Knappenschmiede – it’s not just the name of Schalke’s youth academy; it is a seal of quality in German football. It is there that talents are moulded, prepared for professional football and forged into FC Schalke 04 players.
As I began to discuss in the opening post, FC Schalke 04 are well known for the talent factory that is their Knappenschmiede academy. In this post we will dive a little deeper into how it all works, not only in real life but how I plan to implement these methods within a Football Manager save. All of this information is readily available on the club website and if you interests you in the slightest then I urge you to go and check it out in full for yourself. The Academy model can be broken down into three major sections; Vision, Mission and the Development Model. I have summarised these categories below.
“The Knappenschmiede academy aims to consistently help young footballing talents to make the transition from youth football to the Schalke first team.”
The club is highly committed to making sure that their players – and especially their young players – have the best possible opporutnity to suceed. The aim of the Knappenschmiede academy is to effectively prepare every player for the next level of competition they are playing at, with the the hope that by the end of the next season as many players as possible are ready to take the step up to the next team in the academy. Aside from playing league game at their age level, all youth teams take part in regular friendly matches against competition from other countries.
In order to bring academy players closer to the first team, around the time of the UEFA Youth League the U19s will travel internationally with the senior side should they be playing in the Champions League that season. The academy players will travel on the same plane and for the most part stay in the same hotel as the senior players. This side will often play in a curtain-raiser style of game against the youth side of the oppposition team.
In order to maintain the vision of the Academy in game we will;
1. Schedule friendlies against international competition for both the U19 and B Team alongside their respective league fixtures,
2. Include players from the U19 side to train with the first team via the “units” tab in the training screen,
3. At the end of each season, analyse and promote capable players from their respective youth sides up in to the next age group,
U19 => B team
B team => Senior team
This will be analysed each season until the player is too old for his respective age grade, at this point if he is still not ready then his contract will be terminated at the end of the current season.
“A history spanning more than 110 years, almost 150,000 club members, numerous unforgettable sporting achievements, famous players who have been or still are active for the club – that tradition is what the whole club is bound to. And that includes the highest possible commitment to the development of youth players. The overarching aim is to be a people’s club that has community as its core. The Knappenschmiede academy and all of its players, staff members and teams are commited to this aim, which helps FC Schalke 04 to be as relatable as possible to its fans and members.”
The Academy’s ultimate goal is to develop, young talented footballers so that they are able to play at the highest possible levels. The academy functions as the internal breeding ground for the professional section of the club and ensures that the first team is strengthened by the best young talents year in, year out. This development is not only in terms of their sporting ability, but aims to bring this together with their academic education and growth as a person. Particularly talented players are brought up to the next age group earlier than normal to ensure that they are always being challenged to get better. As a result, talented players are able to to prove themselves at the regional/U23 level but the time they reach the U19 age group at the latest. It is the only way to prepare young, gifted players for the professional game.
In order to maintain this section of the Mission in game we will;
1. Promote an U19 or B player as soon as he reaches a two star current ability, this is where they will be deemed as ‘particularly talented’ and as such will be moved up a team. Should this lead to a player joining the 1st Team they will begin to be mentored by a member of the 1st team who has a desired personality in a position that suitably matches. The youth player will continue to be made available for their youth side unless they make the matchday squad for the 1st team.
There is also a very specific structure and recruitment model that helps to maintain the quality of player progressing through the levels of the academy and maintain the mission statement of Knappenschmiede. At the U9 to U12 level of the academy Schalke bring in a large range of players from the local Gelsenkirchen area. The idea of this is to avoid a high amount of turnover at this level, in order to develop the players within the Schalke framework in a long-term and sustainable manner. When a player reaches the U16 level the performance analysis and a more detailed selection process begins. External recruitment also begins here, specifically in the Westphalia and North-Rhein areas. However, the majority of U16 team will still be made up of players that have already come through the younger age groups of the Knappenschmiede academy. At U17 and U19 level, the aim is to only sign players that are Germany youth internationals. If it makes sense and is the best option for the academy, however, an exception can be made for players from the immediate area to be brought in.
In order to maintain the recruitment section of the Mission in game we will;
1. Treat our annual youth intakes as the U16 level where ‘detailed selection’ begins,
2. Allow recruitment to the U19 team to extent to players from bordering nations. This includes; Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands,
3. We’ll allow Liechtenstein despite it not sharing a direct border with Germany. Geographically it is wedged between Austria and Switzerland but German is listed as their official language,
4. An exception will also be made for Russia, China and Turkey (Zenit, Hebei China Fortune and Tepecik Belediyespor respectively.) This is due to FC Schalke having an affiliation with those particular clubs in game,
5. Any non German player who is recruited to the U19 team must be under the age of 18 to allow for naturalisation and earning the all important HGC icon. At the very least they must qualify as HGN.
Moving onto the requirements of coaches in the academy. Every coach in the Knappenschmiede academy is to help further the development of the age group they are working with. In order to do so, they should have the best possible qualifications at their disposal and also be prepared to integrate new methods and philosophies to their style of coaching. At the higher levels of the academy Schalke ideally employs coaches who were formerly professionals themselves. Former professional footballers also serve to function as role models that the team can look up to. They have a wealth of invaluable experience in all facessts of the professional sport which they can relay to their players.
In order to maintain the coaching requirements of the Mission in game we will;
1. Only hire staff to our U19 squad who meet these conditions;
a. Hold a minimum of a Continental A License,
b. Have at least 10 in the adaptability attribute,
c. Have at least 15 in the Working With Youngsters attribute.
2. Only hire staff to our B Team who meet these conditions;
a. Must be an ex Footballer or be promoted from the U19 staff,
b. Hold a minimum of a Continental A License,
c. Have at least 15 in the adaptability attribute,
c. Have at least 15 in the Working With Youngsters attribute.
Due to restrictions with age groups available in game we come in at the U17 level which will be represented by the annual youth intakes.
The Step from the U15 regional league to the U17 Bundesliga is a big one, because this transition marks the beginning of competitive football. At this point, the emphasis in training is shifted from a technical standpoint to a tactical one. The aim is to prepare as many players as possible from the U15s to the U17s so that they are able to take the step up to the next age group. Thereafter, playing in the U19 Bundesliga aims to get the players ready for the professional game on a technical, but above all tactical level. Complex team tactics take precedence.
Schalke’s U23/B Team serves as the final stage of the development model. It is the link between the U19s and the 1st team. Players that feature in the B Team are prepared so that they are ready for call up to the first team. At the least, training and games should be reflective of professional football. A further purpose of the B Team is to give 1st team players some game time. Exceptional players from the U19s are also allowed to participate in B Team or 1st team training, this also applies to B Team players training with the 1st team. The club will maintain a player database which is where training records of each player is kept as to ensure players are not overworked and allow for seamless transistion between the training groups.
In order to maintain the Development Model in game we will;
1. Create and maintain a spreadsheet for each squad at the club; 1st, B Team and U19s,
2. Only train specific attributes at an U19 level,
c. Train players at a B Team level in their specified role,
4. The B Team training schedule will mirror the 1st Team in terms of modules used ,
5. Release or move on players who don’t fit a desired tactical role by the time they reach B Team status.
Transitioning to the 1st Team…
Every season, the Knappenschmiede academy successfully sees talented young footballers make the transition to the FC Schalke 04 first team. And its work is nowhere near done, with more players following in the footsteps of previous Knappenschmiede products every year. I used this graphic in the first post of this series but here it is again, granted its from 2018 but this is the squad that Bundesliga.com listed as the best XI of former Knappenschmiede academy graduates. In all fairness this doesn’t quite do justice in summing up just how brilliant this academy has been over the years considering all the other players out there who have graduated via “The Forge”.
Once again, if you have made it this far then I graciously thank you for your time in reading. Please don’t be afraid to leave any feedback whether it good or bad, I’m looking to improve with each and every piece that I post. You can either leave it here or you can find me on twitter @Chris_ANZFM
In the next post we will take a look at the personnel available to us and how they will all fit into my plans going forward. We might even begin promoting some of the youth players through the teams. Sounds like its about time I fired up the spreadsheets!
Until then though, Auf Wiedersehen