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World watches in awe as German football grows into its new body

Germany's humiliating defeat of once-proud Brazil has left one nation looking longingly in the mirror of history and the other reflecting on a stunning transformation that was more than a decade in the making.

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates his team's remarkable 7-1 victory over Brazil. Picture: Reuters
Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates his team's remarkable 7-1 victory over Brazil. Picture: Reuters

It was an uncharacteristically poor showing at Euro 2000, where Germany finished bottom of their group, that was the catalyst for change. The disastrous showing - Germany managed just a solitary point, against Romania, led to the overhaul of the nation's entire German youth system. How they are reaping the rewards now.

The football authorities, backed by the clubs, decided that a change in philosophy was just as necessary as a change in coaching. They wanted flexible players, capable of playing in between the lines and in any fluid formation. It was a far cry from the straight-lined rigidity that defined Die Nationalmannschaft for so long.

According to Robin Tutt, sporting director of the German Football Association, it was decided "the development of more technically proficient homegrown players would be in everyone's best interests". That included creating academies across the top two divisions in Germany. More than that, it relied on all clubs buying into the same philosophy and working together.

Apart from investing financially in their academies, it was understood that clubs had to put their trust in them. This gentlemen's agreement was put into writing in 2005 when it was agreed that, for the following season at least, four locally produced players must be enrolled in each first team. By 2008 that number had doubled, evidence of both the commitment of the clubs to the cause and also the positive reaction that had greeted the rule change.

The level of technique in Germany has improved exponentially since the turn of the millennium. There are now more than 28,000 coaches in Germany who boast a UEFA B-licence, while there are just under 6000 who hold the A-licence certificate. With a little over 1000 coaches possessing the pro-licence it is easy to see why talents such as Mario Goetze and Julian Draxler are no longer a rarity in the Bundesliga.

However, the cold, hard numbers do not do the German system justice. The focus for their coaches is not about winning matches, it is about the joy of the game and player improvement, both technically and mentally. Understanding the game without the ball is just as important as the 40-yard diagonal pass, which is why the SC Freiburg manager Christian Streich insists on his academy players receiving 34 hours of schooling per week. "We need intelligent players on the pitch," he said.

This investment in youth football has started to pay dividends. The game against Brazil, although a freak in terms of result, was not a one-off when looking at Germany on the world stage. Since 2006 they have now reached two finals and three semi-finals in major international competitions and there is great expectation that this 'golden generation' will lift the World Cup. If they fail, it will not be through a lack of tournament experience. These players know each other inside out and that can count for a lot. Six of last night's starting 11 - Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Hoewedes, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mezut Oezil - were all in the team which won the Under-21 European Championship in 2009.

The notion that anyone can leapfrog junior tournaments into the senior team is brushed aside. Success of the senior team is rooted in the age-group structure where players compete and grow as a unit.

The camaraderie at national level is firmly backed by the clubs. Even the major players in German football, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, bring players up together. Bayern's double winners last year had 16 homegrown players, including match-winner Thomas Mueller and captain Phillip Lahm. And although an injury-ravaged Dortmund did not win any silverware, they could boast a Champions League quarter-final to complement their runners-up medals in the German Cup and Bundesliga - all managed with 19 German players, many of whom were locally produced, including the darling of German football Marco Reus.

Contrast the situation in Britain. In last season's Champions League squads, Celtic and Manchester United between them could muster only one more homegrown player than Dortmund on their own.

So, in the space of 10 years Germany has revamped its national game while remaining competitive in club football. Since that horror show in the European Championship 14 years ago, Germany has not just produced many a world-class footballer, it has banished a stereotype.

In what will forever be known as "that night in Belo Horizonte", the single-minded approach to improving the national game was validated on the biggest stage.

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