BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, March 30, 2011
While Americans have generally not found much success at the coaching levels in Europe, earlier this month Borussia Dortmund announced that the club's U-23 team would be coached by former US international David Wagner.
Wagner, 39, is coming off of coaching the previous two seasons with Hoffenheim's Under-17 and Under-19 teams, but beginning this summer he will take charge of the top developmental youth team for the current runaway Bundesliga leaders.
"For the Under-23 team one of the most important things for this team is to prepare these young players so that they can play for the first team in the Bundesliga," Wagner told YA from Germany. "That is the most important thing for me to do now. I am very happy with my new job."
The German-born Wagner was awarded a three-year contract for the job earlier this month in large part because he has a coaching style that is similar to Dortmund's current head coach Jurgen Klopp and the two will be working very closely in the years ahead as Wagner takes the lead developing players for Klopp's team.
"My coaching style is very similar to Jurgen's," Wagner discussed. "That is one of the reasons why Dortmund chose me for the U-23 team. In the details, Klopp and I prefer the game on the ball. We like to play very quick and get the ball forward."
Wagner is part of a new generation of younger German coaches that has broken away from the past methods of youth development and focused a different approach. He is very excited to be part of change.
"The German Federation changed the point of working with younger players about ten years ago," Wagner said. "The last two years, I worked with the U-17 and U-19 teams at Hoffenheim. It is very exciting. There I saw how to give young players a chance and to get them ready to play at a high level quicker."
The changes that have been underway within Germany have been extensive not just to the national teams, but also to the internal structure within clubs at both the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga levels. They have been very specific and focus on the requirements of coaching in Germany and what is needed at the different stages at youth development. Wagner is very happy with the results so far.
"The first point is that coaches get a better education," Wagner explained. "The second point is that all the German Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga teams have to build up youth academies. In these academies the coaches have to have professional coaches for players [eight and under] and they have to work with the kids all day."
"The third point is that each club has to develop a relationship with a school so the kids are able to practice in the morning and in the afternoon," he continued. "The final point is that they build up a youth Bundesliga, a U-19 Bundesliga, and a U-17 Bundesliga so the kids have to play games at a higher level at 17,18, and 19 years old. These important points have helped to produce so many high potential players over the last 10 years."
The first point of making sure the coaches receive a better education has been very important for Wagner. After finishing his playing career in 2005 with Germania Pfungstadt, he went to school to study sports science and biology to help lay the building blocks for his coaching career.
"After I finished playing, I studied sports science and biology and I finished it in 2007 and I use that in coaching a lot," Wagner pointed out. "All the things a fitness coach or trainer will tell me, I can speak with them on a same level. I also finished in 2007 the highest FIFA coaching license. These were the best things for me that have allowed me to become a coach and move step by step to a high level."
Wagner's rise in the coaching ranks in Germany is part of a career path he knew he wanted when he was still early his playing days when he would often view the game from intellectually curious perspective.
"When I was 25, I began to think about what I wanted to do after playing," Wagner recalled. "I don't think I was such an easy player to coach because I often asked the coach why I had to do certain things. Back then I would always think about what types of training would produce what kind of effects. In my mind, I wanted to be a coach early."
Wagner was born in Frankfurt and was the son of a German mother and an American father who was in the US military stationed in Germany. Shortly after he was born, Wagner went to live in the United States but after three years, he returned to Germany permanently.
It wasn't until late August, 1996 at a time when Wagner was playing for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga that he would return to the United States after he received a surprise call from US national team head coach Steve Sampson to play in a friendly against El Salvador.
Wagner's career with the US national team was short lived. He earned a total of eight caps between 1996 and 1998 with four appearances coming in World Cup qualifiers. Despite the limited appearances for the US team, they were experiences he still treasures.
"I enjoyed my time with the national team totally," Wagner said proudly. "It was really something special for me. There were great players in Eric Wynalda, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones, Ernie Stewart along with both our goalkeepers in Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller."
"For me it was difficult because the step from Europe to the national team was not so easy because it was clear who the [top] players were going to be," he added. "There was a hierarchy. It was tough for me to get the position from Eric Wynalda and Joe-Max Moore. They had like 100 caps!"
While not being a part of soccer in the United States, Wagner still occasionally checks in to follow the sport's continued growth in the country he represented as a player. During his time in recent years working with younger players, he has been impressed with the mental approach the game that American players have demonstrated.
"In my opinion, and I am very far away from the American players but I know some when I scouted them, the best thing about American players is the mentality," Wagner opined. "This is often a key as to why American players are looked at as interesting. It's actually not such a big step between American young players and German young players, but the level does need to be higher in the United States from the ages of 10 to 16."
Of course the game is now different in the United States than it was when Wagner played. The MLS is far more sophisticated with more teams, a reserve league, better scouting. Wagner hopes that the MLS either develops or imports experienced coaches with different styles to the game.
"Each MLS coach needs to work in his own style because each [approach to the game] can be successful," Wagner asserted. "Here in Germany each coach has his own style. Felix Magath has his own style and he is very successful while Jurgen Klopp is a totally different type of coach and is successful too. Each American coach needs to find his own style and develop it."
One such team that has impressed Wagner has been the New York Red Bulls who have spent a fortune to bring a European approach to the game. In addition to spending money for top players and a state of the art stadium, the organization has brought in European coaches and has taken significant steps to develop youth talent in the New York area.
"I am interested in the Red Bulls in New York and their approach," Wagner expressed. "I follow them on the internet. It looks similar to what we did in Hoffenheim. They have the idea to get titles and they try to get coaches with good soccer ideas."
As to what he sees in the future for American soccer, Wagner is hopeful that the soccer can continue progress but he does feel that the USSF and MLS must be open to new ideas and also be patient for the changes to take place.
"I hope they will get to the next step," Wagner divulged. "For me it's not easy to say something about this because I am so far away from it, but I am not sure how open US Soccer is to getting some new ideas and input from outside."
Wagner also admits that a German approach similar to that which has been done in the past ten years could also yield positive results.
"I am happy Jurgen Klinsmann is getting a part in Toronto," Wagner concluded. "This is an example of a team getting some ideas from Europe and maybe that will help MLS then US Soccer. I am sure he has very good ideas and some of his ideas are still used [by Germany and] Bayern Munich. The problem in soccer is that often you don't have enough time to build up your ideas."