It’s the first game of the 2012 Rückrunde and bottom side SC Freiburg are facing FC Augsburg at home and neither side have found a way to score as the clock ticks down to 90 minutes. Trainer Christian Streich decides on a final throw of the dice and sends on eighteen year old academy graduate Matthias Ginter for his debut. Two minutes from time the substitution pays off as Ginter heads home the winner from a Michael Lumb freekick.
Fast forward to last summer and having just been a non-playing member of Germany’s World Cup winning squad, Ginter sealed a €10 million switch to Borussia Dortmund. Not a bad piece of business for the Breisgau club and absolutely fitting with the way the club is run.
The Breisgau Brazilians have quickly become the model for German clubs in the way they bring young players through the ranks and a recent report from the CIES Football Observatory in Switzerland revealed that amongst the big five European leagues, Freiburg rank 9th as the club with the highest number of home-trained players within their squad (34.6%).
So what is the secret behind the Black Forest club’s success at nurturing its own footballing talent?
Freiburg finally managed to reach the echelons of the Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history in 1993. Under trainer Volker Finke and late president Achim Stocker, the club began to plan a way to consolidate themselves in the top flight despite the disadvantages they faced in comparison with the majority of their rivals.
Freiburg is a small city with a population of just 230,000. It is also handicapped by having a limited catchment area unlike say teams from the Ruhrpott area. A very modest budget hampers the club and prevents them from splashing out the euros on expensive signings.
Freiburg’s solution was to concentrate on producing its own stream of players and in 2001 invested €12 million in the ‘Freiburg Fussballschule’- the club’s very own academy from which it hoped to provide the players to keep the club in the Bundesliga from within.
The move was ahead of its time coming as it did before the DFB made it obligatory for clubs in the Bundesliga and the Bundesliga II to provide such a
facility for youth development. The traditional Möslestadion (former home of Freiburger FC) was developed and became the SC Freiburg nursery.
Speaking at the schools opening ceremony Bayern Munich vice-president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said, “It is sensational what has been created here. The sports club has developed its own philosophy. They knew they couldn’t take part in the transfer madness in Europe. What’s important is that you have patience. You cannot expect in the first few years lots of Bundesliga professionals to emerge from the school.”
Those words proved extremely sage, but as the years have passed and SC Freiburg have established themselves as a Bundesliga outfit, those professionals have been produced as the dream of Finke and Stocker came to fruition.
Sascha Riether, Dennis Aogo, Ömer Toprak, Daniel Schwaab, Daniel Caligiuri and keeper Oliver Baumann are just some of the names to have been produced the via the Freiburg football factory and as the CIES report shows, the club continues to reap the rewards of its philosophy- ‘The Freiburg Way’.
‘Dual education’ is the watchword with boys from the U-12 side upwards educated in both football and their ordinary school studies. Parents are kept fully informed as to their child’s development and those selected to attend the boarding school are assigned two full-time teachers. Trainees are all paid the same- around €250 per month- regardless of age or talent, until they make Freiburg’s first team or B team.
SC Freiburg have proved that smaller clubs without rich Gulf State or Russian oligarch owners can maintain themselves in the top division by following a model based on youth development and self-reliance. Another wonderful example of the club’s thinking is the fact that their Schwarzwald Stadion is solar powered.
The stadium may be powered by the sun, but the club powers itself through creating its own crop of talented footballers. In these times with the likes of PSG, Manchester City and RB Leipzig, lowly SC Freiburg show there is still hope for the small fry.