When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
This part of the series looks at the best players to emerge from the academy at Stuttgart.
The Bundesliga that we see today has evolved into a breeding ground of the highest order for young footballers, a fact proven by Germany’s FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and U-21 Euro victory. The existing pool of talent makes it hard for us to imagine how different and disappointing the situation was two decades ago. As evident from Germany’s squad during late 90’s and early 2000’s, the majority of clubs preferred opting for ageing veterans over competent youngsters.
The first German club which decided to go against the wind was VfB Stuttgart. At the turn of the millennium, increasing debts combined with a series of failed campaigns forced the club to divert their focus from new signings to the promotion and development of academy players. Felix Magath, the then manager of VfB Stuttgart, assembled an exciting youth-oriented side famously called ‘Junge Wilde’ (young and wild). By finishing runners-up in 2002-03 and winning the league title in 2006-07, Stuttgart’s success inspired other sides to follow a similar path. While the club itself hasn’t been able to reach the same heights, it’s youth academy still operates with the same efficiency.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are professional footballers who have played in or after 2000.
TIMO HILDEBRAND // SENIOR DEBUT: 1999
Part of Felix Magath’s ‘Junge Wilde’, Timo Hildebrand joined Stuttgart in 1994 at the age of 15. Making his senior team debut in 1999, Hildebrand was quick to establish himself as a first-team regular. The early 2000s saw him evolve into one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Stuttgart’s runners-up finish in 2002-03 season coincided with Hildebrand being at his prime. Not allowing a goal for a period of 884 minutes, Hildebrand created a new Bundesliga record for the 2003-04 season. He eventually won the Bundesliga title with the next generation of youngsters in 2007. Despite giving world-class performances consistently, stiff competition from Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann allowed Hildebrand to play only a handful of games for the national side. After stints with clubs like 1899 Hoffenheim, Valencia and Schalke among others, he retired from football in 2015.
KEVIN KURANYI // SENIOR DEBUT: 2000
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to a German father and Panamanian mother, Kevin Kuranyi joined VfB Stuttgart in 1997. After making it to the senior team in 2001, Kuranyi played in Stuttgart’s attack for four seasons. He was the top-German goal scorer during the 2002-03 season as the club finished runners-up, his performance working as an entry pass into the national side. Kuranyi had successful spells at Schalke and Dynamo Moscow at a personal level. He represented Die Mannschaft on 52 occasions, scoring 19 goals including a hattrick against Austria. Despite getting alluring offers from China and Qatar, Kuranyi ended his career in 2017 at 1899 Hoffenheim.
MARIO GOMEZ // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
Mario Gomez belongs to a dying breed of strikers who made maximum use of their limited skill-set to stay at the top of footballing charts. He was no Ronaldo or Henry, who could dribble past four players to score a beauty. But his sturdy physique, aerial prowess, finishing ability and intelligent positioning made him a constant threat in opposition’s box. Making his debut for Stuttgart in 2003, Gomez was the nucleus of his team’s 2006-07 Bundesliga victory, winning German Footballer of the Year award in 2007 at the age of 21. In 2009, Bayern Munich signed him for a record transfer fee. Gomez had four eventful years at the club, which included winning the treble in 2013. His partnership with wingers Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben yielded loads of goals for the team as their pace was complimented by his excellent positioning. In the upcoming FIFA World Cup, Gomez’s experience will make him a key player for the defending champions.
SAMI KHEDIRA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2004
With a plethora of talent emerging in Germany’s midfield department in the past decade, the contribution of someone like Sami Khedira often goes unnoticed. A well-rounded player in all departments of the game, his versatility and endless stamina makes him a handy team-player. Joining VfB Stuttgart in 1995, Khedira made his first-team debut in 2006. A formidable display at FIFA World Cup 2010 earned him a move to Real Madrid. Within a short period, the Tunisian descent player became an integral part of the side, driving the whole team forward like an engine. The 2014 World Cup winner currently plies his trade for Italian Champions, Juventus. Sami Khedira has won the league title with every team he has played for, and this includes teams from three different countries.
SEBASTIAN RUDY // SENIOR DEBUT: 2007
Joining VfB Stuttgart at the age of 13, Sebastian Rudy made his senior team debut in the 2008-09 season. In 2010, he was signed by 1899 Hoffenheim, a club he represented in over 200 matches. Rudy captained the club to a fourth-place finish in 2016-17 Bundesliga season. His flawless technique, composure with the ball, exemplary set-piece skills and ability to switch roles as per the game’s demand made him one of the best midfielders in Bundesliga. After winning the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, he joined Bayern Munich on a free transfer. Moulding into the role of Xabi Alonso, Rudy has already proven to be a significant addition to the German side.
BERND LENO // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
Bernd Leno is the only player on this list to never play a single game for VfB Stuttgart’s first team. He spent six years in the youth academy between 2003-2009, after which he joined their reserve side. After a successful loan period, the German goal-keeper was permanently signed by Bayer Leverkusen in 2011. Leno made history by becoming the youngest goalkeeper ever to play in a Champions League match at the age of 19 years and 193 days. With over 250 appearances for Leverkusen, Leno is considered the second-best goalkeeper in Bundesliga after Manuel Neuer.
HOLGER BADSTUBER // SENIOR DEBUT: 2007
Before joining the famed Bayern Munich academy for which he is widely renowned, Holger Badstuber spent two years of his developmental stage in VfB Stuttgart. The promising centre-back was popular for his ability to function as a left-back with equal efficiency is not more. Badstuber made a successful start to his Bayern Munich career, featuring as a regular during first three seasons. He was in the starting eleven during UEFA Champions League Final in 2010. Declining form and injury problems made the rest of his time at Bayern a nightmare. After a loan spell at Schalke, the immensely talented left-footer joined VfB Stuttgart in 2017 in an attempt to revive his career.
ANTONIO RUDIGER // SENIOR DEBUT: 2011
With a German father and Sierra Leonean mother, Antonio Rudiger is a part of an upcoming breed of footballers who possess the German tenacity mixed with a tincture of African flair. A Fritz Walter Medal winner at U19 level, Rudiger made his Bundesliga debut for Stuttgart in January 2012. After three fruitful seasons, he went to Roma on loan, before being signed permanently in 2016. At the Roman side, Rudiger earned the reputation of being a reliable defender with effective ball playing skills. A successful FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 campaign was succeeded by a move to English champions Chelsea, where he continues to make ground.
TIMO WERNER // SENIOR DEBUT: 2013
Timo Werner was a true revelation last season. On 11 June 2016, the VfB Stuttgart academy graduate was signed by Bundesliga debutants RB Leipzig for a club record fee. Fair to say the 20-year-old Werner excelled beyond everyone’s expectations. With 21 goals, he not only ended up being the top-scoring German player in the Bundesliga but also helped RB Leipzig finish runners-up. Scoring three goals during FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, Werner announced his arrival on the international stage. The two times Fritz Walter medal winner has drawn comparisons with legendary marksman Jurgen Klinsmann, thanks to his quick feet and impressive shooting. Heading towards FIFA World Cup 2018, Werner is Die Mannschaft’s first choice striker ahead of fellow academy graduate Mario Gomez. Still just 21-years-old, Timo Werner has the world at his feet.
JOSHUA KIMMICH // SENIOR DEBUT: 2013
Hardly has a German player risen through the ranks in the past couple of years as fast as Joshua Kimmich. Signed by RB Leipzig from VfB youth academy in 2013, Kimmich’s prowess in all departments of the game resulted in a move to Bayern Munich in 2015. Although deemed as a successor of Philipp Lahm, finding differences in their playing style isn’t difficult. For instance, Kimmich tends to lean more towards the attacking part of the game, an observation supported by the fact that he was the leading assist provider in Europe during FIFA World Cup 2018 qualification campaign. At the same time, he also possesses high tactical intelligence and a tenacious attitude, attributes often associated with Philipp Lahm. Despite being just 22-years-old, Kimmich can easily be counted among the best full-backs in world football today.
2017 was quite an eventful year for the German national team. Besides qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2018 with a perfect record, they also won their first FIFA Confederations Cup tournament. For the competition, a relatively inexperienced squad was sent, which had as many as five VfB Stuttgart academy graduates. Roughly coinciding with this was Die Mannschaft’s victory at the U-21 Euro’s. Two key players in this European campaign were former VfB Stuttgart youth players, Serge Gnabry and Jeremy Toljan.
Gnabry, who spent five years of his development period in Stuttgart, was signed by FC Bayern Munich during the summer transfer window this year. Currently, on loan at 1899 Hoffenheim, the German winger amalgamates blistering speed with clinical finishing in front of the net. Jeremy Toljan’s speed, ball-control and inch-perfect crossing helped him make the team of the tournament. The attacking full-back, who assisted the winning goal in the finals, currently plays for Borussia Dortmund.
21-Year old Centre-back Timo Baumgartl made his debut for Stuttgart’s senior team in 2014. He was crucial in their promotion to Bundesliga at the end of 2016-17 season. Alongside being an accomplished tackler, the German youth international also possesses ball-playing skills. Turkish teenager Berkay Ozcan, who made his Bundesliga debut against Mainz 05 this season, has shown massive potential. The attacking midfielder’s ability to deliver critical passes in the final third has earned him comparisons with Mesut Ozil. With interest being shown by some big names, a move away from Stuttgart seems inevitable for the Turkish prodigy.
You can read other articles in the series here
- The Academy Series | 10 Best Stuttgart Products: Gomez, Khedira, And Kimmich Feature - November 8, 2017
- The Academy Series: 10 best Bayern Munich products - September 11, 2017