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Why is Canada Trailing Behind in Men's Soccer? Episode 5: The German Model

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The final episode exploring Canada's shortcomings as a soccer nation.

Ahmed Najdat

Earlier in September, another Canadian journey to the world's biggest sporting event, the men's soccer World Cup, came to an end. Canada failed to progress to the final qualifying round trailing behind Mexico and Honduras. Being placed in an embarrassing 104th position in FIFA's national teams' ranking, Canada needs to analyze the reasons for failure. This is the fifth and final episode of a series based on a year-long investigation trying to answer one question: Why is Canada doing so bad at men's soccer?

The Final Episode: How the Germans did it?

Many would argue that the German national team's high sense of teamwork was their main strength in winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. There was simply no one specific superstar. There wasn't a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo among their ranks. Everybody had a task, and everybody was important. Germany's goals in the World Cup came from eight different players. Defenders, midfielders, and attackers scored. Teamwork. This is not a coincidence; it is simply a reflection of an ideology embedded in a generation for over a decade.

Real teamwork that made Germany such a successful modern soccer nation did not just happen on the pitch, but mainly took place between the different institutions related to the German youth: the DFB, regional associations, the school system, and clubs. These four became the pillars of the German soccer youth development program.

But how did Germany reach the top of the world?

At the end of the past century, Germany faced the biggest drought in talent in its modern soccer history. In the year 2000, Germany was humiliated at the European championship and exited with a draw and two defeats. A Dutch

newspaper described Germany as a "dying football nation." Germany hit rock bottom.

What happened after?

Two things: Integration and law enforcement.

I) Integration

At the beginning of the century, the DFB made every German club a member of its association. After the embarrassing Euro 2000 campaign, the DFB immediately pursued help from club presidents. Those presidents being ex-national team players, or people who lived the golden era of German soccer in the 70's and 80's, understood the importance of the national team to the wellness of the sport in the country. This close partnership was the first reason for the national team and club teams' successful revolutions.

II) Law Enforcement

According to German league rules, clubs are granted professional soccer license only if they meet certain regulations. In early 2000's, the DFB added a new rule to the list of licensing regulations: Every club in the country had to build and maintain a centre for excellence and had to nurture younger talent.

" The rule even specified how many players eligible for a German national youth team had to be in the squads, how many coaches and physios the club had to employ, in which way the clubs had to interact with local schools and so on and on. Failure to do this would result in a club's licence being withdrawn. Put simply, the clubs were told what to do, on pain of demotion to the amateur game," wrote Uli Hesse in his article, "Year Zero: How Germany restructured itself - and why it couldn't work elsewhere," published in Four Four Two magazine in the summer of 2014.

Hesse adds, "Borussia Dortmund, of all teams, resisted change until the very last minute, when they were seriously in danger of losing their licence for professional football. Only then did they finally build the centre of excellence that would produce the man [Mario Götze] who scored the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final."

Yielding results

After those two major laws were applied by the DFB, fundamental change followed right after. The change caused an increase in the number of 23-year-olds featuring in first teams in the German league, from six per cent to 15 per cent. The first solid positive outcome came when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006. A youthful German side finished third, and was able to match that rank four years later in South Africa, beating England and Argentina 4-1 and 4-0 on their way. The German under-age sides were even faster to reach the winning stages than the senior national sides. The Under-21, Under-19, and Under-17 teams were all winning European titles.

But most importantly, the players Germany was raising through the ranks were much different to those in older generations. The new German crop of upcoming players was "displaying technical ability, skill and nimbleness, rather than mere physical strength and athleticism," as described by BBC's Thomas Dahlhaus's article "How German football reinvented itself," in 2013.

Conclusion

It's no secret that Canada wants to play a significant role in the beautiful game, but before that can happen, The Canadian governing body of soccer needs to address all the important issues that we discussed in previous episodes of this series.

Germany is the ideal example, and we might not have the cultural or the financial tools to replicate what they did, but we should definitely give it a hard study and try to apply some of their methods here in Canada.

We don't need a Mario Götze or a Mesut Özil, we just want to see some quality improvement and better results. The Australians did it in the early 2000's and the Japanese did it in the 1990's. Nobody thought they were going to be relevant in men's soccer, but now they are.

Peter Montopoli, the general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, confirmed that Canada will be bidding for the FIFA World Cup 2026. That is ten years from now. Ten years to prove to the world that Canada can play a part in men's soccer.

The ball is in your court, Mr. Jason DeVos.