On Wednesday, Germany announced their squads for the Confederations Cup and U-21 European Championships. With Joachim Löw omitting almost all of his top players including Özil, Boateng, Reus, Hummels, Kroos and Khedira amongst others, one would think Germany would use the Confederations Cup this summer as an opportunity to test out their talented youth players in the full national team. Interestingly, this is not exactly the case. The German federation, the DFB, have publicly prioritized the U21 European Championships over the Confederations Cup and have included several top youngsters in the squad for the European Championships, some of them already full German internationals.
In recent seasons, the DFB has taken youth tournaments increasingly seriously, qualifying for every tournament available since 2013 (15/15!). This is a drastic change from past German youth sides. Between 2000 and 2013 the qualification success rate for German youth teams was just 46% (25/54). Germany qualified for less than half of the available tournaments (U-20 & U-17 World Cups, U-21, U-19 & U-17 Euros and Olympics) during this period. Their progress in qualifying for these tournaments is highlighted by the fact that Germany will be represented in five youth tournaments in 2017 alone.
Why are Germany showing such a focus on their youth teams? Germany has been blessed with some incredible waves of young talent since implementing their famous youth program after Euro 2000. The DFB recognizes that they have an incredible amount of top youngsters who could play pivotal roles for the senior side in the future. Their goal is to make tight-knit groups of players through success in youth tournaments. This theory of playing together in youth tournaments leading to success with the senior side is based largely on Germany’s 2009 U-21 Euros win. Five years later, six members of that side that dismantled England in the final were parading around the Maracana holding the World Cup. Stories like this prove a pipeline does exist between the youth set-up and the senior side.
Germany manager Jogi Löw had initially indicated that he would be using the Confederations Cup as a chance to test out many prospects ahead of the World Cup while at the same time resting many of his stars. While his squad is certainly inexperienced, (Julian Draxler’s 28 caps makes him the most experienced) it isn’t filled entirely with youngsters. Nine players were eligible for the U-21 Euros, but of these players only four have been anything like regulars with the U-21s. The rest are players like Kimmich or Can who have been regularly involved in Löw’s squads for some time.
Still, Bundesliga stars like Max Mayer, Serge Gnabry and Jonathan Tah, were omitted from the Confederations Cup squad and will be a part of the Germany squad at the U-21 European Championships in Poland later this summer. The squad selected by Stefan Kuntz is one of the most experienced squads in the recent memory featuring five full internationals and players who have played an incredible 1,928 first team matches. There is a great hope that Kuntz’s squad will be able to emulate the success of the 2009 team and provide the spine of the senior side for years to come.
The focus in Germany is very much on the World Cup in a year’s time. The Confederations Cup is being dismissed by many, especially Bundesliga sporting directors and coaches, as a useless tournament. Due to this lack of concern about the tournament, only eight players from last summer’s European Championship squad will be in Russia next month. Löw has filled the squad with newcomers to the national team who have enjoyed stellar Bundesliga seasons. Seven players, none eligible for the U-21 squad, could make their debut for the national side at the tournament. Experienced players like Sandro Wagner (29) and Lars Stindl (28) will be given the chance to stake a claim for a place in the side next summer. This relaxed approach to the tournament is a stark contrast to the Spanish and Italian sides who featured at both the 2009 and 2013 editions of the Confederations Cup. Both Spain and Italy picked largely first choice squads ahead of the World Cup.
Despite choosing a weakened squad, Germany will be expected to reach at least the knockout stages having been drawn in a group containing Cameroon, Australia and Chile. While the senior side should be interesting to watch, the tournament with the most implications on Germany’s future might just be the European Championships in Poland.