Youth Soccer Training in German
A chat with Robert Palikuca, first team Manager of Fortuna Düsseldorf on opportunities in Germany for talented youth soccer players at the Talentprojekt.
Europe has dominated youth soccer player development forever and Germany has ranked for many years as one of the best countries for producing well-trained players.
Christian Pulisic is probably the most popular American youth soccer player who left the USA to train in Germany.
A long way from his birthplace of Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic is an attacking midfielder who plays for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in the top Bundesliga and is also a young star of the US Men’s National Team. Schalke 04s Weston McKennie and Josh Sargent are two other great examples of American talent training to be their best in Germany. Other players include Steve Cherundolo, Tom Dooley, Claudio Reyna, Eric Wynalda, Jermaine Jones and even Michael Bradley all trained in Germany.
Why has training in Germany been so popular and important?
What has been the real qualitative difference? Is it the immersion in the soccer culture? Is it the lifestyle of the youth players? Is it the competition? Most probably, it is a special combination.
At the turn of this century, Germany reinvented its player development program, infusing millions of dollars and 14 years later, conquered the soccer world, lifting the World Cup trophy for all to see.
While many believe America is now on a pathway to success, clearly Germany has established a history of success.
After winning four World Cups, Germany has a record of producing highly skilled soccer players. What makes the country so special is its determined attitude to provide the greatest number of talented youth players the best football education possible.
While it is not easy for American youth soccer players to train in Germany, it is not impossible and there are several great opportunities. While the doors of famous championship club Bayern Munich may be closed off to most, there are clubs that are looking to develop talent and are interested in Americans.
One of Germany’s hidden gems in the top tier of the Bundesliga is the pro soccer club Fortuna Düsseldorf. Known for player development, Fortuna Düsseldorf star power is not as well known as the club’s Bundesliga competitors Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, TSG Hoffenheim, Schalke 04 but its record for player development is highly respected.
The big difference between these clubs? Fortuna can’t buy players. It simply does not have the finances to do so. Bayern Munich could spend $100 million on players. Fortuna cannot.
Imagine the picturesque and sophisticated city of Düsseldorf with a top-flight soccer club that tied Bayern Munich 3-3 this winter— that is Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Robert Palikuca, first team Manager of Fortuna Düsseldorf, says, “My goal is to create a team with homegrown players, and with our limited financial resources, we have to be creative.” And, Palikuca is good at being creative and forming intelligent, powerful partnerships for scouting. “American players can be very successful in Germany,” said Palikuca. “As a smaller club, we have to find different ways to recruit players who can make it one day.”
Forming an arrangement with Mark Dillon and the Talentprojekt (The Talent Project) which launches this August with a squad of talented players who will live, study and train adjacent to Fortuna Düsseldorf is a smart recruiting opportunity. The squad will be a team of 2004s boys (the birth year 2004) from all across the USA.
According to Palikuca, who believes working with the Talentprojekt is simply smart business, “The Talentprojekt is designed to be a long-term program which brings talented American youth soccer players over to where our Fortuna Düsseldorf youth coaches can watch them train. This is a scouting opportunity.”
Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Palikuca has known Dillon for years and respects his eye for talent. “Our players are often recruited away at age 15 by the big clubs like Schalke,” said Palikuca.
Dillon, who is often referred to as the Father of Orlando Soccer, has brought highly talented youth soccer players to Fortuna Düsseldorf and other top German Clubs. The Talentprojekt kicks off in August 2019 with a team of 2004s elite American boys who will attend school and train in a full German immersion player development program.
“The Talentprojekt gives us the chance to see talented youth players develop and adjust to being in Germany. It is a year abroad where players can go to school and train and let us see what develops. I know there is a lot of talent in the USA. I was in LA in 1997 for two years and was just recently in New York City. There are a lot of possibilities with Mark and the Talent Project for all of us.”