I visit Munich regularly, because that is where I was born and grew up, and I still have family and friends there. But, having young kids, that means I’m always flying over in the summer when school is off, and those uncooperative professionals at FC Bayern Munich just don’t schedule any games during that time. Punks!
So, here I am again, in the Bavarian capital in the middle of June, the weather is fantastic — high of 75, and lots of sun — and I’m jonesing for some quality soccer. Well, as luck would have it, FC Bayern’s U17 youth team had just reached the final for the German championship by knocking out Schalke 04 over two legs, and were slated to face off against Werder Bremen’s youth ... at the venerable Städtische Stadion an der Grünwalder Straße, or Grünwalder Stadion for short, right here in Munich — the finals location had been determined prior to the start of the playoffs, so the Bayern kids were enjoying a “Finale Dahoam”.
A chance to see some good footballing, in a stadium that I had driven by a million times but had never been inside, and an opportunity to check out some of the promising youth players in Bayern’s system? Done deal! With the wife and kids in tow, I made my way to FC Bayern’s old, old home — before the Allianz Arena and Olympiastadion — to see what the Bayern youth system had to offer.
I was slightly shocked at the fan turnout. Even though it was a final, it was still just 16 and 17 year old boys chasing a ball around, and yet it attracted an impressive 4350 spectators, mostly dressed in red, for obvious reasons. The atmosphere in the stadium was very good, with a large block of Bayern fans banging drums and leading chants in the stands, urging the boys forward, and it seemed to work quite well. Bayern dominated most of the game, with Bremen only really getting chances off of corner kicks, which was even more impressive considering that the club from the north had won 25 of their 26 games during regular season play, and had only given up 13 goals.
Even after a Bremen player was sent off for a second yellow — both on tactical fouls, one in each half — in the 54th minute, the game looked like it might be headed past full time, only for Bayern to score five minutes from the end, and then put the game away in injury time with a second goal, by a player who was subbed in about 30 seconds earlier. Bayern would clinch their fifth overall U17 championship, ten years after their last one in 2007.
As far as players who looked promising, the three guys up front were the ones that most impressed me.
Franck Evina - 16 years old
The German-Camerounian, who won’t turn 17 until next month, had a very good season, scoring 21 times in 25 games, and assisting on another nine occasions. He played as a powerful striker, and both goals came from his shots that the Werder keeper couldn’t hold on to. He’s strong, fast, and worked hard. He contributed a total of one goal and three assists in the three playoff games.
Marcel Zylla - 17 years old
Playing mostly on the right wing, he was also one of the best players in the semifinals against Schalke. He was a constant threat, taking on defenders on the dribble, scored the game-winning goal and looked very calm under pressure, and may have been the best player on the field. He had 11 goals and 12 assists this season, and added two more goals and an assist in the playoffs.
Oliver Batista-Meier - 16 years old
Maybe most impressive was the kid that doesn’t turn 17 until next January, and is still eligible to play in the U16. He was the perfect counterpart to Zylla, terrorizing his opponents with excellent ball-handling skills on the left wing, and displaying very nice moves in the box, taking on multiple players at once. His regular season stats weren’t too shabby either, scoring seven times, and setting up 11 goals for his teammates.
All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon. A Bayern win, a beautiful day, a chance to bond with my kids over the sport that I love, and a stop in the Biergarten on the way home. I couldn’t be happier.
Head over to Bayern’s website for highlights of this game.