While the German senior men’s team ran circles around Liechtenstein (9-0) and Armenia (4-1), securing their qualification for the World Cup, Germany’s U-21 found itself on the receiving end of a 0-4 drubbing by Poland. After the disaster, newly minted U-21 co-coach, Hermann Gerland, called on Germany — and Bayern Munich — to rethink they way they train young soccer players.
“We have to get to the point that we can clearly say that, in the youth system, training players takes priority and not the success of the team,” Gerland said at the press conference a day after the game (Sport1).
Gerland argues that excessive emphasis on system-play and passing drills in youth training have diminished young players’ ability to dribble: “If they have only ever passed until they’re seventeen, then they can’t dribble as nineteen-year-olds, they can’t manage it anymore,” Gerland said.
“Give the kids a ball in small groups. Let them score goals, play 1v1 and dribble, even if they sometimes lose the ball or a game,” Gerland explained. “That’s not so bad; later they have to be good, but as children, they should simply learn.”
Gerland singled out Bayern Munich’s own youth system, which Gerland himself led for two years, as particularly problematic. “FC Bayern Munich’s U-19 team has 29 players on the roster. That means, if the coach does not make substitutions and everyone is healthy, 18 players just watch,” he said. “That’s preposterous for young people. They have to play football.”
Youth academies must inspire joy for the game, teach sportsmanship and punctuality, Gerland emphasized.
The Tiger would not be the Tiger if he failed to bring up his famous “header pendulum”: Gerland argued that clubs must design training exercises to develop classic player types like center-forwards, which Germany has struggled to find since Miroslav Klose retired from the German national team in 2014.
“If someone has never done header training, how is he supposed to be able to head the ball all of a sudden? How can a center-forward convert a cross, if he’s never practiced that?” Gerland asked. “Then they all laugh about the pendulum, but whenever Mats Hummels or David Alaba did not head the ball well enough, then they came to me and said, ‘Coach, let’s go to the pendulum, I need to be in the right position in the air again.’ Then they did 20 headers and were satisfied. But today, that’s out of fashion,” Gerland said.
Robert Lewandowski and Kingsley Coman practice headers on Gerland’s famous Kopfballpendel in 2020: