The FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 is an incredible experience for all involved. Young players from all continents get to gauge their progress against the best teams in the world and showcase their skills on the biggest of stages. The youngsters are having to work hard both on the pitch and off it out in Korea - anyone who thinks that once the hard graft of the matches and training sessions is over, the players are allowed to hang around and relax is very much mistaken.
Just ask the German U-17 team. They are under the watchful eye of Wolfgang Wassmund, who is not only assistant head of the German delegation in Korea, but also has a "special assignment". Outside of the tournament, Wassmund is an English and physical education teacher at the Alexander von Humboldt High School in Hamburg, and he has travelled with the German U-17 squad to continue their education and make sure that, despite the growing euphoria as the tournament progresses, the players do not ignore their books or neglect their studies. After all, once the tournament is over, they will go back to being normal students again.
Despite their outings in a German jersey and the large amount of time that these take up, Wassmund is there to make sure that the players know their three Rs as well as their 4-4-2s. FIFA.com spoke to the teacher who is also honorary chairman of the school board for football at the German Football Federation.
FIFA.com: Mr Wassmund, how did you come to take on your
Wolfgang Wassmund: It all started off years ago at an U-16 schoolboy international in Berlin when we were at home to The Netherlands. The kick-off was at 10am in the Olympiastadion, and after that we were invited by the Mayor of Berlin to a reception at the city hall. Afterwards, we asked the Dutch what we could work on together in terms of common programmes, to which they replied: "We've got no time for programmes - these lads have got three hours of school lessons now". This got me thinking that this was actually a good idea. I then tried to implement this in Germany, which took a bit of time as the coaches weren't overly convinced by the concept. At the end of the day though we got it through and we've been doing it for years now. Since I'm involved in education, I know the value of scholastic development and I thought that it would be a good thing. We know that not all of the players will make it from the national junior teams right to the top of their profession, so it's our duty to them to make sure that they get some kind of decent educational qualifications.
Which subjects do you teach the players?
I wouldn't call it teaching. Before we start, the players are sent a form to their home addresses which they can take into school for their individual teachers to say which subjects they need to concentrate on. My job is then to make sure that they do this. I myself teach English and physical education, but I can also teach a little German, biology and history. Maths, physics and chemistry are not quite my cup of tea, so we usually get someone else in when we're going to be away for a long while, but we haven't this time.
What do the players think of what you're doing? Do you
get positive feedback or do you have to talk the lads into hitting
Some players are fine with it, others need some "gentle persuasion". It certainly wasn't easy at the beginning because it was something that they weren't expecting at all. Overall, it's been pretty well received. We've made a lot of progress - when we're back home, pupils sometimes ring me up and ask me questions or ask for help with subjects. I get a real sense of satisfaction when they do well.
Who has been your best "pupil" over the
Among those who have made it up into the Bundesliga most recently you have Sebastian Deisler, Lukas Podolski, Fabian Ernst and Raphael Schafer whom we all looked after at one point.
What is the success rate among the boys you look
Since we've been running this programme, I'm pleased to say that all the players have been able to get their qualifications. But that's not just down to me, it is more a product of the system itself, which I think is very well designed. We just make sure that the pupils can still do exercises and tests when they're away from home.
One of your players has had a special website with
classwork designed for him by his school. Do you also coordinate
with schools on projects like these?
This came about between the school and the club in question. Two years ago at the European Championship of what is now the U-19 age-group, we installed something similar with the help of Microsoft and all of the teachers involved also helped out. We developed a kind of "e-learning concept", but the team didn't qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru so there was no need to develop it any further.
In your capacity, is it easier for you to see how
differently youngsters are evolving nowadays? The internet is
becoming more and more of a tool for today's
It certainly is. You can see that the lads already have a lot of experience with it and it's a totally different scenario from 10 years ago. For them, it's a daily routine. They use the internet the way youngsters used to use the telephone, so yes, you notice the difference. I think that in the situation we are in, tools like these can be very useful.
How much time do players have to spend studying during a
tournament like this one?
Some players are happy to work on their own. I have a pupil at the moment who is writing a commentary of a text by Kant, which is quite a tough exercise for someone at high-school level. The amount of time is difficult to gauge. If we're at a training camp, for example, then we study an hour in the morning and an hour-and-a-half in the afternoon, so that makes two-and-a-half hours on school work. Players from different teams work on a variety of different exercises, as they all come from different schools. Sometimes they can help each other out, and I think that this is particularly useful since we've noticed that they retain things better when they're explained by one of their team-mates as opposed to being "taught".
How are you seen by the boys? Are you like a father figure
or more of a disciplinarian?
Somewhere between the two. You'd need to ask the players, but I think that they pretty much accept me. The longer you spend with them, the more you know what you're dealing with. Back home, I'm quite a strict, disciplinarian teacher.
Is it tough trying to get players disciplined enough to
study when most of them want to concentrate on their football
It's not always easy, since every lad obviously believes that he's going to go all the way. And so they should, but as I mentioned, we have a duty to the boys that they do some schoolwork. Most of them can see that what we're doing is a good thing. Mario Gomez for example had a lot of problems with his schoolwork as an U-16 and U-17 player, but when he moved up to the U-18s and U-19s, he found it a lot easier. And not only has he become a great footballer, he also passed his high school exams.