“Germany has the world's best training programme for goalkeepers. It's a system which has developed and matured over decades," explained Harald ‘Toni’ Schumacher in an exclusive FIFA.com interview. We asked the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cup™ runner-up to explain the reasons behind the long and consistent production line of world-class keepers emerging from his home country.
Toni Turek, Hans Tilkowski, Sepp Maier, Bodo Illgner, Andreas Kopke, Oliver Kahn, Jens Lehmann, Manuel Neuer and Schumacher himself are testament to the success of Germany’s scouting and coaching when it comes to the most specialist position on the football field. Nor is there any sign of the reservoir drying up, as the likes of Ron Robert Zieler (22 years old) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (19) spearhead yet another talented generation between the sticks.
“It's crazy, in the most positive sense of the word. I'm delighted about the large number of very good German keepers. I'm particularly enjoying watching the youngest generation because they’re so relaxed and carefree," the 1980 European championship winner declared. Zieler and Ter Stegen are both in their second Bundesliga seasons with high-flying Hannover and Borussia Monchengladbach respectively.
Foundations laid by famous trio
The story of German success in goal effectively dates back to 1954, when Turek kept goal for the team which stunningly won that year’s FIFA World Cup in Switzerland. A decade or so later, Tilkowski wore the number one jersey at the 1962 and 1966 FIFA World Cups, playing a major part in the Germans finishing runners-up to England in the latter tournament.
Maier, the most capped of all his country’s shot-stoppers with 95 international appearances, contested four FIFA World Cups and two European championships, and finished on 536 games for Bayern Munich. Arguably the most revered of all German goalkeepers, his place in the history books is secure as both a world and European champion.
Schumacher agrees that the 67-year-old occupies a special place in the German goalkeeping ranks. “Kids and youths in Germany aspire to be like their goalkeeping idols, and there have been a few of them over the decades. It was exactly the same with me. I wanted to be like Sepp Maier,” he revealed.
Following in his idol’s footsteps
On 26 May 1979, Schumacher came on at half-time to make his international debut in a 3–1 victory over Iceland. Poignantly enough, he took over from his idol Maier, who then called time on his Germany career. Schumacher, who was then 25, went on to make another 75 appearances for his country.
He benefited enormously from the unique training systems that were being fine-tuned in the early 1970s. “Even in 1972, I had a dedicated goalkeeping coach at my club. At the time, I worked on my throwing with an Olympic javelin thrower and improved my leaping ability with the help of high jumpers. It was revolutionary, but today’s keepers are benefiting from what we found out back then,” the two-time Bundesliga champion explained.
The coaching procedures have been continuously refined and improved since that era and now represent a global gold standard, the former Schalke, Bayern, Dortmund and Leverkusen goalkeeping coach stated.
Germany top of the pile
“We’re the example the others follow and definitely the number one in terms of goalkeeping coaching. For years now, Germany has been ahead of the other European heavyweights. Today's pros are genuine elite athletes. With the help of extensive computer analysis, the training programmes are personally tailored, and much more detail is applied to the craft," the 57-year-old said.
“Youth development and continuous training after that are the fundamentals. If you don't understand that, you'll never make it into the world-class goalkeeping elite. The way you appear in public and a healthy dose of self-confidence are also essential for a modern goalkeeper, and your body language is another important factor," Schumacher continued.
These were the very qualities, combined with bristling aggression and ambition, which propelled Oliver Kahn to become his country's second most-capped goalkeeper with 86 appearances, and which also contributed to a huge haul of trophies with Bayern. “He was one of the goalkeeping greats. I often saw a lot of myself in him when he was out on the field. Jens Lehmann reminded me more of Bodo Ilgner or Andreas Kopke. He wasn't as wild, he was a little more distant and less positively crazy than Kahn or I,” the former player reasoned.
Neuer’s bright future
However, Schumacher feels there is a major difference between the former superstars and the new generation fronted by Neuer, Germany's current first-choice shot-stopper. “All in all, the goalkeepers today are cooler and calmer then when I was playing. I was a big mouth back then, and frequently had to pay the price for that too. But you do need courage for that. At the end of the day it's a question of character.”
“A goalkeeper has to be brave and totally convinced of his ability. He has to appear confident, and he’ll go a long way with decent body language. Neuer could show a little more emotion. Let's see how it goes for him when he hits a difficult period. Only then will it become clear whether he’s genuinely one of the greats," Schumacher argued.
The ex-player regards Neuer's decision to follow in the footsteps of Maier and Kahn and join Germany's biggest and most successful club as entirely correct. “If you’re hoping to become a world-class goalkeeper, you have to join a major club and win trophies," the two-time German Player of the Year explained.
Schumacher believes Neuer faces little competition both at club and national level for many years to come. “Manuel represents the future in goal for Germany, there's no getting round that. He’s currently the most complete goalkeeper we have in Germany."
However, the emphasis is on the word ‘currently‘, as the next generation are just waiting for their chance. It might be Zieler, Ter Stegen, or 19-year-old Bernd Leno from UEFA Champions League hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen, all of whom boast the potential to emerge as greats at some point in the future.