Bayern Munich are currently one of the best teams in the world. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller are just three examples of players in the treble-winning squad who rose through the club’s youth ranks to reach the first team.
The German champions’ current U-19 side is once again packed with promising talent and players set to make a name for themselves at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup 2014 in Zurich at the end of May. Looking after Munich’s youth team is Heiko Vogel, who coached Basel between 2009 and 2012, first as Thorsten Fink’s assistant and then as head coach from 2011.
While Basel head coach, Vogel led his team to the Swiss league and cup double in 2012 and guided them to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. He was named Football Coach of the Year 2012 in Switzerland in the same year.
As a result, the 38-year-old will be returning to familiar territory at the Youth Cup on 28 and 29 May and is relishing the prospect, as he explained to FIFA.com: “I spent more than three fantastic years at Basel, not to mention the fact that Switzerland is a beautiful country.”
Vogel coached the first team in Basel but is now responsible for Munich’s youth for the second time, having previously coached them until 2007, and this means setting different goals. While professional coaching is primarily focused on results and managing the various characters within the squad, Vogel believes it is more important at youth level to impart knowledge and help players to develop their skills.
Football culture an important aspect of training
The former Basel coach does not see any major differences between Germany and Switzerland when it comes to nurturing talent, and while he praises both countries for their approach in this area, he concedes that Spain are the dominant force in youth development within Europe.
“They have a more consistent approach to football than we do,” the 38-year-old says. “In Germany, there are many different playing styles, so we have counterattacking specialists, defensive specialists and those who specialise in possession. In Spain, tiki taka is the overriding philosophy, and whether you visit Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid San Sebastian or even Barcelona, they all use the same short passing style. It’s firmly rooted in their footballing culture.”
Munich have a clearly defined training philosophy that also includes aspects such as tradition and culture, as Vogel explains: “On the one hand, we’re tasked with training our players as footballers, i.e. developing their tactical and technical skills, but on the other hand we also place great emphasis on their personal and educational training. These aspects are not mutually exclusive; instead, they complement each other well and fit with Bayern’s “Mia san Mia” philosophy [Bayern’s motto, which translates as “We are who we are” – editor’s note]. Identity and tradition and a key part of the youth work at the club.”
In his first stint with Bayern, Vogel helped to develop players such as Lahm and Muller as well as Diego Contento, still part of the senior squad today, and Mats Hummels, who is now a key member of the Borussia Dortmund starting line-up and a German international. He refuses to speculate on which members of his current squad could make the transition to professional football, as he does not wish to pile pressure on his young charges and recognises that luck has its part to play alongside hard work and natural talent. When working with talented young players, Vogel believes it is always “an honour to be able to set players on the path to professional football.”
Experience and flair
The Youth Cup in Zurich could mark an important next step towards a top-flight career for these young footballers. Vogel is eagerly anticipating his first involvement in the competition and sees the tournament as a great opportunity for his team: “The lads will get some fantastic experience and get a feel for the flair of international competition.”
For the former midfielder, who was unable to establish a professional playing career due to injury, his current job is so enjoyable that he does not regard a return to first-team coaching as a priority. “I’ve always said that the task in hand is the most important thing. I consciously decided to coach Bayern’s youth because I really enjoy life as a coach here and can teach my kind of football. The environment here is totally professional and ambitious – what could be better right now!”
Nevertheless, returning to Switzerland remains an unmissable opportunity, and when asked what he most misses about his former home, Vogel answered, smiling and without hesitation: “The chocolate”.
At next month’s Youth Cup, Bayern’s U-19 coach will have a chance to take not just chocolate home from Zurich, but potentially a historic first title for the Munich club, who have not won the competition in eight previous appearances. That will surely be the sweetest treat of all.