Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup™ winning side included five players who learned their craft at Bayern Munich. Now FIFA.com introduces Hermann Gerland, the man responsible for their development.
Germany’s triumph in Brazil was one in which Bayern Munich played an integral part. This was not simply due to the fact that Die Mannschaft’s captain, Philipp Lahm, also acts as skipper for the record-breaking German champions, and World Cup Final goalscorer Mario Gotze and ace sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer also ply their trade for the Bavarian side.
More importantly, it was because five of the 11 players that started the Final at the Maracana came from Bayern’s youth system, more than any other single club. Along with Lahm, centre-back Mats Hummels, midfield strategist Bastian Schweinsteiger and the 2014 tournament’s second-highest goalscorer Thomas Muller all rose through Munich’s ranks, while Toni Kroos first played for the club at U-21 level.
During their time in the club’s youth sides, all five players were instructed, nurtured and prepared for their professional careers by one man: Hermann Gerland. This Bayern Munich institution coached the club’s amateurs from 2001 to 2009 and, along with his team, readied many talented young footballers – including the aforementioned world champions – for the first team during this period.
*A Munich idol from Bochum*
Despite his remarkable track record, the 60-year-old does not seek any credit for this summer’s World Cup victory. “Should I put that down to my involvement? No, I’m not doing that; I’m not that presumptuous. But of course I was delighted with what the lads achieved,” he said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
I’ve scarcely met such an honest and dependable person in all my life.
Gerland is an extremely popular figure with Munich’s fans, players and officials alike. “We’re very lucky to have Hermann at FC Bayern,” Uli Hoeness once said of the vastly experienced coach. “I’ve scarcely met such an honest and dependable person in all my life.” Having previously been responsible for the amateurs between 1990 and 1995, the Bochum native spent his entire playing career at hometown club VfL, reaching a high of eighth in the Bundesliga during that time. Although he was never renowned as a great footballer, there is no doubting his credentials when it comes to developing talent and scouting for players.
During his first spell at Bayern in the 1990s, the former defender helped future stars such as Uwe Gospodarek, Dietmar Hamann and Samuel Kouffour to establish themselves as professionals. Zvjezdan Misimovic, Owen Hargreaves, David Alaba and Holger Badstuber are just some of the other talents to have made their breakthrough under the tutelage of the ‘Tiger’, a nickname he earned for his style of defensive play.
Gerland is said to have a “very good eye for young players”, but just how has he managed to develop so many top professionals during his career? “It’s not that I arrive and take players with me who suddenly become good,” he said modestly, explaining that the whole process instead depends on painstaking work, plenty of discussions and even the supply of promising young footballers. He has also benefited from first-team coaches who rely heavily on fresh talent, most notably Louis van Gaal.
*Successfully breaking new ground *
But this factor alone is not enough. The keen horse breeder has always been fully dedicated to his work, even dropping by Bayern’s youth accommodation each morning to ensure the players get out of bed on time. Nor has he been afraid to try out new methods; once, when Hummels was struggling at the club, he moved him into central midfield so that he could improve his understanding of the game and get a good feel for build-up play.
The experiment was such a success that Hummels secured a transfer to Dortmund a few years later, a move not particularly welcomed by his former coach. Something similar almost happened with Badstuber and Muller. The 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner’s agent had practically agreed terms with Hoffenheim when Gerland confronted Bayern’s management to convince them to hold on to the two talented youngsters. “He might be unorthodox, but he scores plenty of goals,” was his verdict on Muller – and he was proved right.
I’d never before had a player who was as good at 17 as Philipp Lahm was.
In an interview with FIFA.com, Muller paid tribute to the Tiger’s instrumental role in his career and explained that they still get on well today, even though “he did have a reputation for being a hard taskmaster”. Gerland lived up to this billing in his work with Schweinsteiger. By his own admission, the coach continually had to take the midfielder under his wing, as he “was pretty cheeky. He turned up once with black hair, so I said to him that I’d leave him out until it was blonde again.” Schweinsteiger’s crucial role in this summer’s World Cup Final in Rio de Janeiro once again proves just how effective this approach was.
*From amateurs to professionals *
Gerland had a little less involvement in the development of Philipp Lahm, having first met him when he was 17. Nevertheless, Bayern’s coaching stalwart remembers perfectly the first time Die Mannschaft’s World Cup winning captain first played for him: “It was in a match against Burghausen. I’d never before had a player who was as good at 17 as Philipp Lahm was,” he recalled. “He didn’t make a single mistake in either training or matches. For me, he was the best 17-year-old footballer I’ve ever encountered.” A short time later, Lahm followed his mentor’s advice by spending two years on loan to Stuttgart, where he quickly gave an indication of the bright future that lay ahead of him.
Since 2009, Gerland has been assistant coach of Bayern Munich’s first team, but even in this role he continues to act as a link between the senior side and the youth ranks. While the majority of Bayern’s professionals were on international duty last week, the 60-year-old was tasked with integrating the club’s talented young players into first-team training. When Guardiola declared that it did not matter “how big or old the players are – the main thing is that they can play football”, Gerland promptly sent two 14-year-olds into a duel with legends such as Lahm and Xabi Alonso – and they delivered an impressive performance.
Such anecdotes beg the question: are there currently players in Bayern’s youth ranks who could follow in the world champions’ footsteps? “Yes, we’ve definitely got some of those,” the coach confirmed. Nevertheless, he refused to name names, explaining: “Doing that would put those lads under immense pressure.”
The football world must therefore remain patient. Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to see who Gerland and his team will pull out of their hat next.