Dortmund, GERMANY – Academies are the latest development engine for most football loving countries – so knowing that a trip to the Borussia Dortmund Youth Academy was part of my StarTimes/Bundesliga International Media Visit was not worth noting. What was exciting was the opportunity to learn about why their production line of football talents has been so consistent in the last ten years serving rivals Bayern Munich, big clubs around the world and the Germany National team.
The quiet suburb of Brackel which is almost reflective of the city of Dortmund – traditionally a hub of industries and working-class neighbourhoods interspersed by green trees was the place to be on a fairly warm Friday afternoon in Dortmund.
For the curious eyes of the footballing world, this is no ordinary suburb, The black building with the yellow circle appears to be an ordinary football complex.B ut another critical look at how Mario Gotze won the world cup in 2014 - swivelling and hitting a shot past Sergio Romero suggests this was practised on a special equipment a thousand times before it hit the back of the net at the Maracana Stadium in Brazil.
The Dortmund academy is noted for the production of high-quality football talents like of course Gotze, Nuri Sahin, Marco Reus, Julian Weigl, Marcel Schmelzer, Lars Ricken and many others. The five-time Bundesliga-winning club has become the world’s best finishing school. But after surviving its plunge into bankruptcy in 2005 due to overzealous spending on ageing stars, lessons have been well and truly learnt, and the club insists their aim is not to catch rivals Bayern in the spending spree but stick to their a unique position of producing more talent.
Remember I hinted Mario Gotze's 2014 goal may well have been practised overly with the special equipment which makes a huge difference. Well, the Footbonaut is a unique piece of equipment that sets Dortmund apart from other German clubs, with the exception of Hoffenheim, who also have one. Dortmund Under-19 's when they visit the Footbonaut, have footballs in turns-hurled at them at speeds in excess of 75 kph, and their job is to sense which of the four walls is launching the ball, trap it and send it into a lit panel, which will be one of the 64 present, 16 on each wall. All this must be done in a second or lesser, depending on the set speed.
The contraption is ominous and even lets out a warning signal before firing footballs at you, but the real test is the one against time and experts say this is an excellent way not just to train, but also recuperate from serious injuries.
You can imagine Gotze here, taking one on the chest, turning swiftly and slamming the ball against the opposite wall. With thousands of hours of taking on this machine, you’d expect Germany’s golden boy to pull off that piece of skill with ease.
The facility houses as low as under 9's, 11's 12's 13's 16's 17's and 23's with separate technical teams and diligent process of passing players on to the next level barring any injuries. If there is one thing Dortmund can be proud of its definitely not boasting of huge financial base -but the strong connection with the fans and great emphasis on youth development.
We have seen a gradual shift from the Colts teams in Ghana to newly set up academies like the Right to Dream, the West African Football Academy amongst others. But the care for the young budding talents we have appear not to be done with due diligence. Academies may not have the financial wherewithal to buy the Footbonaut but can do the simple things of connecting with families properly and a bit of investment to bridge the gap at the moment.
While it may seem that footballl academies are replacing colts football clubs (which used to be the main conveyer belt of talent in Ghana from the mid-'60s) many of the Colts Owners and even Premier League Clubs have questioned the competence of the mushrooming academies insisting most don't meet the requirement to run such projects. Ghana is struggling to dominate youth football on the continent and World in the new millennium and there seems to be no grand plan to address the crisis.
Until the country gets very deliberate about working on the quality of football and the identification of talents, very little can be done about Ghana's dwindling fortunes in youth football. Instead of complaining, clubs should take it upon themselves to begin working out schemes to produce talents right within -That will in turn help in generating revenue and make them very relevant to their communities. More investment is needed from the Government, from Club, and Sponsorship deals to create the environment to nurture talent to feed national teams and clubs alike.
For now, what I witnessed during the StarTimes Ghana/Bundesliga International Media Visit suggests the Dortmund Youth football academy is head and shoulders above every other in Europe, and our football \clubs may want to pick a leaf or two from Dortmund, in this regard.
George Addo Jr is on a Bundesliga Media tour courtesy StarTimes Ghana
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