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For 14 straight years, Germany had a poaching striker in Miroslav Klose. Football has changed since, but the Germans continue to look for that stinging forward up front to replace their former talisman. Their U17s have now come to India with two of the finest in the form of Jann-Fiete Arp and Dennis Jastrzembski – the latter has been handed the iconic No 13 Germany jersey made famous by Gerd Muller, Michael Ballack and most recently Thomas Muller. “Klose was one of our best, but that was a different age of football. We are a country of famous strikers and it is our task to make Germany’s next forward,” said the U17 assistant coach Dennis Lamby, who focuses on the colts’ offence, in training.
“We’re still building up our attack, but we found some success in Europe,” he added. The Germans had a jaw-dropping 17 goals in 5 matches of the U17 European Championships, finishing the continental tournament as semi-finalists. And Lamby insists that the system is yielding results as this group that’s been together since the U 15s is coming together nicely.
“We start precision shooting at U12, and after 14 we train them in speed and other specialisations of scoring. Once a year, we have a selection tournament of 21 German associations and we’ve been scouting from there,” he informed.
It was around 2002 that staring at an ageing team, Germany changed tack and went searching for very young talent, shaping their youth development policy. It surprised no one then, when national team coach Joachim Loew picked an inexperienced and experimental young side for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia in July, but the side dazzled all by winning the tournament and displaying the country’s depth soon after the World Cup.
One key member of that side was Timo Werner, fresh from the U21s, who while helping RB Leipzig make their Champions League entry, also walked away with the Golden Boot in Russia with three goals and two assists. Coincidentally, Werner wore the No 11 jersey vacated by Klose.
The Germans in Goa are prepping for the next wave, and boast one of the most exciting forward-lines here at this World Cup.
While Klose – his somersaults in tow – was adored for his unfailing precision, Germany’s looking for more well-rounded strikers. “Klose played a different way – inside the box, one-touch and lots of headers. Now we look for good dribblers for one-on-one situations,” Lamby stressed. “We’re looking for complete strikers – of course the first criterion is they should be able to score, and then I look for speed and dribbling and other technical skills,” he added.
On the day, the training session at Bambolim was dominated by close-range shooting practice. The objective of the six-a-side matches was to get the creative juices flowing to help find the extra yard or two, and finish a move with a telling drive at goal – a combination of power, agility and speed.
When asked how they built the strength of a striker (to outmuscle strong defenders) without compromising on speed especially at this age, Lamby said there were different ways. “We train them for physical, technical as well as psychological strength,” he explained. Strikers can get sulky if they don’t score for a while, and every aspect has been covered.
Germany’s tended to produce some rich attacking midfield talent in the last few years, though Jann-Fiete Arp (Fiete fee-tuh, for his team) has left everyone excited when he became the first player born after 2000 to play in the Bundesliga last weekend. “He’s just a very good guy,” Lamby says, “and he feels responsible for the whole team. He has that leader-like quality.”
Of course, the midfield is expected to do its quick linking work. “Scoring is the task of the whole team, so we need the whole unit to combine,” he says.
Noah Awuku, Nicola Gerrit Kuhn, Dennis Jastrzembski, Maurice Malone and Jessic Ngankam each have their strengths. “Some are fast, some are technical, but we have plans for each one of the players. But no one is more important than the whole team,” he stressed on the German credo.
Still, Arp, who arrived here as the most talked of forward – after it was known that Brazil’s Vinicius Junior wasn’t fetching up – is being primed to seriously shine in the next fortnight. “We keep looking for ways in which he can improve, and how to free up spaces for him to score,” Lamby said. It’ll remain a team effort, but the efficient German defence and the new zipping midfield will now have the big striker up front.