Let’s be honest here. We have all harboured that fantasy of coaching Bayern, if only for a moment. Screaming from the touchline, giving an inspiring pre-game speech, drawing up formation on a big white board, making that one perfect in-game adjustment that turns a key match around, reviewing each players’ blood test results to make sure the training is perfectly tuned to their individual needs, who could ask for more. Okay, maybe not the blood test thing but all the rest is the stuff of dreams. But what does it really take to become a coach in the Bundesliga? The answer is simple, you must get into and complete the toughest, most sophisticated pro coaching program in the world to be awarded the state recognized degree of Fußball-Lehrer, or “football teacher.”
UEFA sets out the basic parameters for coaching qualifications and categories so that they are standard across member nations. Each country then decides what licenses (and how many) are required for which leagues or academies, and how much instruction and internship is required to achieve each license (UEFA sets a minimum number of hours, but all German programs significantly exceed that minimum). UEFA studies the art and science of coaching on a continuous basis and holds a coaching conference every five years to review their standards and programs. The last one was in 2015 and there will be a fresh one next year.
UEFA has created these licensing categories: Pro, A, B, Elite Youth A, Goalkeeping A, and Futsal B levels.
In Germany if you want to get your Pro license you must attend the prestigious Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie for a ten-month program designed to produce a consistently elite level of coaches. Jupp Heynckes, Jürgen Klopp, Joachim Löw, Hansi Flick, almost anyone who is anyone in German coaching have all graduated from Hennes-Weisweiler.
Just getting into the program is tough. 80 applicants are brought in for a three-day evaluation and only 24 are accepted. The pre-screening and evaluation are rigorous. According to Vice the final evaluation is a three-step process:
In the first, applicants are interviewed and then given a written exam about soccer logic. They’re shown a tactics board or a flip chart or maybe a short game reel and asked how they’d solve various problems tactically. This is followed by a two-hour practical exam, which is essentially a simulated training session. The applicants might be asked, for example, to prepare a mock team to face an opponent based on a scouting report that says the opposing team will build up in a 4-4-2 system. This is followed by another written exam.
During the entire process the individuals are carefully observed by both instructors and a psychologist, who determine not only who is most likely to succeed in the program and as a coach, but also who will make the best “team” as the class moves forward together. And it is not just ex-pros filling out these classes, the Akademie believes that the proper blend for an effective class contains a mix of amateur or semi-pro coaches from the sixth division or above, youth academy coaches who have studied sports science at a university, and former Bundesliga players. This is because the students are not just there to learn, but to teach each other.
German coaching standards are head and shoulders above their English counterparts. In order to coach in the Bundesliga and the second and third divisions you require a Pro license. In order to run a licensed football academy in Germany, you must employ a minimum of two individuals with Pro licenses and most have many more on staff. In England, to coach in the third division, only a UEFA “A” license is required. To coach in the English Championship one must have merely “begun to work on” a Pro licence. Only the Premiere League requires a coach to hold a UEFA Pro license.
And not all licenses are the same. UEFA sets the minimum course time for the Pro license at 240 hours. The English FA will allow you to achieve your Pro license with a course of study of 256 hours. The German Akademie requires no less than 815 hours, more than three times the English standard. There is good reason why many of the best and brightest young coaching minds are coming out of Germany.
Once you are done you cannot simply rest on your laurels and give profound (or obnoxious) press conferences for the rest of your life. There is a continuing education requirement imposed on the German Pro license: the licensee must complete a certain number of ongoing courses every three years for the license to be renewed. Thus the German system makes sure all of their licensed coaches are on top of the latest developments.
Each coach who comes through the program leaves a legacy and contributes to the Akademie’s future success. They are all required to write a 15-page term paper that describes their own unique football philosophy or vision, and these insights are incorporated into the future curriculum. If anyone can get their hands on a copy of Jupp’s term paper (or Julian Nagelsmann’s!), let me know. I would be pleased to crib off it.