Berlin – No international matches, no training sessions, fewer conferences and training courses on the future of German football: The Coronavirus crisis is also putting a brake on U21 coach Stefan Kuntz and his team.
The international matches against Austria and Wales were canceled at the end of March, but those responsible have to be prepared for the restart after the social emergency.
When football is played again at some point, the questions about the next generation of German have a completely different place on the agenda. When looking at the overall situation, “a negative development can be seen, in which we all have to ask ourselves how we can influence it together positively,” said Kuntz.
Even without international matches, Kuntz is in regular contact with his players and observes their development, some trends make the 57-year-old think. Only Mainz-based Ridle Baku was the last player in the Bundesliga from his current U21 squad.
The German Football League report also confirms this tendency. In the first half of the current season, only three percent of the professionals used were German U21 internationals. Joti Chatzialexiou, sporting director of national teams, called this number “alarming”, Ansgar Schwenken from the DFL “questionable”.
The young German kickers do not have the class of exceptional foreign players like Jadon Sancho (19 years) and Erling Haaland (19) from Borussia Dortmund or Munich’s Alphonso Davies (19). Other ways are required to still get game practice.
In the lower leagues, Kuntz considers financial incentives to be a means of increasing the time spent by young German players. On the other hand, you have to train so that “the clubs say that German talent is just as good or has the same ability to develop as foreign talent,” he demands.
It has been almost 20 years since German youth training was reformed after the disastrous EM 2000. In 2020, the national team is in transition after the preliminary round at the 2018 World Cup, for which they have a little more time after the relocation of the European Championship in 2021. Even in the German youth teams from the U20 – who are currently also pausing – the successes failed to materialize. Germany was not qualified for the U19 European Championship, U17 World Cup and U20 World Cup last year. The U17 dropped out at the European Championships in the preliminary round.
So, like 20 years ago, is a radical change of course necessary in German football? “It was more dramatic at the time, and it was more about organizational and structural measures,” says Kuntz. These are now in place, now it is more about the “content of training” and the response to social changes.
The fact that the German talent system needs to be further developed and restructured is now accepted as a consensus. “We have clear signs that we really have to move massively in German football,” said DFB director Oliver Bierhoff. “We have clearly identified warning tendencies – especially in the younger years.”
Kuntz is now feeling the consequences of the failures in recent years. Although he led his U21 series twice in 2017 and 2019 to the European Championship final, the current team was last but with a 2: 3 against Belgium in the European Championship qualification. “So far we have been able to deliver good results – at least with the U21 – but at some point, we know that this development will also affect us,” said the 1996 European champion.
In order to “re-establish German football at the top of the world”, the DFB launched “Project Future” last year. Since then, the current situation has been comprehensively analyzed, then concrete measures are to be developed and implemented.
Those in charge warn that you have to be prepared for your “dent” in German football – a look at the developments after the Euro 2000 shows that. “The measures that were taken in the early 2000s have – if you take the World Cup victory takes as a yardstick – 14 years needed, “said Kuntz. “The current problems in the junior area are the symptom, but we want to fix the roots of the problem, and it just takes a little longer.”