Khel Now had the opportunity to interact exclusively with the two coaches from the youth setup of Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04.
Germany has been the golden hub for producing world-class young players for years, with one after another prime talent coming through their system every single season. FC Schalke 04 have been the pioneers of honing and giving a platform to extraordinary talents, having produced stars like Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Leroy Sane and Mesut Ozil. One individual to have overseen the development of these renowned names is senior youth academy coach, Kai Brock.
Formerly the youth coach looking into the development of their U-12, U-13 levels, he played a prominent role in unearthing the potential of these FIFA World Cup-winning stars.
As an extension of the partnership between the German Football Academy and the School of Sports, Brock recently visited India to conduct training sessions with youth-level players and coaches. He was accompanied by Tom Albrecht, a much younger coach in the Schalke youth setup.
With Indian football still in its development stage in terms of the grassroots structure, the FC Schalke coaches arrived to provide some insights on possible improvements. After a trip to Chennai, the two visited Kolkata to train the Bengal U-15 football team and conducted a practical training session for the Indian Football Association (IFA) coaches as well.
Khel Now had the opportunity to sit down with the German coaches, Kai Brock and Tom Albrecht, to talk about their experience and thoughts on the youth structure in the country.
Experience In India
Brock remained optimistic when talking about his experience coaching the youngsters on his visit to India. He explained, “It’s my second time and Tom’s (Albrecht) first, visiting here in India. I was in Mumbai last year with an NGO. First, we went to Chennai and worked with some selected kids from youth-level tournaments. In Kolkata, we worked with some kids with the GFA and the U-15 Bengal. In my opinion, the people in India love football and it’s a growing market. But, there are also some things we have to improve, mainly at the grassroots level.”
Furthermore, Albrecht explained on the work they’re doing, saying, “I would also like to add that we’re also coaching the coaches. We coached them in Chennai as well over four days and two days in Kolkata. It included theoretical sessions as well as practical sessions. We’ve had a really good experience, a lot of different impressions to get an overall view about Indian football.”
The senior German coach also stressed how important it is for players to turn motivation into their biggest strength and why the Indian up and comers should do the same.
Focus On Strength
“The strength is always the motivation to play football. This is a common theme all over the world. Because football has its own power to motivate people to move, to play and to have fun. This is the base you must work on to start improving football at the grassroots.”
“This is just a short, quick view on grassroots football. We saw some schools, some GFA kids and some selected teams in Chennai. For a general idea, I need more time observing the kids and learning more about them,” he added.
Brock also explained how it would be unfair to compare the Indian scene with that in Europe, maintaining that the different structures in different parts of India serve as it’s own unique aspect.
Comparison With European Football
“See, you can’t really compare this with Europe. In Europe, we have a completely different history of football and a different form of organization and structure. Every region in India is organized differently. The different systems, they work with different topics and different ways to select players and different ways to educate coaches.”
“I think there’s already something we saw which is really good and something we could improve with them. We’re working day-by-day and looking at what we can improve every day. We’re also here to get more impressions on the strengths and weaknesses of the young players in India. We’ll analyze the impressions we get when we return to Germany,” Albrecht elaborated.
Grassroots-Level Development In India
Kai Brock also insisted that more investment be put into the grassroots level in order to improve the quality of Indian football going forward.
“No matter where you are, you must put your full strength to grassroots football. You must always have the base to develop the players when they’re coming into the professional level. This should be the main thing to do in India,” he asserted.
He also urged the Indian Super League (ISL) and other Indian clubs to set their specific targets when it comes to deciphering how they’d improve their respective youth academy structures.
The German said, “It always depends on the targets a club has. You can’t say that every club must implement their U-8 or U-9 team. There are so many clubs, so many ideas to ponder upon. I think it’s always individually analyzed for different sides.”
Albrecht also agreed with his senior partner, stating that there’s a need to improve the base structure of youth development in India.
“I think it’s always important to improve the base. To form a real structure and to get better communication between the school teams and maybe the youth club teams. We already saw some impressive school teams and club teams. So, if there’s a better structure between them, we can build up a better basement.”
“Every time we talk about the basement, it’s always long-term. When you talk about how much it takes for a young player to become professional, it takes a really long time. We’re talking about 10+ years. The emphasis should always be on the results long-term,” he stressed.
“It’s the motivation of all kids to play football. It’s the happiness, the fun they have when they kick the ball. This is what I like the most. It doesn’t matter where I go to in this world. It’s to grow the fun the kids have when playing football, which gives me the highest motivation to do this job.”
“After the motivational factor, you should find differences between regular school kids with little experience and the selected youth teams who are on a higher level. The U-15 Bengal team we trained were on an extremely high level in quality. They were very well educated. But, there are always things to improve upon.”
Tom Albrecht is only 25-years-old, but has been working at the Schalke academy since he was 18! He agreed that younger coaches with the hunger should be encouraged in the country and urged them to keep working hard on training the youngsters.
“If you have the passion to do good things, then yes they should go for it. If the coaches have the passion for football coaching, they should go for it. Of course, for a younger coach to get the same respect as an experienced figure isn’t easy,” he pointed out
Kai Brock didn’t want to specifically blame academic pressures for holding back many aspiring young players and instead stated that it’s important for schools to find better communication with clubs to maintain the perfect balance.
He said, “You need to find a good way for the players to have proper education in schools, colleges or universities and a proper manner for them to have a good development in football. It’s about the communication between the schools, the clubs and the academies. This is what we, in Europe, implemented years ago.”
“The schools are the partner schools of several academy clubs,” continued Kai Brock. “So, that the players can have a good education in school and also have enough time to play football, participate in tournaments and all these. My general message for the parents would be, let the kids go out and play football!”
Scouting Of Young Players
There has been quite a lot of debate recently about what aspects modern Indian players are lacking in, with some arguing that they aren’t technical enough, while others say they lack physical strength. But, Albrecht feels a combined effort must be made to improve every single aspect of a young player.
Schalke have been the producers of some impeccable young talent and remain at the very top when it comes to giving opportunities to academy youngsters in the Bundesliga. Kai Brock stated that spotting players with extraordinary abilities isn’t that difficult, especially in their younger years.
“It’s important to give all good players the chance to develop in the best way. This is a little secret we have at Schalke. We don’t only develop the players who were extremely strong in the years between 9-12. But, the players who are average talented early on, you need to give them time to develop. Then they can find their potential at the U-18 level.”
Value Education At Schalke 04
Kai Brock also spoke about the four values which Schalke have etched into their philosophy and explained, “We have 04, like our logo Schalke 04, four values which we help the kids to follow. Not only the kids, but all the employees and coaches are also following the values as well.”
“One is to have the joy of playing. You have to obtain the utmost courage. All actions on the pitch should be in high intensity. Another important value is that you need to have the will to win.”
The duo finished off by expressing the hope that a similar philosophy could be integrated into Indian football to improve the standards at the grassroots level.