Bolstered by young players, Bundesliga is booming
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The stadiums are full, the games are close and all seven Bundesliga clubs have advanced to the knockout stage in European competitions for the first time. The Bundesliga is booming behind a surge of home-grown young talents.
The league is reaping the benefits of a youth training system put into place after one of the country's most embarrassing moments in an otherwise often glorious football history — when the national team failed to win a game at the 2000 European Championship.
One year later, the German Football Federation (DFB) obliged all Bundesliga clubs to establish youth academies with professional coaches. It also set up national leagues for youth teams. While schooling players, the academies and youth leagues also provided jobs and opportunities for young coaches with new ideas.
A decade later, young stars are carrying their clubs. Marco Reus and Mario Goetze are the standouts at champion Borussia Dortmund — which won its Champions League group ahead of Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam and Manchester City, all national champions.
Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller came out of its academy. Bayern and Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the product of Schalke's school before moving to Munich. All are established Germany players.
More coaches of youth sides are being promoted to Bundesliga jobs and have the courage to use young players. Thomas Tuchel is 39 and his team Mainz is sixth halfway into the season. Freiburg, another team whose limited financial means force the club to rely on its academy, is fifth.
Eintracht Frankfurt, promoted this season, is fourth, equal on points with Dortmund. Frankfurt includes several home-grown players. One of second-place Bayer Leverkusen's key players is Andre Schuerrle, schooled in Mainz.
The DFB has established its own academies nationwide and is considering building a national training center at one location. Germany, once notorious for its efficient but dour style of play, now thrills crowds across the world with its brand of exciting, attacking play borne by its young stars. Germany had the youngest side at last year's European Championship, where it lost in the semifinals to Italy.
The revival of German football has yet to translate into titles. Germany's last title was the 1996 European Championship, its last World Cup title came in 1990 and the last club to win the Champions League was Bayern Munich in 2001.
"This young team is still not at its peak. We are going to prepare in such a way that we are absolutely competitive in 2014 (World Cup in Brazil)," Germany coach Joachim Loew said recently. "That would be the greatest, if we could win the World Cup."
"We've taken great steps forward in the past year. We have confidence in our work. We are absolutely certain about our concept, methods, plans and targets," Loew said.
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