Following this week's UEFA Champions League semi-finals in which two German clubs, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, dumped out Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, many were quick to jump on the German football bandwagon.
Some, like former England international Gary Lineker, claimed "We're witnessing the beginning of the end of an era for Barca, and the end of the beginning of an era for Bayern."
Others claimed that Germany is poised to dominate the world of football at both the club and international levels for years to come. While those predications may or may not play out over time, it's worth exploring just why the Germans are enjoying so much success right now.
Following the 1998 World Cup, in which Germany suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the quarterfinals, German football took a good long look at its collective self in the mirror. And it didn't particularly like what it saw.
So, in typical German fashion, they decided to fix it
They replaced their youth development model with a new one; a model that required all German Bundesliga clubs (there are 36 clubs in two divisions) to run centrally regulated youth academies. These academies have been a key factor in the production of players for Germany's national teams in recent years.
Dr. Reinhard Rauball, President of the League Association in Germany, said this of the new academy system:
"For all clubs, the compulsory introduction of academies for young players in 2001 was the building block which laid the way to a successful future for German football. Today, ten years later, we can enjoy the fruits of the labour of those academies."
However, it wasn't just the introduction of professional academies at the 36 Bundesliga clubs that lead to Germany's seeming conveyor belt of talent.
The German football federation (Deutscher Fussball-Bund or DFB) also established a network of training centres across the country, aimed at developing the talents of Germany's best young players. Partnerships were established by the DFB with clubs, regional associations and schools, all with a singular goal in mind - to develop the full potential of Germany's players.
This required significant investment by the DFB – the "Extended Talent Promotion Programme" alone is reported to cost around $13 million per year - but has clearly paid dividends for all stakeholders. German coaches and players, both male and female, have every opportunity imaginable to develop their talents, and the country now has a development infrastructure that is second to none in the world of football.
So what can Canadian soccer learn from this?
Simple , none of what Germany has accomplished would have been possible without teamwork.
The DFB set a direction for the development of the game in Germany, and were supported by their regional associations, clubs and schools. Those member organizations did not rebel against the DFB. They did not claim to have a better plan for the development of players in their respective regions, in the process ignoring the direction set by the governing body for soccer in Germany. Instead, they supported the DFB by playing their part in the implementation of Germany's national development plan.
The DFB and the Bundesliga clubs developed a mutually beneficial relationship; the German federation needs to develop the best German players for its national teams, while the Bundesliga clubs need to develop German players who can reach the first team level, ensuring sustainability for the professional clubs.
The Bundesliga clubs did not turn their back on the development of young German players, they embraced it. They saw the value in working with the DFB, and take pride in the fact that of the 23-man squad that represented Germany at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, 19 players were the products of Bundesliga 1 academies, while 4 players were the products of academies in Bundesliga 2.
In Canada, we do not have this same level of cooperation. Instead, we have fracturing between our provincial associations and the CSA.
Some provincial associations are determined to go against the technical development plan that has been introduced by the CSA's technical director, Tony Fonseca. Rather than supporting the direction put in place by that plan, these provinces want to carry on with the status quo, despite its obvious ineffectiveness in producing talented players for our national teams.
We have Canadian MLS clubs that lobbied for the removal of the Canadian player quota; their position being that having three Canadian players on their 30-man MLS rosters puts them at a competitive disadvantage to their American counterparts.
One can't help but wonder if Germany would have produced players like Muller, Kroos, Badstuber, Gotze, Reus and Hummels – all young German internationals playing for Munich or Dortmund – had the Bundesliga clubs fought against the introduction of quotas in the same manner as our Canadian MLS clubs have done.
As important as the cooperation and teamwork shown by the stakeholders in German football has been to their current success, another factor has been equally important, patience.
None of the stakeholders in Germany's transformation expected instant results. They all realized that meaningful change takes time, and were willing to show patience while staying true to the direction set by the DFB. With two German teams contesting the Champions League final on May 25, it appears that patience is now being rewarded.
We cannot carbon copy the German development structure in Canada, for a multitude of reasons. We can, however, learn the lesson that teamwork and cooperation between stakeholders, coupled with patience, can lead to the implementation of dramatic, impactful change to the development of the game in our country.