Sports Soccer

WORLD CUP

How Germany rebuilt itself into a world soccer power 0

By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press

Germany's Thomas Mueller reacts during the team's World Cup quarterfinal match against France at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro in this July 4, 2014 file photo. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files)

Germany's Thomas Mueller reacts during the team's World Cup quarterfinal match against France at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro in this July 4, 2014 file photo. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Files)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - 

It is difficult to imagine Germany’s soccer program ever being anything less than what it is now, a model for nations around the world to follow.

Of the 17 completed World Cup tournaments Germany has participated in, it has reached the semifinals 12 times. Germany is a seven-time finalist having won three World Cup titles.

World Cup No. 18 will either see them go home with a fourth championship or finish second to Argentina. The two play Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.

Imagining this country in any type of soccer purgatory is almost incomprehensible.

Yet, for a time, it was so.

Germany didn’t rise to the top of the soccer world without being forced to take a hard look at its soccer program when 14 years ago the powerful nation was getting kicked around regularly in international competition.

The Germans won the World Cup in 1990. In 1994, they couldn’t get out of the quarterfinals in the United States. Merely a blip, many said.

In France 1998, Germany yet again failed to get out of the quarterfinals. At that point some were beginning to look at the German system and see storm warnings.

At the Euro Cup in 2000, Germany failed to make it out of the group stage.

These were no blips. It was a full-on disaster.

German soccer was suffering the same issues that Italian soccer had gone through in the ‘70s. Italians weren’t developing their own players. The big money of Serie A was attracting the best players in the world, which was a wonderful selling point for owners of professional club sides like AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. It didn’t do much for local player development.

The problem was that there were no restrictions on the number of foreign players who could play on a team. As a result, these club sides put all their money into buying foreign players and no money into the development of Italian players. If there was an Italian prospect that somehow managed to develop, he often found himself sitting on the bench behind a player from Brazil or Germany or Uruguay.

Sometime in the mid-1970s restrictions were put on the number of foreign players allowed to play in Italy.

Italian players got the chance to develop and the result was a 1982 World Cup win led by a young Italian named Paolo Rossi, who before being bought by Juventus for a record fee developed with the small club side Lanerossi Vicenza.

After Germany’s embarrassment at the 2000 European tournament, the German soccer association made drastic changes and managed to identify the big issue that holds back nations -- youth development and keeping homegrown players.

In 2001 it became compulsory for all 36 professional clubs in Germany to fund their own youth academies. The teams began with skill development at an early age. They weren’t worried about results or winning championships. Teams taught young players both physical and mental skills.

The list of top players that have come through the development system is ridiculous: Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mario Gotze, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and so many more. Most of these players are in their mid-20s.

For the most part, German players prefer to play at home in the Bundesliga.

Of the 23 players on Germany’s roster in Brazil, 16 play in the Bundesliga. Four years ago, all 23 of the players played in the nation’s top league.

As an example, Brazil’s national team has only four players who play domestically.

The German system allows for players to play in the same system and learn to play the same way from the age of six until players play professionally.

There is something to be said for how this promotes continuity in play and builds national pride.

Former German midfielder Dietmar Hamann told English newspaper the Daily Mail that it’s all about the team and not the individual. Because German players developed as a group, what happened to Brazil when their main man Neymar went down wouldn’t happen to Germany.

“We would have talked about it and moved on,” he said. “We wouldn’t have stood there during the national anthems holding up his shirt. It sends the wrong message.

“Humility is a big thing. You have to conduct yourself in the right way because you have a responsibility to your team and that has gone out of the window in some countries. They’re taught never to give up and to always try to do the right thing. Even when they were 5-0 up against Brazil, you never saw anything flash. They were the same as at 0-0. Team is the key. They are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the group and are very humble.”

Like most German national teams, what they do stems from unshakeable consistency and professionalism.

Something that is now being developed long before any German hopes to be able to wear the national team’s shirt.

GERMAN RESULTS

Country / Year / Round / Last Game

Uruguay / 1930 / Withdrew

Italy / 1934 / 3rd place defeated Austria 3-2

France / 1938 / 1st round lost to Switzerland 2-4

Brazil / 1950 / Banned

Switzerland / 1954 / Champions defeated Hungary 3-2

Sweden / 1958 / 4th place lost to France 3-6

Chile / 1962 / QF lost to Yugoslavia 0-1

England / 1966 / 2nd place lost to England 3-4

Mexico / 1970 / 3rd place defeated Uruguay 1-0

W. Germany / 1974 / Champions defeated Netherlands 2-1

Argentina / 1978 / 2nd round lost to Austria 2-3

Spain / 1982 / 2nd place lost to Italy 1-3

Mexico / 1986 / 2nd place lost to Argentina 2-3

Italy / 1990 / Champions defeated Argentina 1-0

United States / 1994 / QF lost to Bulgaria 1-2

France / 1998 / QF lost to Croatia 0-3

S. Korea/Japan / 2002 / 2nd place lost to Brazil 0-2

Germany / 2006 / 3rd place defeated Portugal 3-1

South Africa / 2010 / 3rd defeated Uruguay 3-2

Brazil / 2014 / In final

Totals: Three championships, four second-place finishes and three third-place finishes and 12 times in Top Four.

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