Only a couple of generations ago, not much was expected of apprentice footballers except that they show up for training for a couple of hours a day. The idea that they might continue their education was almost unheard of; the concept of routine community involvement, to give the stars of the future a sense of perspective and keep their feet firmly on the ground, was in its infancy.
In many parts of the footballing family, youth development has come on a very long way since then. Academies and associations are acutely aware of the need to equip their charges with broader life skills. The players who make it learn to give something back to the wider community, while those who don’t have a better chance of decent careers away from the game. In return, the youngest would-be stars understand they are role models, and immerse themselves in work for good causes.
Following that line of thinking, the German FA (DFB) came up with a praiseworthy community project for its U-17 squad, who enter the fray at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in Mexico this coming Monday, by arranging a team visit to an orphanage shortly after the party’s arrival at the match venue of Queretaro.
El Oasis del Niño, literally ‘An oasis for children’, is the name of the orphanage, housed in a nearly 200-year-old building close to the old town. “It's just great to be here and see the fantastic work going on. The kids are unbelievably sweet," enthused Fabian Schnellhardt after an initial look around. He and his team-mates were greeted by some 40 four to five-year-old orphans wearing Germany shirts, all preparing a moving welcome for skipper Emre Can and Co with flag-waving and chants.
The DFB delegation did not arrive empty-handed, and made the kids' eyes shine with a sack full of gifts. “It was a very emotional moment, and the kind of experience that really leaves an impression," declared right-back Mitchell Weiser, after the kids had taken the players on a guided tour of their home.
Naturally enough, the kids were keen to show off their physical abilities to the players, and laid on a display of Mexican dancing. The junior internationals spontaneously joined in the fun at the end. "Egidius Braun was right when he said there's so much more to football than results. Here, we've seen just how much more," a visibly moved Schnellhardt remarked.
The DFB and its former president Braun were the driving forces behind the establishment of Oasis some 25 years ago. During the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™, DFB officials present at the time resolved to support Mexican orphans, joining forces with Braun’s charitable foundation for the purpose as part of a “help Mexico" initiative. The institution, later the recipient of visits from the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Rudi Voller and current Germany head coach Joachim Low, has proved an enduring and consistent success.
"Our visit underlines the vital importance of community work. What the DFB and the Egidius Braun Foundation have achieved here in the last 25 years really is an example to us all. The visit is also crucial in helping my young players’ personalities develop in the right way," said U-17 coach Steffen Freund, who accepted a silver medallion from directors of the orphanage by way of a thank-you for the association’s support.
Ahead of their tournament opener against Ecuador at 3pm local time on Monday, the German team can legitimately claim a first victory in Mexico. In many ways, the delight in the kids’ eyes on a moving occasion at the Queretaro orphanage was worth just as much as a win on the field of play.