Making a Mia San Mia Future: Bayern Munich's Youth Revolution

Ian HolymanFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2016

David Alaba is the last Bayern youth-academy player to become a first-team regular.
David Alaba is the last Bayern youth-academy player to become a first-team regular.Associated Press

Quiz question: the last Bayern Munich youth-academy player to establish himself in the first team? David Alaba, debut February 2010. And Austria Vienna may dispute his status as a Bayern academy graduate given he was with them until he was 16.

Gianluca Gaudino, if his loan spell at Swiss side St Gallen bears fruit, might succeed the versatile Austrian, as might Julian Green, who arrived from the USA aged two and joined Bayern in 2009. But even if they do, it will be more than seven years since a player from Bayern's youth academy made it with the big boys.

Amazingly for a club that has ridden roughshod over its domestic opponents in the last four years, not a single Bayern player was in Germany's under-19 Euro-winning side in 2014. Their under-19 team last won their domestic competition in 2004. Bayern's Borut Semler top-scored in the league that season, plundering 30 goals—the next best got 15. Remember him? No, thought not.

"The topic has not been followed as intensively as it should have been in recent years," newly re-elected Bayern president Uli Hoeness said last week, per Merkur (in German). "Here, we haven't—and I say this quite clearly—not worked well. With the financial effort we make, FC Bayern II should be playing the 3. Liga."

However, Bayern's under-23 team, the supposed final stepping stone to the first team, has not featured in the third tier of German football since the 2010/11 season.

It is perhaps little wonder that players who have only previously experienced the backwaters of German football find the enormous gulf to the rarefied atmosphere of the Champions League too big to bridge. Alaba, one of the most talented players of his generation, is a rare exception. One that proves the rule.

Revamping Bayern's youth policy has been one of Hoeness' most treasured projects since he returned to the club after his tax-fraud trial and subsequent imprisonment.

"I think Uli Hoeness will change a lot of things in the youth section," Philipp Lahm, one of the Bayern youth academy's most illustrious graduates, said when Hoeness was appointed to work in that area in January 2015, per web.de (in German). "We can all be very excited about that."

Michael Tarnat, a former Bayern pro, and Jurgen Jung were respectfully told last January their services as youth-academy director and youth chief scout, respectively, were no longer needed. Instead, Hoeness brought in Timon Pauls, 23, to be chief scout for the youth academy. Aged 16, Pauls was already scouting for 1860 Munich, and he has also worked with Lahm's mother, Daniela, at her club, which has given him in-depth knowledge of the local area—Hoeness' main focus of attack.

"We plan to look more closely at players in the Munich and Oberbayern area," said Pauls, per the official DFB website (in German). "We do not want to overlook any talent that has grown up here and is playing on our doorstep. Especially in our immediate environment we see enormous potential and high quality."

A scouting network within a 70-kilometre radius of Munich has been established to winkle out the next Lahm, Thomas Muller or Bastian Schweinsteiger, all local-born. It marks the start of a revolution in the area that has been remarkably slow in coming for Bayern.

Much like dominant teams in leagues everywhere, Barcelona excepted, the power of the dollar rather than the fruits of hard labour has been the foundation stone of success. Why invest time and money in youth development when you can simply let those well-off do that, and then splash some of your own cash to reap the benefit of a ready-made pro? Oliver Kahn, Mario Basler, Michael Ballack, Mario Gomez and, more recently, Manuel Neuer, Mario Gotze, Joshua Kimmich and Renato Sanches are all such examples.

It may be cynical, but it is also understandable in the world of football, where time and patience are non-existent. Coaches, whose jobs are only as secure as their next bad result, can ill afford to give youngsters the time to establish themselves at the highest level before flourishing. They don't just have to hit the ground running. Kids have to be passing, heading, tackling, scoring and—most importantly—winning.

But with Bayern's competitors on a European scale equally as muscular—if not more so—financially, the difference now is made in those few gems you can unearth yourself from the chaff of thousands who think they have what it takes to make it in the world of professional football.

Renato Sanches, a youthful talent but bought, not homegrown.
Renato Sanches, a youthful talent but bought, not homegrown.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Hoeness has recognised that, and while players like Sanches will always be attractive to and within the financial possibilities of Bayern, the focus is now on mimicking Barcelona's La Masia, where players are not only taught football, but also imbued with the club's unique values.

"I'm of the opinion that 'Mia san mia,' this strong bond to the club, you learn best at FC Bayern. And if we had a third-league team, the jump up for the boys would not be so tough," Hoeness explained, per Merkur (in German).

Players like Lahm and Alaba were sent out on loan to Stuttgart and Hoffenheim to cut their teeth, but Hoeness wants players to emerge from Bayern's own ranks, from youth team right through to first team. No doubt that's with a view to instilling some emotional attachment to the club—a rare commodity in football, and one that could also save Bayern millions when suitors come calling.

That is why the treasured "mia san mia" philosophy will be at the heart of Bayern's new youth academy, a €70 million project started near the Allianz Arena in 2015 and due to be completed some time next year. A "luxurious building" Hoeness called it, per Eurosport (in German), "the most beautiful youth academy in Germany, perhaps even Europe."

The new sporting director—to be appointed within the next six months, according to Hoeness, per Eurosport (in German)—will also play a crucial role in outlining the club's strategy: "All those involved agree: the sporting director must, together with the board—I would include myself in that—develop the concept of what we will actually do with this building."

If that sounds a little fuzzy, Hoeness' vision of the end product is crystal clear. "When one has such a beautiful thing, you have to get one player for the first team every three years," he stated, per Eurosport (in German). "We have to be judged on the situation in five years."

Club legend Lahm could have an important future role.
Club legend Lahm could have an important future role.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Lahm, who has been mooted as the person to fill the vacant sporting-director role come the end of this season, would seem to be a man who would have the drive, intelligence and "mia san mia" required to get the project moving forward after Hoeness has got it off the ground.

The presence of Germany's World Cup-winning captain might also solve another problem that hinders Bayern's fledgling talents: not one of infrastructure, but of mentality.

"I think that it was also difficult before. The path to the first team isn't blocked for talents coming from the youth teams," said a Bayern man recently, per Focus (in German). No, not some crusty old head like Hoeness, but the 27-year-old Holger Badstuber, who joined FCB aged 13 and worked his way up.

"We had a goal and we followed it mercilessly. We weren't distracted from it. We saw it through," the Germany international defender added.

"I find the young players today are somewhat cosier." Given Hoeness' description of the luscious new surroundings in which those aspiring Bayern players will find themselves, Lahm—or whoever the club's new sporting director is—may also need to use a red-gloved iron fist to ensure he and his boss do not look foolish in 2022.