promoted, there are 56 youth academies that are set up and financed by professional clubs.
The path of a youth player usually leads from a DFB base via a regional selection to a youth academy at a professional club. But very few players succeed in asserting themselves in their youth team.
With 56 academies, the probability for a twelve-year-old youth player is at most 0.1 percent, according to Chatzialexiou from the DFB. The quota improves to ten percent up to the U19. However, also because many players will no longer be there by then.
#right in the middle from Neutraubling: Looking for young footballers
Sebastian Grosser and Rüdiger Nowak, BR, daily topics 10:15 p.m., March 28, 2023
Instead of a football pitch mentality, he was trimmed to be a pro too soon
At the DFB base in Neutraubling, Valentin Beckert gives everything. It is the last training before the game against the youth team of a professional club. And the 14-year-old wants to be in the squad – like everyone here. Johannes Ederer has to decide who plays for the regional selection and who doesn’t.
He sees enough talent, says the coordinator for the DFB bases in eastern Bavaria. But what has been missing in recent years is the football field mentality. Instead, the youth players were trimmed too early for professionals and results. “Mom, dad, friends, maybe one or two youthful sins that you can also commit at home are very important for the development of a child. And of course the professional club looks at things differently than maybe here in the Mass sport is still the case.”
Ederer has often seen youth players come back to amateur clubs because they weren’t ready for the next step.
Coach Johannes Ederer in conversation with young players.
Patience in player development
According to the DFB, more qualified coaches are needed so that the talents don’t fall by the wayside – also in the amateur field. For Chatzialexiou, they should above all have the understanding “to want to develop and support talent instead of focusing on the collective victory every weekend”.
The sports director of the national teams hopes that so-called late developers will also receive more attention and patience. This means that talented players get more match practice in their clubs and can prove themselves against established players. Demands that those responsible for youth work at the DFB made before the national team left the World Cups in Russia and Qatar. “Unfortunately, their implementation still fails all too often due to short-term and very specific, individual interests.” Among other things, professional clubs would rather scout players from abroad, according to Chatzialexiou.
Training comes to an end at the DFB base in Neutraubling. Valentin Becker breathes heavily, supports himself with his hands on his knees. He can be content. His commitment pays off: he’s in the squad for the next game. What’s more, the 14-year-old has received several offers from clubs in the first and second Bundesliga. This puts him closer than ever to his dream of becoming a professional soccer player. And who knows – maybe one day he will appear for the national team.