November 19, 2017

Hoffenheim – The Latest Addition to Germany’s Talent Factory

Euro 2000, Group A. Germany finished bottom with one point and exited the tournament in disgrace. Something had to be done. The Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) met with the Bundesliga and its clubs try and thrash out a solution. Eventually it was decided that technically gifted players were a priority and it was decided that clubs in the top two tiers of German football had to open academies to aid development of such players.

That ruling changed the course of German football history as they began their 14-year journey to conquer world football. In 2009 the Germany U21s thrashed an England side 4-0 in the final of the European U21 Championships and six of those players would go on to feature in Germany’s World Cup winning squad. Thanks to the compulsory creation of academies, clubs like FC Schalke and SC Freiburg have become famous around the footballing world for their ability to produce talent.

One club’s academy is also starting to make a name for itself in terms of the talent it produces and that club is TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. They have recently been awarded three stars for their academy again, the highest you can get from the DFB. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea thanks to the financial backing of majority shareholder Dietmar Hopp but they have a real commitment to youth and it is paying off both on and off the pitch.

Whilst many may not agree with Hopp funding the club he has certainly done as much as he can to make sure the club still represents the region. One of the ways he wants to do that is by encouraging the development of young players; in an ideal world they’ll all be local to the region. In combination with the club hierarchy this is a top priority.

Bernhard Peters, who was at the club for eight years before leaving for Hamburg last summer to become their Sporting Director, laid much of the groundwork. In his last season at the club he saw the U19s claim the Bundesliga title after beating Hannover 5-0 in the overall final. In the semi-finals they overcame Schalke, who are a giant of the game at youth level.

The youngest side at the academy is the U12 but even the by the time players reach that age many local youngsters and their families already have a relationship with the club as it’s a priority for the club to establish a rapport. Their aim is that the academy will be “a global, holistic educational approach laying an equal emphasis on both athletic and academic development”.

It is put into practice alongside “Anpiff ins Leben” a local charity set up by Hopp to help support local projects where Hoffenheim are just one of ten local sports clubs involved in the scheme. Despite only being subject to the compulsory academy since 2007 Hoffenheim have caught up fast and Niklas Süle, 19, is the first player to hold down a place in the senior side after coming through the club’s academy. He is the perfect image for the club. Born in Frankfurt, about one hour’s drive away from Sinsheim, he joined the youth set up at 15 and slowly worked his way into the first team before becoming a crucial member of the backline only for an ACL injury cut this season short.

There are also a few that got away for Gisdol’s side before making name for themselves at other clubs. Jonas Hofmann, now on loan at Mainz from Borussia Dortmund, left the second team in 2011 for only £44,000 after spending seven years at the club. Davie Selke is predicted by many to be the future of the German national side after his performances with Werder Bremen and with the Germany youth teams. The young striker joined Hoffenheim in 2009 aged 14 and left in 2013 for £88,000 to move to Bremen.

He well and truly announced himself to the German football public last year when scored six goals in the European U19 Championships helping Germany win the title. One player who wasn’t involved in the youth set up but started his professional career there was David Alaba. The Bayern Munich left back signed on loan in 2011 and felt so much at home that he nearly stayed permanently.

Here is a list of players who could be joining Süle in the Hoffenheim first team or perhaps like Selke and Hofmann will make their name elsewhere in the near future:

Kevin Akpoguma (Centre Back):
Like Selke the 19-year old was a member of the winning team at the U19 UEFA Championships playing in all of the games for his country. Signed from Karlsruhe SC in 2013, he has yet to feature for the senior side at Hoffenheim but has become an important member of the second team. There were rumours that a couple of clubs, Hamburg and Hertha Berlin, made enquiries about the player late last year but for now he is staying in Sinsheim.

Nicolai Rapp (Centre Back):
Rapp appears to have leapfrogged Akpoguma in the race to the first team. The departure of Jannik Vestergaard in January and the ACL injury to Süle left Hoffenheim short of cover at the back and before the Bundesliga resumed action Rapp was promoted to the first team. Last season he captained the U19s to glory after they beat Hannover in the U19 Bundesliga final. He has yet to be named in the match day squad but with Gisdol’s side losing their opening two Rückrunde games thanks mainly to poor defending it might not be long before we see 19-year old make his Bundesliga debut.

Nico Rieble (Left Back):
Along with Rapp and Akpoguma, Rieble was brought to South Africa to train with the first team over the winter break. Despite the left-back position currently being well stocked at Hoffenheim with Jin-Su Kim and Jeremy Toljan ahead of him it could shorter than you think before we see him. His versatility allows him to play anywhere across the back four meaning an injury in the senior team could see him brought in. At the start of this season he was promoted to the U23 side in the fourth tier of German football.

Michael Gregoritsch (Striker):
If you are a fan of the 2. Bundesliga then it’s more than likely that you’ll have heard of this Austrian striker. This season he has combined well with goal machine Simon Terodde and has got himself three goals so far this season. Signed from Kapfenberger SV in 2011 he didn’t feature in the side and had one prolific season with the U23s before signing for St. Pauli on loan. It didn’t quite work out there but he is finally enjoying his football under Peter Neururer originally and now Gertjan Verbeek at the side from the Ruhr Valley.

Other Notable Mentions:

Bruno Nazario (Attacking Midfield):
The 19-year old signed in 2013 but has not had much of an impact. A regular figure this season on loan at Polish side Lechia Gdansk but has yet to score.

Marvin Schwäbe (Goalkeeper):
The Germany U20 goalkeeper has been dubbed the ‘new Manuel Neuer’ after a video of him nutmegging a Polish striker went viral. He was a member of the team that won the U19 Bundesliga last year. In 2008 he was a youth wrestling Champion so he certainly has a similar physique to the Bayern and Germany Number one.

Benjamin Trümner (Midfielder):
Won the U19 European Championships last year with Germany but is another yet to feature in the first team.

Janik Haberer (Striker):
The 20-year old signed last summer from Spvgg Unterhaching and has featured for the Germany U20 side.

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Ryan currently lives in Northern Ireland but studies Mechanical Engineering in Scotland at Robert Gordon University. His complete obsession for all divisions of German football as a whole is only beaten by his love for 1899 Hoffenheim, he could possibly be the only Hoffenheim fan in the World for whom English is a first language, certainly the only one in the UK. He tries to make it to Germany for football at least once a year.

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