Germany's U19s have won the European Championship in Hungary, but after the seniors' 2014 World Cup win, this youth level triumph is far from surprising. Could it mark a sustained cycle of German success?
It's not been three weeks since Germany's magical World Cup triumph and the country's next generation of successful footballers has already emerged. Germany's U19s have won the European Championship, responding to increased awareness levels with impressive ambition. There's more to this success than desire though. Sporting success is often cyclical, and now appears to be Germany's turn.
Global attention and interest in football remained sky-high during the World Cup summer. Clearly winning the competition has helped ratchet up domestic excitment, but Germany's latest footballing victory is evidence that country's long-term plan is built on the expectation that success, once achieved, should not be fleeting.
A sustained period of dominance is the goal. It's no longer just about winning the trophy; it's about defending it. Just look at Spain. Their historic consecutive treble of international trophies was both preceded and succeeded by triumphs at youth level. Most importantly, after their World Cup win in South Africa, Spain won the U19 and U21 Euros in 2011. A year later, Spain's U19 defended that tile and in 2013 Spain's U21s did the same.
Conveyorbelt of quality
Germany's U19s didn't defend the European Championship title in their 1-0 win against Portugal on Thursday night, but they did prove that the next generation is ready to be just as golden as their predecessors. Whatever Mario Götze can do in Rio, Hany Mukhtar can do in Budapest.
What makes the U19s success all the more daunting for other countries is a glance at Germany's youthful first team. Even with Philipp Lahm retiring - and Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger likely to follow the same path - Germany's squad is one at its peak. With an average age of just under 26 at the 2014 World Cup, most starters in the current Germany set-up are already considered world-class. And those departing are set to be replaced by players capable of reaching similar heights.
The potential on show over the last few weeks in Hungary reveals both the input and output of the country's system. Tactically and technically advanced, super fit and remarkably concentrated youngsters are pouring out of Bundesliga club academies and the U19's title is simply the result. In victory, Marcus Sorg's charges sent out premature applications for the top jobs.
Eintracht Frankfurt's Marc Stendera, an attack-minded midfielder, looks set to have a very big season in the Bundesliga if he can stay fit, while midfielder Levin Öztunali is destined to do more than just flirt with first-team football at Leverkusen after this tournament. Fellow Leverkusen youngster Julian Brandt is considered a step ahead of the rest after his move from Wolfsburg and impressive performances at the end of last season. This tournament has certainly done his already rising stock no harm at all.
Beyond the riches of midfield, this U19 side also offers future talent that appears too good to have occurred by chance. At wingback Germany have often looked short of options and with Philipp Lahm retiring, gaps are appearing. Cue VfL Bochum's Fabian Holthaus on the left and Hoffenheim's versatile Kevin Akpoguma at right-back. The pair impressed during the tournament - Holthaus in particular - and are expected to continue up the ranks.
With Schweinsteiger on his last legs, both Nürnberg's Niklas Stark and RB Leipzig's Joshua Kimmich have also started their march on the coveted holding role. And although the center of defense is perhaps Germany's most stocked position, Freiburg's new signing Marc-Oliver Kempf has improved notably. With Freiburg's latest defensive talent Matthias Ginter - now a 20-year-old World Cup winner - off to Borussia Dortmund, Kempf could hope for more Bundesliga football in the coming season.
Germany's greatest need is a striker though, and once again the youth system has seemingly provided what is needed. Although it is premature to suggest that David Selke is the answer to Germany's future striking drought, the Werder Bremen youngster did score six goals at the 2014 U19 Euros and has certainly staked a claim for a starting berth at a club bereft of consistent, attacking talent. At 19 years of age, the youngster has the path to Germany's next best striker all but free ahead of him. At least, for two years anyway.
It is important to note that youth football is always an imprecise science - many players fade at the next level. Nevertheless, Germany's success proves that more than just one or two new stars will be born out of the current formula.
It's well documented that Germany's 2014 World Cup winning team included six players that won the U21 Euros in 2009. The last Germany U19 team to win the European Champions included Ron-Robert Zieler and both Bender brothers. There's a very good chance that three or four of the current U19 crop will be in Germany's 2018 World Cup squad. While winning the World Cup in Brazil was an almighty achievement, Germany's fourth star was only the beginning of their quest.
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