Ex-Germany captain Lothar Matthaus to India: No easy way to becoming a footballing nation
Youth development in football and the Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V. (DfB), the German football federation, are synonymous in the world of the beautiful game. Though they might have endured a terrible defence to their World Cup title at Russia 2018 early this year, there’s no denying that it was the Germans have been the trendsetters in terms of shaping the future of the game.
The journey started some 18 years ago when a humiliating outing at Euro 2000 when the famed Die Mannschaft couldn’t even beat the likes of Latvia and had to return home after faltering at the first hurdle. Something drastic needed to be done, and the think-tank chose to go with revamping their youth system.
The German FA started with setting up 121 regional centres in remote areas where youngsters enjoyed a weekly session under a highly-qualified coach. It took some two years, but 24 months later, every Bundesliga club had agreed to build youth academies. At present, there are 366 regional centres and 54 certified club academies that run in close connection with the local school.
Though it took a while, the result has been evident as the Germans, 14 years after giving birth of an otherwise ridiculous idea, saw a young and enthusiastic team filled with immense talent lift the World Cup at the Maracana.
So when a German legend agrees to talk to you, a question inadvertently ends up being about youth development in a growing country like India. And the legend this time, skipper of the 1990 World Cup winning German team Lothar Matthäus, was more than willing to share his thoughts on what India needs to do.
“I think, there’s no said time frame. It depends on how quickly the players can adapt to the changing trends. It might take 10 years, 20 years or even 30 years. It’s important to take the right steps; one wrong step can push you back 7-10 years,” he says when asked about how long should one wait to see India grow into a footballing nation.
“First of all, it’s important to invest in academies. We have to mould the young players. They are the future of the national team. For me, when everything is going well, in 10-12 years, you will have a team that can really challenge the best in Asia for a place at the World Cup. You cannot do it in 2-3 years. You have to invest time, money and the resources. I believe when you have the right coaches, you have great players.”
While, off late, we have seen the footballing fraternity in India chose a top-down approach with best of resources being pooled into the top-most tier of domestic football, the 57-year-old who now frequents as a pundit, believes that it’s the grassroots that need special attention.
“It’s not only at the highest level, even at the school level you need to have good coaches to teach the kids the basics of the game. It’s at that level that you need to teach the right things. You need to ensure that the kids find the right balance between their school and football," he added.