When people think of German youth academies, they instantly think of those at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Granted, they may have produced current international players such as Mario Götze and Thomas Müller, but it’s Schalke who are often overlooked as one of the best for providing the German national team with players.

Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Julian Draxler and Mesut Ozil all came through the obscure Knappenschmiede (youth academy), whilst the quartet helped Joachim Löw guide Germany to their first ever World Cup triumph in 24 years.

Countless stars have passed through the Royal Blues’ Knappenschmiede – if you’re German that is – that includes current crop of players such as Max Meyer and Ralf Fährmann, whilst prodigy Leroy Sané recently joined Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Manchester City after impressing in the Champions League.

But just where did it all start for Schalke, and what’s their idea behind it all? Considering it’s far different from many renowned academies.

Youth teams have always been a key ingredient to teams in Germany. Be it at Borussia Mönchengladach with Marc-Andre ter Stegen or 1860 München with Lars Bender, Julian Weigl and Kevin Volland – who have both recently featured for the Germany national side.

Firstly, former Academy Chief Bodo Menze told in an interview that “the development of talent has always been an integral part of the club,” which sees the Bundesliga side boast one of the youngest average ages in the league.

Schalke’s Knappenschmiede proved to be so successful, that in 2014, former sporting director Horst Heldt revealed the representatives from Bayern Munich asked just how they do it after rebuilding their youth academy from scratch.

“We hired more fulltime coaches and more scouts for the academy. We even have fulltime assistant coaches for our youth teams now. Such a standard isn’t even available everywhere in the DFB,” said Heldt. “It is no coincidence that we were in the U19 final of the German championship last year (2013) and that we won it the year before.”


Under tutelage of the staff at the Knappenschmiede, the youth players’ – from U17s to U23s – first “professional” contact will be with a football, prior to anything else. Coaches at the club state that any player must enjoy their time on the pitch and so they regularly impose a technical style of play to their training sessions.

Ball control and basic techniques are first taught amongst the youngsters whilst they are also taught self-responsibility, self-confidence and team spirit – also receive high school education.

Individual strengths and weaknesses are closely monitored before players progress to the next stage which involves a great deal of fitness, in order to ensure they can give their all for 90 minutes.

The jump from U15 Regional League West to the U17 Bundesliga West is a huge leap for any athlete. Instead of technical, coaches now focus on the tactical aspect of football with the U17 players before progressing.

An area that German football does well is their U23 teams. This represents the final stage of training – which is also known as the “transition region” – whilst they’re allowed to gain experience in league format, where they come up against other semi-professional teams.

The opportunity to play in the U23 side allows players to prepare themselves at a professional level should they be called up to train with the first team, as players such as Sané– who duly impressed – have done in the past.

Our objective has always been to bring through one or two players from each age group into the Bundesliga,” Menze explained. “We have teams from Under-9 to Under-23 and we select every team according to performance. The most important factors are to be fast, be good decision makers with technical skills and tactical skills but also with strong character and an identity with the club. That has continued with Draxler, Höwedes [and] Matip.”

From a young age, the Knappenschmiede ethos is etched into their minds, whilst the philosophies of the club are taught from the youngest age group, up until the U23 squad.

Not every footballer that comes through the youth academy is successful at the club. Kaan Ayhan – who made 30 league appearances for Schalke – failed to keep his place in the first team, which saw him loaned out to Eintracht Frankfurt, before signing for Fortuna Düsseldorf on a permanent basis.

In recent history, it’s Sané who has gained all the plaudits during his time at Schalke, in which he helped the club to a fifth place finish in the 2015/16 campaign, thus becoming a key member of a youthful setup last campaign.

Sane joined Schalke as an eight-year-old after a brief spell at neighbouring Bayer Leverkusen. Winning the U19 German championship, Sane earned his first professional contract with the Royal Blues.

His masterful displays in the league and Champions League – noticeably against Real Madrid –came with attention from Europe’s elite, which included Arsenal, Real Madrid and Liverpool. It was however Pep Guardiola who persuaded the youngster to join him at Manchester City in a £37 million fee.

Schalke’s golden generation, so to speak, might be over for the time being, with Max Meyer being their only notable youth player – that came through their system – to cement a place in the starting XI.

However, there’s plenty to come from Knappenschmiede. Schalke U17s – under the tutelage of Stephan Schmidt – currently sit top of the B-Junioren Bundesliga West table, six points ahead of their rivals, Borussia Dortmund.

With a plethora of talent on their books, Schalke already have eight players signed to contracts in their U17 squad. Ahmed Kutucu is certainly one player people need to keep an eye on. After 10 games for the U17 side, the German born forward has scored six goals, whilst he has also assisted six.

The technical ability that coaches at Schalke strive upon is certainly evident at this level. Okan Yilmaz – again another prodigy – has scored four goals in eight games whilst on a whole, Schalke U17s have found the net 27 times in 10 matches, winning eight, losing just one.

It’s clear that Schalke do boast one of the most impressive youth academies in European football. Perhaps even the world. Underappreciated by many outside of Germany, it’s evident that Bayern Munich want to replicate what their Bundesliga counterparts are doing at youth level.

For Schalke, there’s a sense of togetherness for anyone who comes through the Knappenschmiede. A close-knit group of players, management and coaches at Schalke really do believe in youth development, whilst they’re extremely motivated to providing the first team with as many stars as possible.

About the author- Daniel Pinder

Daniel is a yorkshire based sports journalist that specialise in German football. Having fallen in love with the country during the 2006 World cup thanks to the trio of Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger, he has visited six times in the past two seasons to watch Cologne. Daniel has also had work published on FourFourTwo, Deutsche Welle, Goal and Gazzetta World, whilst he aims to bring news and analysis from Germany to an English audience.

Twitter: @DanielJPinder


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As the Bundesliga resumes for the 2016-17 campaign, talk has inevitably turned to the battle for supremacy between champions Bayern Munich and their nearest challengers, Borussia Dortmund.

Moreover, great intrigue surrounds the transfer business the two clubs have done with one another this summer. Bayern have snatched Dortmund’s captain and star defender Mats Hummels, while BVB have manufactured a Signal Iduna Park return for Mario Götze, who controversially left the club to join the Bavarians in 2013.

Dortmund have also signed reliable 25-year-old central midfielder Sebastian Rode from Bayern for around £10 million.

But aside from these headline grabbing deals, there has been some fantastic work done throughout the Bundesliga this transfer window, and here are the five new signings to keep an eye on as the new season commences.

Kevin Volland – Bayer Leverkusen

After four impressive seasons with Hoffenheim – in which he twice broke double figures for goals scored in a season for Die Kraichgauer – 24-year-old striker Kevin Volland has joined Bayer Leverkusen for €18 million.

The hefty fee has set a new club record for Leverkusen, so what are they getting for their money?

Volland is a strong and powerful striker with a tireless work ethic and a calm finesse in front of goal.

That work ethic will be key to fitting in at the BayArena, as manager Roger Schmidt demands that his team press their opposition relentlessly throughout 90 minutes.

A full international with six caps for Germany, Volland is yet to register a goal for Die Mannschaft. But the former 1860 Munich player’s pedigree was evident at under-21 level, where he netted 11 times in 22 games. He also demonstrated his leadership skills when captaining the German side at the 2015 Under-21 European Championship, where he finished as the second highest scorer and was named in the team of the tournament.

With his industry and creativity, Leverkusen fans will be hoping Volland turns out to be the perfect partner for Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.

Ousmane Dembélé – Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund have been extremely busy in the transfer market this summer; the loss of Hummels, Ilkay Gündoğan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been offset by the arrivals of Götze from Bayern, record signing André Schürrle from Wolfsburg and Marc Bartra from Barcelona.

In addition to the more experienced, ready-made incomings, BVB have also signed a raft of young players with huge future potential. The most exciting of which is French winger Ousmane Dembélé, who has been brought in from Rennes for £12.75 million.

Dembélé only made his senior debut for Rennes in November last year, but the teenager immediately became a key player for the Ligue 1 club, as he went on to net 12 goals and register five assists.

The 19-year-old is genuinely two-footed, and able to play on either wing or centrally as a number 10. With his blistering pace and bamboozling dribbling ability, Dembélé is widely regarded as one of the future stars of the world game. Dortmund’s capture of the youngster represents a real coup and, despite his tender years, he is capable of helping BVB close the gap on Bayern this season.

Breel Embolo – Schalke

Swiss forward Breel Embolo was linked strongly with moves to Manchester United and Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig earlier this summer. But, with a bid of €20 million plus add-ons, it was Schalke who secured the signature of the exciting Basel player.

Embolo featured heavily for Switzerland at Euro 2016, playing on the right-wing and demonstrating his pace, directness and impressive physicality. The 19-year-old is equally comfortable playing centrally as a striker, and possesses strong finishing skills and the eye for a pass of a much more experienced player.

Though still in his teens, Embolo has already racked up over 80 senior appearances for Basel, and has scored 30 goals for the Swiss club.

Embolo’s versatility will prove a useful asset for Schalke this season, where he will be expected to play on the right-wing following the loss of Leroy Sané to Manchester City, while also offering an alternative to Dutch veteran Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front.

Renato Sanches – Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich have not made many moves this summer, with only two new players coming through the door at the Allianz Arena. The first, Mats Hummels, is very much one for the here and now, who will be expected to come straight in to the starting line-up and improve the team.

The other is one for the future, but whose impressive maturity could see him having a big impact much sooner than anticipated.

Renato Sanches has been signed from Benfica for €35 million plus a string off add-ons that could see the eventual cost sky-rocketing beyond the €60 million mark.

But the monumental fee could come to represent a bargain for Bayern if Sanches delivers on his immense early promise. Much like Dembélé, Sanches has less than one full season of senior football under his belt, but he has already played a key role in Benfica’s Portuguese title triumph, as well as his country’s first ever major trophy at Euro 2016.

Sanches, a central midfielder, is blessed with explosive pace over short distances, a rocket of a left foot, and is so positionally aware that it is hard to believe that he has only just turned 19. Although at his best in a box-to-box role, Sanches is also able to fill in out wide or as a dedicated defensive midfielder.

Sanches is set to develop into one of the best midfield players on the planet over the next few years, and at Bayern, under Carlo Ancelotti, there is no better place for him to grow.

Mario Gomez – Wolfsburg

Mario Gomez’s Bundesliga record is outstanding: 63 goals in 121 appearances over six seasons with Stuttgart – including a title win in 2007 – and 75 in 115 for Bayern Munich, with two league titles and a Champions League in four years.

But the veteran poacher struggled to find his best form upon joining Fiorentina for €20 million in 2013, scoring only seven Serie A goals in two seasons.

A loan spell in Turkey last season proved to be the tonic for restoring Gomez to his former glories, however, as he helped Besiktas to Super Lig success, becoming the league’s top scorer with 26 goals in the process.

Now, the man who was once the most expensive player in Bundesliga history after joining Bayern for €35 million in 2009, has moved back to Germany to join Wolfsburg in a deal worth around £6 million.

At 31, Gomez still has plenty of gas in the tank. And although he’ll never be the quickest or most dynamic striker around, the 68-cap Germany international still knows where the net is.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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Reschedule everything that you have planned for this weekend as we have five domestic cup finals to look forward to. England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are all giving us a very good reason to settle down in front of the TV and enjoy some fantastic games.

FA Cup Final – Crystal Palace v Manchester United

Let’s make our first stop at Wembley, in London for the FA Cup Final, the world’s oldest football cup. The match is a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. United won the Cup 1-0 after a replay.

Manchester United have won the FA Cup on eleven previous occasions and they are only one win away from equaling Arsenal’s record. United last played in the final in 2007, where they lost 1-0 after extra time to Chelsea. Their last victory in the competition was in 2004, a 3-0 win against Milwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This is Louis van Gaal’s final chance to get his hand on some silverware after a much maligned campaign. It’s also worth mentioning that the only trophy that United have won since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure as manager, is the 2013 Community Shield.

Crystal Palace have only reached the FA Cup final once. This is in the aforementioned final which they lost after a replay. Palace have never won any major trophies and therefore the FA Cup presents an opportunity for their players to go down in the club’s history. It will also give the Londoners a route into Europe for the first time in their history.

Coup de France Final – Marseille v PSG

Our next stop takes us to the French capital and Saint-Denis where bitter rivals PSG and Marseille clash in the Coup de France. The two sides last met in the final in 2006 where the Parisians ran out 2-1 winners.

This will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last game for PSG and he will be aiming to lift one final trophy as the curtain comes down on his trophy laden career in the French capital. The Swede will looking to fire Laurent Blanc’s side to a second straight domestic treble which would send PSG level with Marseille as 10 time winners of the Coup de France.

Marseille haven’t won this competition for 27 years and this game presents the perfect opportunity for them to salvage their season. The club finished in 13th place, their lowest league position since 2000/01, and a win against their bitter rivals would put this disappointment behind them.

DFB-Pokal Final – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

We now cross the border into Germany and head to Berlin for the DFB-Pokal Final, where heavyweights Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund clash. There is huge motivation for both sides, not least because of the rivalry that has existed between them in recent years. Between them, Bayern and Dortmund have won the last six Bundesliga titles and the DFB-Pokal in three of the last four seasons. On many of those occasions they have gone head-to-head for the silverware.

This will also be Pep Guardiola’s final game in charge of the Bavarians before his move to Manchester City. Guardiola has guided Bayern to DFB-Pokal glory before and that was at the expense to Dortmund in 2014 when they won the domestic dobule. The Spaniard will be hoping to win one final piece of silverware and also Bayern’s 18th DFB-Pokal.

Dortmund will be hoping for a case of third time lucky as they lost both the 2014 and 2015 finals. This season they have been reinvigorated under Thomas Tuchel and in contrast to the two previous seasons, have pushed Bayern in the title race to the final two games of the season. They are now once again a domestic threat to Bayern and will be hoping to win their fourth DFB-Pokal title.

Coppa Italia Final – AC Milan v Juventus

We now travel south to the Italian peninsula and to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the 68th Coppa Italia Final, between Milan and Juventus. Whilst Juventus will be chasing a domestic double, Milan will be looking to salvage some pride after a disappointing season.

Milan have not won any silverware since the 2011 Supercoppa Italiana following their Serie A title in 2010-11, under the guidance of Massimiliano Allegri (who incidentally is now the manager of Juventus). Since then Milan have been in transition whilst Juventus have gone from strength-to-strength.

After winning their fifth consecutive Serie A title, Juventus are now aiming to win back-to-back doubles and their 11th Coppa Italia. The Bianconeri won last season’s Coppa Italia, which ended a 20 year wait since they last won the tournament. If they win it once again, they will join Inter (2005-2006 and 2010-2011) and Roma (2007-2008) as the only teams to win back-to-back cups in the 21st century.

Copa del Rey Final – Barcelona v Sevilla

Last but not least, we head to Spain and to the Vicente Calderón in Madrid for the Copa del Rey Final, where Sevilla face reigning champions, Barcelona. The last time these two teams met in a final, was the 2015 European Super Cup, which Barcelona won 5-4 after extra time.

Barcelona have previously played in 37 Copa del Rey finals, winning on a record 27 occasions. They are currently the reigning champions, having defeated Athletic Club in 2015. As well as looking to win back-to-back cups, they are also aiming to claim another domestic double after winning the league for the sixth time in eight years.

Sevilla are entering the game after winning the Europa League for the third successive year. This will be their seventh final, with their most recent appearance being in 2010, when they defeated Atlético Madrid 2-0. Sevilla have the chance to win both the Copa del Rey and Europa League double for the second time in their history, having achieved this feat in 2006/07.



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World Champions, a team in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the seventh consecutive season, and some of the best young players in Europe. It is pretty hard to argue that German football is anything other than beautifully healthy right now. However, the news today is that Mats Hummels will join Bayern for €32M at the end of the season. Some will argue that this casts a dark shadow over German football as Bayern continue to sign the best talent from their domestic rivals.

Hummels, particularly after his comments about former team-mate Mario Götze, has upset a lot of people by moving to Bayern. Borussia Dortmund are the closest they have been to Bayern since the last time they won the title – in 2011/12. The lynchpin of their defence has been linked with a transfer away from Dortmund for years, but the Dortmund fans, understandably, expected that move to be to Barcelona or another non-German club. The confirmation that Mats Hummels will follow former team-mates Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze to the Allianz Arena is concerning for German football.

Whenever Dortmund begin to look like they could really threaten Bayern the 2013 Champions League winners nab one of their best players. It is like when a father allows his son to feel like he’ll win and then finally pips him to defeat the very end. Its cruel, it’s the hope that makes it so much harder for Dortmund fans. This time its worse than before, too. Hummels is the club captain and had been seen as a player that would not cross that footballing divide, but he now looks set to make the leap from yellow to red.

Three Bundesliga titles in a row is not just a reflection of how good Bayern are, it shows the weaknesses within the Bundesliga, too. Simply look at the performances of Bayer Leverkusen or Schalke in Europe and you can understand why some think the Bundesliga is one dimensional and why Bayern have a walk in the park. It is not beneficial to Bayern to dominate the league so heavily, nor is it good for German football as a whole.

Rivals will look to poach one another’s players in any league or country, but the regularity with which it is happening in Germany is a huge concern. The once in a blue moon transfer between Barcelona and Real Madrid is shocking, not the status quo, and that helps the football to continue to be so competitive at the top. The desire to take the best players off of your rivals is understandable, but what does it say for the Bundesliga? Why can’t the second best team in the country keep the interests of their players from the best side? It is not as if the players that are pushing for the move from Dortmund to Munich can say they want to win a Bundesliga, there is nothing to say that Borussia Dortmund can’t win it next year. Perhaps it is about potential European success. Whatever it is, it is imperative that something happens in Germany to address the balance and avoid Bayern dominance.

Although it is closer this season, Bayern won the Bundesliga by 10 points in 2014/15 and 19 points in 2013/14. Those sort of landslide victories do not make for a healthy competition, nor do they keep people interested in German domestic football. The health of the national team is not in question, but the more that the league slides towards one-team dominance, the weaker the national team will become. Mats Hummels’ transfer to Bayern Munich – should it go through – could be the start of a worrying period for the Bundesliga.

Modern day football is a business as much as it is entertainment. Businesses need competition and sport needs there to be a sense of unpredictability to keep the fans intrigued. Bayern Munich’s tactic of picking the best from their rivals, albeit sensible, is at risk of decimating the interest around the league. If Bayern continue to waltz to league title after league title the fans will quickly look elsewhere. It could even be as simple as finding a way for the other clubs to become more attractive. It is hard to understand, other than the reputation of Bayern, why a move from Dortmund to Munich makes a huge amount of sense from a footballing perspective right now. Although Ancelotti is a magnificent manager, the change coming at Bayern brings with it question marks around their 2016/17 campaign whilst Dortmund look set to compete at the pinnacle of European football once more.

About the author- Sam Cox

Sam is a writer who is a regular with Football FanCast and has featured on uMAXit, Collossus bets and Late Tackle.

twitter: @10InTheHole



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Mahmoud Dahoud made his debut for Borussia Mönchengladbach on 28 August 2014, aged 18, in a 7-0 win against FK Sarajevo during a Europa League play-off fixture. However, his Bundesliga debut didn’t come until April 2015 when he came off the bench against Borussia Dortmund.

Dahoud had long been talked about as one of the next big things in German football even before he made his debut for Gladbach, but the Syrian-born German was virtually unknown by many until this season.

Affectionately known as “Mo” by his team-mates, he has gone from strength-to-strength since making his first league start against FC Köln on 19 September 2015 and has since become a regular.

Having a technically gifted box-to-box midfielder on Soccer Manager can help you win games!

The box-to-box midfielder has put in eye-catching displays against both Eintracht Frankfurt and league leaders Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, and he has also played with confidence against Juventus and Manchester City in the Champions League.

With 4 goals and 8 assists so far this season, on paper, his stats look very impressive, but they only paint part of the picture. Dahoud is technically brilliant and dictates play from deep in a similar style to that of Andrea Pirlo.

He plays with confidence, and he is always looking to receive possession. He possesses an amazing range of passing and can split open a defence with a killer pass. He’s an intelligent player that reads the game well, and he knows when to play short passes or play longer balls to set Gladbach up for a counter-attack.

His defensive work is also excellent as he is clinical in the tackle. He has a great positional sense and despite his slender frame, he manages to block multiple opponents.

Dahoud is quickly developing into the complete box-to-box midfielder and has been rumoured to replace İlkay Gündoğan at Borussia Dortmund. He has also caught the eye of Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola, who has identified him as his first Manchester City signing, but they also face competition from city rivals Manchester United and title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur.

Earlier in the year, Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl stated: “Dahoud is not for sale. We are a hungry club, and we need every good player.” However, a significant offer from England might persuade Eberl to change his mind, and if that happened then, the Premier League would be blessed with one of Europe’s best up-and-coming box-to-box midfielders next season.



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It has been a quarter of a century since a Serbian footballer last played for Bayern Munich.

It was in 1989 when former Yugoslav international Radmilo Mihajlovic moved from Dinamo Zagreb to West Germany where he signed for the Bavarian giants. Mihajlovic amassed 34 league appearances and scored 4 goals for Bayern Munich, before he was transferred to Schalke 04 a year later.

From Branko Oblak to Robert Kovac, Hasan Salihamidzic, Ivica Olic and most recently Mario Mandzukic, Bayern Munich have had their fair share of Balkan talent over the course of last thirty years.

It wasn’t until 2015, however, that Serbia have had their representative in the squad of Germany’s greatest football club.

Milos Pantovic was born in Munich in 1996 to parents from Arilje, a small town in Central Serbia and the 19-year-old forward was never too shy when it came to speaking proudly of his Serbian origin.

“I love Arilje. I use every moment of spare time to visit Serbia and my parents’ home town. I really enjoy every time I go there”, said Milos Pantovic.

This young Serbian starlet is a proper utility player, who can operate in a number of positions.

Naturally a right winger, the 19-year-old is often deployed as right midfielder and attacking midfielder, but can also successfully fill in the forward position.

Bayern Munich have invested a great deal in this player, who has been with the Bavarians since his tender age of nine, when he joined the Bayern Munich Junior Team.

Renowned for their committed and dedicated work with young players, Bayern Munich have seen plenty of talent coming through their ranks, but not as many as they would have liked it in most recent years. David Alaba is the latest academy pearl to overcome the challenges and succeed as professional footballer in this great club, and one of Guardiola’s main tasks in Bayern was to ensure that the club took a huge step towards asserting their dominance through youth levels.

Milos Pantovic, along with his teammate Joshua Kimmich, looks set to live up to the expectations following his impressive performances in Bayern’s reserve team this season. The total of 17 games in Regionalliga Bayern, five goals, two assists to his name and 956 minutes of action were more than enough to catch the eye of Pep Guardiola, whose call came as a just reward for this young man’s efforts.

Guardiola is one of the best managers in the world. I am grateful that he recognized my hard work in the youth team”, enthused the youngster.

Pantovic’s excitement was obvious after he was granted his first minutes in Bundesliga, against Werder Bremen in October.

Young winger was introduced in the dying moments of the game, coming on for Arturo Vidal. He wasn’t expected to make an impression in little time he was granted from the Bayern boss, but he was meant to recognize the intention.

As an unlikely name to come up through the ranks and to prominence, Pantovic was thus given a clear message from Guardiola, who appreciates his dedication and commitment. Couple of minutes in the game against Werder and 90 minutes on the bench against Hertha Berlin last weekend will serve as the precious experience for this young lad, as the motivation to push him further on and make him an inspiration to young players around him upon his return to reserve team.

Much to surprise of the European public and football fans around the globe, one person was also astonished to see a Serbian name donning the Bayern shirt and coming on for great Arturo Vidal – the Serbian Under-21 coach Tomislav Sivic.

Funny, border-line embarrassing story.

Day after Pantovic’s season debut for Bayern, Serbia Under-21 national coach Tomislav Sivic publicly expressed his astonishment over finding out that there was a Serbian player in Bayern Munich.

“I was completely shocked to see a Serbian coming on for Bayern”, he said.

“I called the FA immediately and got some more information about him. I will watch him next week and then we will know if he could help us in the following qualifying games against Italy and Slovenia”, Sivic reported before the last international break, much to the amazement of the Serbian football community, which was, on its own part, also shocked to have a coach ignorant of this huge potential plying his trade in one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Luckily, Milos Pantovic is no stranger to the Serbian national team.

The Serbian FA keep a close watch on the lad, who was first introduced in the Under-16 set-up by Veljko Paunovic as the 12-year-old.

Despite being born in Germany, Pantovic had never had any doubts about his choices.

“My parents are from Serbia. Germany never contacted me, but even if they did Serbia is my first choice. I was first called to join the team and meet up with the national squad when I was 12, but later on no one called me for various reasons. Since 2007, however, the FA has been following my progress in Bayern”, he said earlier in November.

Tomislav Sivic kept his word and went to Germany to pick up on Milos Pantovic.

The talented striker was consequently handed his Serbia Under-21 debut on 17th November in a 2-0 loss at the hands of Slovenia away. Pantovic had been previously called by Serbia Under-19 coach Ivan Tomic for the international friendly against Croatia, but was not given a chance to feature.

However, there is no doubt that Bayern debut has put much limelight upon this youngster who is projected for a successful career.

Balkan raw talent and German work ethics are enough of the guarantees that he will succeed.

About the author – Miloš Markovic

Sports journalist from Serbia, Editor in Cheif at and contributor to FutbolgradLive. Worked with Inforstrada and FIFA covering Serbia’s international games during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

twitter: @milosemarkovicu


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Thiago Alcântara fidgets uncomfortably in his chair.

It’s late March 2015 and there’s a camera in the young man’s face. It’s been a long time since Thiago played football, which means it’s been a long time since he last spoke to a lens; the unfamiliar experience of the interview is probably slightly uncomfortable for him. When he was playing regularly – well over a year ago now – encounters like this were second nature.

He’s agonisingly close to a return. The thought causes his composure to crack and a characteristic grin darts across his face for a split-second.

Physically, Thiago is changed from the man who signed for Bayern Munich in 2013. The midfielder now has an ugly scar painted on this inside of his leg for his troubles, and he’ll probably never be as agile as he was before the injury.

But it’s on an emotional level that Thiago has been impacted most; so much so that he’s organised for a documentary to be put together using video clips of his long & arduous recovery.

That’s what he’s shooting for now, sat relaxedly in a chair against a red backdrop with a camera in his face. At a prompt, he begins to speak in his native Spanish.

“Since my birth, everything was football, football, football,” he says. “I wanted to live my life, and that was football.”

“What I want is to be the best at what I set my mind to.”

At 24, he’s not far off.

Fast forward to now and Thiago is back – sort of.

The short documentary he filmed in March – which can be viewed on Thiago’s official facebook page – is a montage of clips of the player undergoing grueling physio sessions whilst a tone-setting Florence & The Machine track warbles on in the background. It might seem a little cheesy; it might seem a little clichéd. It was a film made to showcase Thiago’s emotional strength and willpower, and it does the intended job well.

But behind all the editing and the emotive music, the film leaves you with an overwhelming sense that this is a young man on the rise.

Just as difficulty shapes us as human beings, adversary defines football players. At the age of 24, Thiago Alcântara has faced more battles than most professional athletes do in their entire careers. It may prove to be his greatest strength.

Thiago suffered damage to the ligaments in his knee in March of 2014. What was initially meant to be a six-month recovery spiralled out of control and several serious setbacks meant that he didn’t return to action until April of the following year. It was a long and painful lay-off: he missed Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga title win. More significantly, he missed the World Cup with Spain, of which he almost certainly would have played a part. At the time of writing, he’s injured again; though this time, he’s ensured his fans, he’s unlikely to miss more than a few weeks.

Bayern manager Pep Guardiola will be hoping his crowning jewel is not struck with any more setbacks.

Even in a team stuffed to bursting with world-class players there is a sense that Thiago is the premium midfielder amongst the Bayern Munich squad. No one is a better age – Arturo Vidal is nearing his thirties, Gianluca Gaudino & Joshua Kimmich are still in the infancy of their careers – and had he not missed an entire year with injury Thiago would surely now be at the peak of his powers.

Despite the layoff, maybe he still is.

What we saw from the young Spaniard in his brief return was staggering. He is of the rare breed of player who can effortlessly control the sway of a game, dancing around the pitch like the conductor of some great orchestra. The score goes where Thiago says, the tempo of the music ebbing and flowing with each sweep of his magical right foot. He sees things other players simply can’t, passes that hardly seem to exist; then executes said passes with a nonchalant swagger. In his brief injury-free stretch this season we have witnessed the young midfielder take myriad teams apart with ease – including Arsenal, which he did with aplomb. It’s staggering to think that he’s been out for so long. It’s numbing to think that there could be more to come.

It was at the Under-21 European Championships in 2013 that Thiago truly announced his obvious intentions to steal Europe’s midfield crown. He was blindingly good; directing Spain’s swift and elegant attacks as they took apart everyone they faced. The captains armband seemed to glow around his bicep. He was the best player in the best team.

He was, in every sense, the ultimate Barcelona midfielder.

Why Barcelona failed to see that keeping Thiago Alcântara was akin to buying the best young midfielder in Europe may remain a mystery to all but those involved in letting him go.

Tito Vilanova’s reluctance to hand the Spaniard enough starts in his final season at the club – meaning that his release clause fell from $90million to $25million – cost Barça their most precocious midfield talent and the natural successor to Xavi Hernandez.

To be fair to Barça, they are doing okay without Thiago.

The fact remains, though, that he would still improve their first eleven. The idea that this Barcelona side could be improved at all might seem difficult to comprehend right now (as they systematically tear apart every defence unfortunate enough to stray into their path), but if there is one player who could take their midfield up a level it would probably be Thiago. Is he better than Sergi Roberto or his brother Rafinha? Without a doubt. Is he better than Ivan Rakitic or Arda Turan? Probably, yeah.

Thiago is a perfect blend of the two players that best represented what Pep Guardiola cultivated at the club. If you could take the mind of Xavi Hernandez, the feet of Andres Iniesta and build the perfect footballer, I think the outcome would look a lot like him.

It’s easy to see, then, why Guardiola moved quickest in securing Thiago when he hit the market in the summer of 2013. The player got to return to the man who had guided him from the depths of Barça’s La Masia academy to the first team; whilst the manager got to work with the young, talented embodiment of his ideals. It was an ideal fit.

The master and protégé relationship between the pair extends far beyond the football pitch, too. They share an agent; Pep’s brother Pere.

Pep Guardiola has won the Champions League twice. He’s won the league in Spain on three occasions and in Germany on two. He’s built the best Barcelona side – arguably the best football side – to ever grace the planet. And yet, there’s this odd idea that won’t go away: that Thiago Alcântara might be his best achievement yet.

It’s an odd concept that seems to pale in comparison to the honours that Guardiola’s teams have won, I admit. But what could possibly be more romantic as a coach than instilling in a player the entirety of your ideals? To watch an embodiment of everything you have advocated in football stride around the pitch, playing the game with your mind? To guide that player from obscurity to world-class? Little, I imagine.

There is a sense of destiny about Pep Guardiola & Thiago Alcântara. Everything has fallen into place for these two maestros, past and present, to shape the future of football together.

Of course, there are rumours of Guardiola moving on from Bayern in the very near future, and it’s highly unlikely the German side will make the same mistake as Barça and let their precocious midfield talent leave with their manager. The pair could go their separate ways very soon.

But the fact remains that for the rest of his career Thiago will fly Pep Guardiola’s flag. With every cushioned pass, every twitch of his head he writes the ode of Pep’s legacy. Guardiola has built the best team in the world; there is every chance that we will soon be able to say that he has built the best midfielder, too.

If, of course, Thiago can stay fit.

The fact that his knee injury is a recurring problem is worrying. The history books are littered with young players whose limitless potential was dampened by fitness issues that they never shook off. The idea that Thiago may never be able to ditch the injuries is a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.

There is hope yet, though. What Thiago’s slightly ego-heavy documentary shows is that this is a young man with a network of loving people behind him; his wife, his mother and his father Mazinho all feature, as does his talented brother Rafinha, still at Barça.

More than that, though, the film demonstrates that Thiago is a man who is not content to simply fail.

“What I want is to be the best at what I set my mind to,” he says. At the moment, his mind is quite clearly set on being the best midfielder in Europe. Right now he probably isn’t. By the end of the year – by the end of the rapidly approaching European Championship’s in France – he may well be.

And so we come full circle.

It’s been easy to forget Thiago Alcântara over the past year. His injury has meant focus has shifted to players like Paul Pogba, Mateo Kovacic & Marco Veratti – perhaps fairly, as they are all supremely talented players in their own right.

But I think Thiago is better.

With time, guidance from Guardiola and a starring role in Spain’s rapidly evolving midfield he has all the tools to make this season the best of his career. When he returns to action in December it’s crucial he picks up where he left off, because the likes of Veratti & Pogba need to be reeled in. But he can do it.

What he wants is to be the best, and he will be.

About the author – Tom Curren

Writer & freelancer. Author & editor of, a website dedicated to comprehensively profiling those whom the mainstream football media might miss.

twitter: @twcurren


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A quarter of the way through the 2015/16 Bundesliga season, the destination of the title already looks to have been decided. Bayern Munich’s 1-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Saturday afternoon was their ninth in nine top-flight encounters – another Bundesliga record set by the Bavarians – with Pep Guardiola’s outfit already seven points clear of closest challengers Borussia Dortmund. The team that has won the last three German championships by margins of 10, 19 and 25 points look to have wrapped up another crown in mid-October.

It is an incredible spell of dominance that does not look like ending any time soon. The Bundesliga, which remains one of Europe’s most competitive divisions from second place downwards, has become monopolised by Bayern, whose combination of status and financial might dwarfs all of their domestic rivals.

The gap between the league leaders and Dortmund was showcased in the pair’s meeting before the international break: Bayern ran out 5-1 winners at the Allianz Arena, simply proving too strong for Thomas Tuchel’s charges, who themselves had begun the campaign extremely well.

Bayern took the lead in the 26th minute through Thomas Muller, who soon added a second from the penalty spot. BVB threatened a comeback with an immediate response from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Bayern found another gear after the break, a brace from Robert Lewandowski and strike from Mario Gotze sealing an emphatic triumph.

It was a similar story in the weekend’s clash with Werder, even if the narrow scoreline suggested a closely-fought encounter. Muller’s winning goal was the 29th Guardiola’s men have scored this term; with just five conceded, Bayern have an extraordinary goal difference of 25 after nine matches.

There is a debate to be had about whether Bayern’s imperiousness is a positive or negative thing for the Bundesliga. The 25-time German champions’ strength has allowed them to assemble a squad of truly world-class talent – from

between the sticks, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba in the backline, Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal in midfield, Arjen Robben on the flanks and Lewandowski and Muller up top – that can compete with anything the rest of Europe has to offer.

Sport, though, is about competition; as German football writer Raphael Honigstein noted recently, the sheer brilliance of many of the side’s performances may attract overseas interest in the league, but the lack of a genuine title race at the top is likely to eventually lead to those viewers switching off. While Bayern’s quality will always make them worth watching, many consumers are likely to prefer watching games involving the likes of Barcelona or Manchester City if the points at stake are likely to be pivotal to their chances of finishing the season top of the pile.

The issue could accelerate calls for a European superleague involving the continent’s biggest clubs, something that many believe is bound to happen at some point in the coming decades. If Bayern – and, indeed, the rest of the Bundesliga – no longer believe the current arrangement is working for them, it is not too difficult to foresee a situation whereby they push for more regular games against other elite outfits.

For now, the Champions League probably sates that desire; if Bayern continue to dominate German football for years to come, however, a breaking point may not be too far away.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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The dust has settled and FC Bayern Munich are the clear and deserved winner of the German Klassiker. While Bayern fans and players are ecstatic about Sunday’s 5-1 win over their closest rival, the large majority of German football fans lament the possibility of another boring title race in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Of course Bayern players have little worry about the feelings of the fans of the other 17 clubs in the Bundesliga, and as it is often the case in this day and age many Bayern players tweeted and facebooked pictures from their dressing room celebrations.

One such tweet, however, could now have a major consequence for Jerome Boateng, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago, and Douglas Costa. The tweet was posted by Jerome Boateng (@JB17Official), and Arturo Vidal (@kingarturo23) to 3.5 million followers and shows the above mentioned players holding towards the camera the very boots that they used to dismantle Borussia Dortmund just moments ago.

The first impression is that this is a spontaneous moment of joy over having beaten their once closest rival in the title race. On second glance it becomes apparent that this picture is part of a guerrilla advertisement campaign by Nike—Vidal’s tweet simply read Nike!!! (see here).

The problem with both Boateng’s and Vidal’s tweet, however, is the fact that Bayern is not only sponsored by Adidas, but that Adidas is also a share holder at FC Bayern Munich—the company holds 10% of Bayern’s shares.

Even though Nike is the largest sporting goods company in the world, Adidas has been dominant in football, where the German company holds the exclusive sponsorship rights to the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA European Championships, and Champions League. Furthermore, by signing deals with Manchester United and Juventus Turin, Adidas has recently managed to snap up two major equipment deals from Nike. In Germany—other than Bayern—Adidas also sponsors the Bundesliga and the German national team, meaning that Adidas is firmly rooted in Europe’s biggest economy. Hence, Nike has resorted to so-called guerrilla marketing when it comes to placing their brand at Bayern.

When Bayern signed Mario Götze, who is also sponsored by Nike, from Borussia Dortmund for £31.5 million in 2013 the player showed up to his official presentation at his new club wearing a white shirt with a big Nike slogan on it. Adidas protested, and both the club and Mario Götze had to officially apologize, and pay a fine—for which Nike probably handsomely compensated him. As for Nike, the whole affair became an even bigger marketing gag as the news of Götze sporting the Nike swoosh at the Adidas clubs travelled around the world, and made notable headlines in all major newspapers in Europe.

Now it appears that Nike has once again managed to usurp Adidas’ sponsoring supremacy at Bayern. Despite the fact that the five players wore their Adidas clothing while showing their shoes to the camera—although in Vidal’s case it was nothing more than a towel—the guerrilla marketing will have some consequences as the five players will most likely get a costly reminder after the national team break on how to celebrate without plugging Nike in the dressing room after a match. Especially given the fact that the five accidentally also managed to include Bayern’s CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the photo as he entered the dressing room just as the photo was taken. He will likely not be amused to explain his shareholders once again how Nike is able to continue its guerrilla war at Germany’s largest club.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at

twitter: @homosovieticus


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Sunday’s German Klassiker—or German Clasico if you want to follow the silly trend of the German media to use the Spanish term—between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund has dominated the football media in Germany this week. In fact, you could almost forget that both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had other important European games this weekend.

Bayern Munich played Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday in what would be the continuation of Robert Lewandowski’s goal scoring show as he scored three goals in Munich’s 5-0 win over the Croatians—Lewandowski has now scored ten goals in 8 days (five against Wolfsburg, two against FSV Mainz, and three against Zagreb).

Lewandowski has been instrumental for Bayern’s recent run of good form, and the importance of the Polish striker was especially evident against VfL Wolfsburg and Mainz. Bayern’s first half against Wolfsburg was especially disappointing, and Wolfsburg could have easily been up by two points going into the break, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola added Lewandowski at half time after which Bayern quickly dismantled the Volkswagen club. Bayern’s first half against Mainz appeared equally lethargic, and it was not until Lewandowski’s goal in the 51st minute that Bayern woke up, and quickly tallied up another two goals for a final score 3-0.

Meanwhile in Dortmund the recent euphoria has been dampened as Borussia dropped points against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Darmstadt 98 in the last two games. Borussia’s results in fact have meant that many journalists in Germany already fear that Bayern could once again dominate the league, and easily win the title. Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung for example already declared Sunday’s encounter as the final for the German championship as a Bayern victory would see the Bavarians seven points ahead of Borussia.

It seems premature to declare the eighth round of the Bundesliga as the decisive round in the race for the German championship, and with 26 games remaining after this Sunday’s Klassiker, a Bayern victory would indeed not herald the traditional championship parade to Munich’s city hall.

Despite their first two slipups since Thomas Tuchel took over as a coach, Borussia will provide a strong challenge for Bayern at the Allianz Arena on Sunday—Tuchel now holds the starting record of any coach in Borussia history with five wins and two ties in the first seven matches. Furthermore, Dortmund easily dominated both games against Hoffenheim and Darmstadt, and under normal circumstances should have won either match easily.

Also Borussia Dortmund have their own goal scoring sensation in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Before the season kicked off Aubameyang promised that he would score 20 goals this season, he currently sits second in the goal scoring chart behind Lewandowski (ten goals) with nine goals in eight matches—his current pace means that he will easily surpass his promise of 20 goals.

Despite Aubameyang’s goal scoring progress, and Thomas Tuchel’s start record, the mood appeared sober in Dortmund. Hummels openly criticized the fact that Dortmund’s play was not clever enough to defeat Darmstadt on Sunday. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that while both Dortmund and Bayern appear on the same level, Bayern still has that cleverness ahead of Borussia. Had Bayern been in the same situation as Dortmund they would have played on to add a third goal and put the game to rest—the Sueddeutsche Zeitung argued.

Indeed the Sueddeutsche Zeitung has a point. Last season for example Bayern had a perfect record against teams from the lower end of the table. In fact it was that perfect record that secured the Bavarians the championship as Bayern had a poor record against the top four in the Bundesliga. In the six games against Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and Borussia Mönchengladbach last season Bayern only managed two wins, one tie, and lost three with a goal differential of 4:9—making them last in that mini-table, in what is a wonderful argument against Premier League fans who believe that the Bundesliga is not competitive. Furthermore, Bayern also lost last year’s DFB-Pokal (German Cup) semi-final to Borussia Dortmund.

With Bayern’s recent fantastic form, and Borussia Dortmund appearing once again as the closest challenger to Bayern’s hegemony Sunday’s Klassiker should be one of the best, and is certainly a must watch for football fans around the world.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at

twitter: @homosovieticus


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