While Uzbekistan's national team have been a pleasant surprise at the Asian Cup, the next generation of footballers is already in the pipeline. And they're being trained using tried and tested methods – from Germany.
How do you become a "wolfling?" Dilshod Kariev asks as he pokes his head into a meeting room with brochures on the table and team photos on the wall.
The question is rhetorical, and Kariev hardly draws breath before giving the answer: "A wolfling arrives 15 minutes early. A wolfing always wears his uniform. A wolfling is reliable. A wolfling puts his mobile phone away one hour before going to bed. A wolfling does his homework."
And who wants to be a wolfling? The 41-year-old football coach also has a ready answer to this question: every young footballer in Uzbekistan – because only wolflings can one day grow up to become the top dog.
That's the big collective goal in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent; to become as good as the best footballing nations in the world. Uzbekistan is still a long way off, but the national team, dubbed the "white wolves," have made a successful start to the Asian Cup by advancing to the round of 16.
Something is definitely up, and at this former Soviet sports complex, the role models no longer come from Russia, but from the country of Kariev's favorite player, Lothar Matthäus, who was very much an alpha dog during his playing days.
"We're following the German model here," explains Kariev, as this otherwise laid-back guy, suddenly looks serious.
The mere name of the institution says it all. Written in German above the entrance to the two-storey administration is: "Jugend-Fussball Leistungszentrum in Tashkent" (Tashkent Youth Football Performance Center).
Germany stands for 'order'
The football academy opened its doors two years ago, and now 150 children between the ages of five and 16 train here every day. As teams go through their warmups on two training pitches, Kariev, whose day job is running a travel company, strolls across the sports complex.
"I rent the pitches and pay for the equipment and the coaches out of my own pocket. We soon hope to open a boarding school," he says. "Uzbekistan needs to finally develop a good youth system. It cost parents €30 ($34) to enroll their child in the academy, for which Kariev pledges to offer them "the best training program in the entire country."
What makes Dilshod Kariev so certain? He has seen the big footballing nations first hand. He did his youth coaching badges at Barcelona, before moving on to Germany, England and Belgium – just to name a few stops in his coaching education. His conclusion: The German model is the one to emulate.
"The DFB (German Football Association) centralized its training system in the 1990s. Everything is really well thought out there," he says. "So every child is given the same tactical and technical training."
However, it's not just about technical training.
"When a youth trainer in Germany says 'listen up,' everyone listens. In Spain there are always a few children who goof around."
Great role model Schlotheim
However, Kariev didn't look to a Bundesliga club for the blueprint for his academy, but rather a football boarding school in a small town in the east of Germany, where education, sport, and character-building are taught in equal parts.
"That's exactly how we want to be in Tashkent," the coach says enthusiastically. "Coaches from Schlotheim come to Tashkent twice a year to check whether we are implementing their ideas properly.
Kariev looks over to a group of 12-year-olds doing coordination exercises. "wolflings give their all," the coach admonishes on a boy, who had just trotted instead of sprinting though a course marked by pylons. The boy nods, and promises to do better.
Sleeping giant shortly before awakening
Uzbekistan has been aspiring to become a footballing power, at least in Asia, for some time now. The country has been putting money into youth football for the past few years, and it has begun to reap the rewards.
Uzbekistan's under-17 and under-20 national teams have both qualified twice for world championships over the past decade and the country's under-23 side even won the Asian championship in China.
At the Asian Cup, currently being held in the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan have won both of their two matches so far, beating Oman 2-1 and Turkmenistan 4-0 to advance to the knockout phase.
"We're getting better and better," Kariev says. "But it will take us a few more years to become truly competitive."
At the Asian Cup, the Uzbeks have sometimes tried to be too fancy, and have appeared to lack drive, but it's a deficiency that they are already nipping in the bud at the Jugend-Fussball Leistungszentrum in Tashkent.