Why Köln’s academy has been so successful in producing talent

While some casual fans wouldn’t know it, 1. FC Köln is one of the most historic clubs in the Bundesliga. Multiple league titles and second place finishes, World Cup and European Champions, DFB-Pokal triumph’s and some of the league’s best fans reside in the Rheinenergiestadion.

While Köln haven’t had many trophies or moments of glory in recent times, they are certainly on there way back. After all, they had all of these great things for so long, and the reason why they’ve had their sustained success is simple: their academy.

While the Köln’s academy isn’t as heralded as Bayern’s, Schalke’s or even 1860 Munich’s, the Billy Goats have certainly produced their fair share of stars. Lukas Podolski being the most notable, but Timo Horn, Jonas Hector, Ron-Robert Zieler (sold to Man United as a youth player), Yannick Gerhardt, and Mitchell Weiser are some of the players to come from the Köln academy in the last handful of years.

Additionally, the DFL gave Köln’s academy a coveted 5-star rating in their most recent evaluation. There are many reasons for the DFL’s rating and the sustained success of Köln’s academy, including the club’s location in Germany, its prominence, unique training methods, and the chance that Köln give their players on the senior team.

Location and Prominence

The club from North Rhine-Westphalia has a distinct advantage over their opposition, thanks to their location. To start with, the city of Köln is one of Germany’s largest, as over 1 million people reside in the city.

While the location being along the river gives the city plenty of wealth, which helps provide the Billy Goats with top class facilities and all of the resources they need. The ability to pick from a large pool of players, and provide them with the facilities that Köln have has helped their academy tremendously.

Many academies don’t have these luxuries, as the teams in the smaller cities in Germany don’t do as well when it comes to producing players. The lure of the city of Köln is tremendous, as players of all kinds of backgrounds and nationalities playing for the Billy Goats. The variety of their players is something that makes their academy successful. For example, Lukas Podolski, their most notable academy graduate was born in Poland. The lure of the city brought him and his talent there, and he ended up becoming a star.

While the location that Köln resides in helps them tremendously, the reason why it helps them is that they can get the best players from the city. The Billy Goats get all of the best players from the city because they are the only team in the carnival city that competes in the top two divisions of German football. Their inner city rivals include Viktoria Köln and Fortuna Köln, who compete in the lower divisions of Germany. Since their main rivals are such small clubs, Köln are able to snap up any young player who impresses in their academies.

Essentially, Köln have a monopoly on the city, which almost no other Bundesliga club has. For example, Bayern Munich face competition with rivals 1860 Munich for players in the city of Munich. Often times players looking to play right away go to 1860 Munich rather than Bayern.

Another similar example is Germany is the city of Hamburg, as St. Pauli provide Hamburger SV serious competition for young players. Similarly to 1860, they give players a lot that Hamburg can’t like first team football. The competition that most Bundesliga clubs face for prospects in the area is something that Köln doesn’t have to deal with. Their prominence and history allow them to take full advantage of their location which gives them an invaluable edge over their rivals.

An example of their city monopoly is none other than Zieler, who started his youth career with Viktoria Köln. But when he rose to prominence, he was snapped by the North-Rhine Westphalia based club and sold to Man United for a good amount of money. That money was invaluable for Köln, and if there rival Viktoria Köln was in the 2. Bundesliga like St. Pauli and 1860, Zieler would’ve stayed with them instead of moving to Köln.

Unique Training Methods and Mentality

Every Bundesliga club has there own slogan either on their jersey or crest. Whether it’s Dortmund’s Echte Liebe or the Mia San Mia of Bayern, they’re all unique and they represent the club’s values. For Köln, the slogan translates to Just Different, and the methods that they use in their academies fit this slogan perfectly.

I say this because the Billy Goats don’t do what most clubs do when it comes to training. Since they have so many players, with 6 different schools in their academy, they have to use unorthodox methods. What they do is they use motivational training, which is something that not many teams use in their academies. In the motivational training, they do things such as shooting competitions, tournaments and two goal competitions to try to help the players improve.

Since there is so much rigorous training that they players must do, the Köln academy wants to combine that with some relaxing drills such as the shooting competitions. These drills keep the players motivated, and wanting to play Football all the time. If they only do rigorous drills, they will lose that spirit and desire to play that they need. While the motivation drills help the players mentally, they also help them improve their technical skill. These drills aren’t easy, and they involve maneuvering around cones, 25 yard volleys and other drills that help build up skills. However, they don’t always do these drills, as Köln do these drills during layoffs and breaks, as a way to have fun and show they players why they do all of the rigorous work during the season.

While the motivational drills are unique and help the players, they also fit the values of Köln’s academy. The North-Rhine Westphalia based club doesn’t want to produce robots who only play football, or trouble makers who don’t know how to make their own decisions. They want their academy players to develop a togetherness and a team spirit, while they also preach for their players to become independent, and learn to take responsibility for their actions. Köln want the players to develop as individuals as well, they care just as much about the people that there players become as the footballers they become.

While this might not matter for some people, there have been plenty of talented players who wasted their skill, and the best athletes always know themselves as people. If you examine the players Köln have produced, they tend to fit this bill. Podolski is one of the most outgoing footballers on the planet. His personality is easily translated onto the pitch, and the flare that Podolski has shown has helped him become a World Cup winner.

However, Podolski is not the only one who shows his personality, as Timo Horn is a hometown kid, and he is as involved as anyone in the festivals and the culture of the city. This is no coincidence, as Horn is someone who Köln fans can relate to because of his personality on and off the pitch. He’s only 22 years old, but based on Horn as a person with his maturity, he could be seen as much older.

Besides the drills and the values that the Billy Goats preach, they also have very successful youth teams. There youth teams constantly compete for and win trophies at the u17 and u19 levels. The under 17 team won their Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012, while they won the under 19 DFB-pokal in 2013. They u19 have also finished 2nd in the league each of the last two seasons. The success of their youth teams validates their methods, and their work from a very early age. The success of the youth teams has translated to the senior level, with Peter Stöger’s men having a very impressive season thus far. Having the kind of success that they’ve have at the youth levels will help Köln be able to keep acquiring the top players from the city like they have been for so long.

Opportunities and Success with the Senior Team

We wouldn’t be talking about the Köln academy if it weren’t for the success that they players have had with the senior team. The players that they’ve produced have had much senior success, but they wouldn’t have had that kind of success without the chance to play right away.

Of the aforementioned Köln academy products, Horn, Podolski, Weiser, Gerhardt, Hector and now Klunter are getting the chance to play in the senior team at a very young age. Horn was the number one goalkeeper as an 18 year old, and Podolski and Weiser were in the starting 11 at 19 years old. Gerhardt is a regular in Peter Stöger’s side despite being only 21 years old. The opportunity that Köln gives their young players is something that is very unique, and it’s led to success for the players and the club. All of the players that ’s side have given a chance at a young age have turned into successful players for either Köln, or another Bundesliga club such as Weiser. If Köln didn’t give their players the opportunity to play right away, they wouldn’t have the kind of academy that they do, and their unique methods would all go to waste as well.

If every player that was given a chance as a young player was successful, there would be a lot more top class players in the world than there is at the moment. But the reason why Köln’s players have succeed at the senior level goes back to the academy and what they preach. The maturity and the self-knowledge combined with hunger and willingness to get better is something that all of the Köln young players have.

For example, the amount of improvement that Bundesliga fans have seen in Hector and Horn during the Billy Goats year and a half in the top flight has been remarkable. The performances that Podolski turned in as a young player back in the day were incredible to say the least. The academy of Koln produces young players who are good enough to perform for the senior team, while the club gives them the chance to play right away as well. The combination of the academy, the opportunity and the quality of the players has led to a lot of success with the senior side. With all of the success that the players have had, the Köln academy is clearly one of the best in Germany.

Since the Billy Goats have an ideal location, unique training methods and they give their players a chance in the first team, they have produced a lot of great players in recent seasons. If Köln keep producing top level players, the success that they’re having is going to become the expectation for the North-Rhine Westphalia club. And maybe Köln can get back to where they used to be behind all of their young stars.

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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.