Will Schalke’s Youth Brigade Lead Them to Success?

When Germany won the World Cup in 2014, most of their players came from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. However, a fact that was overlooked regarding that historic German side was that four key players on the team were products of the terrific Schalke academy, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, key players Mesut Özil and Benedikt Höwedes, and young phenom Julian Draxler.

While all of these players are terrific talents, a common theme among them is coming of age in the Schalke youth system, and then leaving, as Höwedes is the only one of the four who still plays in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke have now turned to the academy to replace these stars. The new crop for Schalke is filled with well-known wonderkids Max Meyer, Leroy Sané  and Leon Goretzka who all have superstar potential. These players are the center of the youth movement that Schalke have undergone this season. And the success of young players in the Bundesliga will make this movement successful if Schalke can retain their stars, surround them with talent, and give them time to grow.

Other Clubs Find Success With Youth

Of the top five leagues in the world, the youngest league of them all in the Bundesliga, and the German NT in the FIFA 2014 World Cup was the 6th youngest of the 32 national sides involved. This is in large part due to all of the young German prodigies who have risen through the ranks in recent years. For Bayern, the amount of young players that led the charge during the treble winning season was remarkable. Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, David Alaba, and others were young stars who led Bayern to unprecedented success. And the money that they’ve made from the feats that they achieved have them firmly atop the German Football landscape. Even for a club of Bayern’s stature, the success they have achieved with their young stars is unprecedented.

Bayern aren’t the only team that has gone to unprecedented levels with young stars. Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund side of 2010-11 and 2011-12 were led by young stars such as Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Illkay Gundogan, Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Shinji Kagawa. While most of them weren’t academy products like the Bayern stars were, the young Dortmund stars had a similar effect on the club as their rivals in Munich. This core of players led Dortmund unprecedented success for the club. Back to back Bundesliga titles, a cup win over Bayern and a Champions League final appearance brought Dortmund back to the glory days of the 1990’s.

With a lot of these stars either still at Bayern and Dortmund, or having been sold for a substantial amount of money, the effect that producing young stars had on both clubs was enormous. They not only helped the clubs, but German football as well. In seeing this, especially in Dortmund, Schalke knew that they needed to change what they were doing.

After making a splash in the transfer market by buying veteran star players like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul, Schalke had a lot of success. Three consecutive years in the Champions League, and doing well in the competition at the same time made the Gelsenkirchen side as good as ever. But Raul soon left the club, and other aging players like Huntelaar, and Jefferson Farfan couldn’t carry the team last season. With a lot on the budget, and a disappointing season last term, Schalke resorted to the methods of their two rivals, Bayern and Dortmund. And since they decided to do that at a time when they are stocked with young talent, it will definitely work.

Schalke have three players that can end up being as good or even better than some of the stars for Bayern and Dortmund were. Sané, a burgeoning talent  and a world reknowned talent, is the face of Schalke’s youth movement. His dazzling performance against Real Madrid last season and his great season this year have put him in a select group of 19 year olds to play for Die Nationalmannschaft, and already a much-discussed transfer target for foreign clubs.

Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka are starring for the Royal Blues as well. They are also two of the world’s brightest young prospects, and have been capped for the senior German team as well. Goretzka captains the German U-21 team and is a terrific young midfielder, and Meyer has been a top-notch prospect for years. Meyer has been a senior players since he was 17, and after being praised by Pep Guardiola already this season, Meyer is surely a can’t miss talent. The incredible amount of talent and skill that these three possess is similar to the players that Dortmund and Bayern had during their periods (and continued periods) of dominance. Müller, Kroos and Gotze were all as highly rated as these three are, and they have all turned into great players for their clubs.

Based on the players that they have, and the success of other clubs with a similar method, the youth movement of Schalke 04 is bound to not only work, but to help Die Konigsblauen push for that elusive Bundesliga title. If the success of their rivals is anything to base it on, if everything goes right for Schalke, they could have three world-class stars on their team now, and with more academy graduates such as Felix Passlack and Donis Avdijaj coming through the ranks, that total could be even higher.

Patience and Resilience Are Key

If every club turned into Bayern and Dortmund when they landed a handful of young prospects, the Bundesliga would be far from the two team title race that it is this season. But, that isn’t the case and will never be the case. That is why Schalke’s youth movement will only be like their rivals if they do what they did with the players. Schalke have the players, but managing them, and holding on to them, while surrounding them with others are what their true tests will be.

The toughest challenge that Schalke will face during their youth movement won’t be developing their players, it will be holding on to them. Since there is so much money in the game today, it’s harder to keep players away from the foreign clubs. Especially with the money in the Premier League, at PSG and the Spanish giants reaching all time levels — it is rather apparent that while some clubs can keep their young stars from those clubs, others simply have to surrender to the pressure, the player’s desires, and collect their transfer fee.

Bayern’s continued dominance of the Bundesliga is because of their ability to retain their players. Of all of the academy stars that they produced en route to the treble, Toni Kroos was the only one who left Die Roten. Müller, Alaba and Holger Badstuber are still in the Bayern starting eleven and contribute to the team a lot. For Bayern, being a club of their size makes it easy to retain these players, but Borussia Dortmund unfortunately can’t say the same. Dortmund are a big club in Germany, but Bayern are one of the biggest in the world. That is why Dortmund weren’t able to hold on to all of their stars, like Götze and Lewandowski,who have infamously joined Bayern from Dortmund. Dortmund previously had also lost Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United and Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid. Both players are back now, and the talent drain was surely some of the cause of the club’s 7th place finish last season.

Dortmund will continue having difficulty keeping their new young stars, such as Matthias Ginter and Julian Weigl, away from bigger clubs. If they do, Dortmund have a chance for a run similar to their previous dominance. The examples of Bayern and Dortmund prove that Schalke will have to hold onto their young stars if they want sustained success. Sané and Meyer especially will be hard to hold onto because of their fame, but Goretzka is a rare young talent as well. After already selling Julian Draxler to Wolfsburg, Schalke can’t sell any of their prized talents anytime soon. The youth movement will never really pay off if Schalke can’t retain their young phenoms, which has been the case with struggling second division side 1860 Munich.

Besides being resilient in the transfer market, Schalke will have to do what Bayern and Dortmund have done extraordinarily well — surround their young stars with talented and quality players. Football is an 11 man game, and in order to find success you need a quality starting eleven.

Bayern and Dortmund had quality players that weren’t young stars or academy players. These players included Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Lucas Barrios, Marco Reus, Pierre-emerick Aubameyang, Jerome Boateng and many others. Schalke already have some quality players around their young stars such as the aforementioned Huntelaar, Johannes Geis, goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann, and defenders Joel Matip and Höwedes are all very good players. But Schalke still have some areas as a team where they could look to upgrade even more.

Talent evaluation of potential transfers into Schalke will be the key. Positions like Right-back, Left-back and left midfield are some in which Schalke could upgrade. Along with striking help. Franco Di Santo and Choupo-Moting haven’t been very productive in the Bundesliga, and in order for Schalke to compete with the rivals they must finish off their chances. If Schalke can use some of the money that they acquired for Draxler along with what they could get in the Europa league. Signing a player to fill those voids would greatly improve their squad, and have them on a similar path to Bayern and Dortmund.

The last thing that Schalke will need to do in order to find success with their young players is to simply be patient. This mostly falls on the shoulders of manager Andre Breitenreiter, who is the man in charge of their playing time and role in the team. These players after all are 19, and 20 years old, which means that they are bound to have their ups and downs. Many of the best players in the world these days weren’t on a club as large as Schalke at that age, which means that the supporters and Breitenreiter can’t expect them to be world-class from the first time they touch the ball.

Müller, Götze, Alaba and other stars weren’t at the level they were at now back in 2011 or 2012 when they were the age of these Schalke stars. They all developed as young players who had a spot in the team consistently at 19 and 20 years old. Meyer, Sané and Goretzka will struggle here and there, and they might even cost the team at times, but eventually they should make good like their predecessors. That is if Breitenreiter can keep them confident, and team management can remain patient, shielding them from rash decisions and severe critiicism when they inevitably make youthful mistakes.

Something that Jurgen Klopp did so well at Dortmund was that he let the players play with freedom, and be able to express themselves without really worrying about getting dropped. Breitenreiter has done a good job so far at letting the young players express themselves and not play cautiously, but that must continue for the sake of not only their development as players, but the youth movement that Schalke are undergoing as well.

Schalke are having a pretty good season so far, as they will be contenders for the final champions league spots. They are doing this while going under a youth movement that resembles Bayern and Dortmund. And their youth movement will work because there is the general inclination to give youngsters a chance and roll with their inconsistency in the Bundesliga, with faith in the ability of academy-schooled players being a large part of the league’s ethos. But only if Schalke retain their starlets, are patient, and surround their phenoms with talent,can the Geslenkirchen side experience success similar to what Bayern and Dortmund have experienced. And maybe, just maybe Die Konigsblauen will contend for titles once again.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.