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The Academy Series | 10 best Schalke products: Neuer, Draxler, and Lehmann feature

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.

We carry on the series by taking a look at some products of the prolific Schalke academy.


The Schalke youth academy or “Schalker Knappenschmeide” as it’s known in Germany today was founded in 1998, but the development programme of the academy was formed back in 1991. The academy didn’t have the easiest of trips to get to where it is today with the U16 team being abolished for a few years as the club went under a large revamp to improve the youth structures. The academy is now divided into two divisions U9 to U15 and U16 to U23.

Ozil Neuer Schalke 2015

The Knappenschmeide breaks down each group and a special training plan is given to the coaches so they can accomplish the training and education of the group they currently are working with. The earliest stage of the academy starts with the U9’s to U11’s who are trained the technical basics. Then if the players progress to the U12’s to U15’s they are trained in more advanced technical areas. The players that make it to the U17 level start to learn the tactical side of the game. The final stage of the academy is the U23 level, this is where the players are polished to become professionals and are slowly integrated into the first team. This system has developed Schalke into one of the best academies in Europe and is one of the few academies in the continent with state-of-the-art facilities.


Note that these are professional footballers whom have played in or after 2000.


Considered as one of the best goalkeepers of all time and an innovator with his “sweeper keeper” style, Manuel Neuer is the first name on the team sheet at Bayern Munich and probably the goalkeeper the vast majority of football fans would put in their World XI. Neuer started his career back in 1991 when he joined the Schalke academy around the age of five. He signed his first professional contract with the club in 2005 after progressing through the academy. He made his Bundesliga debut on the 19th of August 2006 when he replaced the injured Frank Rost. After impressing in goal, Neuer kept his place in the starting team and went on to make 203 appearances for the club before moving to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich on the 1st of June 2011. He has so far won three Bundesliga titles, one Champions League and one Club World Cup with Bayern. In 2014, Neuer went on to win the World Cup with Germany and also managed to finish third in Ballon d’Or behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the success accurately backed by Bet365 Bonus.


Known for his fantastic assist record on top of his incredible passing and ability to create space, Mesut Özil is one of the world’s most talented attacking midfielders. Özil first started out playing for various youth clubs in the Gelsenkirchen area before joining the Schalke academy in 2005. He first started out in a deeper midfield role and then eventually into his playmaking number 10 role. He decided to move to Werder Bremen in January 2008 and after his magnificent performances at the 2010 World Cup, Europe’s leading clubs began chasing him with the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal among them, but it was Real Madrid who managed to get his signature. He finished his first season at the club with 25 assists, more than any other player in Europe that season. In his time at Madrid, Özil won one La Liga, one Copa dey Rel and one Supercopa de España. In his final season at the club, Özil had 26 assists to his name and was once again leading the chart in Europe. He moved to Arsenal on 2nd of September 2013, breaking their transfer record fee and making him the most expensive German player of all time. In his first season, he helped Arsenal to win the FA Cup ending their nine-year trophy drought. He was also a starter for the 2014 World Cup winning Germany team and played in all seven games.


World Cup winner Benedikt Höwedes joined the Schalke academy in 2001 and in two years he became the captain of the U19’s as they won the U19 Bundesliga. In 2007, Höwedes signed his first professional contract with Schalke and joined the first team squad in the summer of the same year. He made his debut for the club on the 3rd of October 2007 against Rosenborg BK in a Champions League fixture. Höwedes became the captain of Schalke in 2011 and has so far won the DFB-Pokal once and the DFL-Supercup once with the club. Höwedes was one of three Germans that played every minute of the 2014 World Cup victory.


Benedikt Höwedes’ centre back partner is also a Schalke academy graduate. Joël Matip joined the Schalke academy in 2000 from VfL Bochum. He made his Bundesliga debut against Bayern Munich on the 7th of November 2009 and he was awarded Man of the Match after his fine display. On the 23rd of December 2009, Matip was called up to the Cameroon national side for the 2010 African Cup of Nations, but he decided to decline as he was not yet ready to decide if he should represent Cameroon or Germany. On the 2nd of March 2010, Matip decided he would represent Cameroon and he made his debut the next day in a friendly against Italy. He has now established himself as one of the most reliable defenders in the Bundesliga and is still only 24.


Julian Draxler is the fourth player on the list to have come through the Schalke academy and to have won the 2014 World Cup. Draxler joined the academy in 2001 where he was normally played as an attacking midfielder. He made his Bundesliga debut 10 years later on the 15th of January 2011 against Hamburg and at the time he was the fourth youngest player ever to feature in a Bundesliga game. At the end of the season, Draxler won the DFB-Pokal and DFL-Supercup with Schalke. On the 31st of August 2015 Draxler moved to Wolfsburg on a five-year deal just three days after Schalke lost 3-0 to Wolfsburg.


Nicknamed “The Professor” Olaf Thon lives and breathes football. He was part of the famous 1990 World Cup-winning Germany team. He joined the Schalke academy in 1980 and three years later when he was just 17 he made his debut for the club. He helped the club return to the Bundesliga in 1984 as he scored 14 goals in 38 games. He moved to Bayern Munich during the summer of 1988 where he won the Bundesliga three times and also the World Cup in the summer of 1990. Thon moved back to Schalke in 1994 and won the UEFA Cup in 1997 against Internazionale plus the DFB-Pokal twice in 2001 and 2002 before he decided it was time to retire.


The current Schalke number one joined the youth academy in 2003, he made his debut for the first team on the 13th of September 2008 against rivals Borussia Dortmund and three days later he made his European debut against APOEL in the UEFA Cup. Ralf Fährmann decided to leave Schalke in 2009 to join Eintracht Frankfurt, two years later and after Schalke sold Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich, Fährmann rejoined the club. He won the 2011 DFL-Supercup after saving two penalties in the shootout. At the start, Fährmann was second choice behind Timo Hildebrand, but after the goalkeeper got injured and Fährmann was given a run of games he managed to hold and cement his spot as the first choice goalkeeper.


Spending three years at the academy before making his debut for the club, Sebastain Boenisch is a versatile defender who usually plays left-back, but can play anywhere across the back four. He joined the Schalke academy in 2003 when he was 16, three years later he made his debut for the club against Bayer Leverkusen. After being frustrated by the lack of football he decided to leave the club and join Werder Bremen where he would be joined by Mesut Özil a few months later. After five years at the club, Boenisch moved to Leverkusen despite having a trial with English side Stoke City and playing in a pre-season game for them. His move to Leverkusen caused controversy as he was expected to sign for Fortuna Düsseldorf and was accused of being a spy when the two clubs met.


Sead Kolašinac joined the Schalke academy from Stuttgart in 2011, he was promoted to the reserve team a year later. Impressing as a fullback it only took Kolašinac seven games in the reserves to earn a first team call up. On the 15th of October 2012, Kolašinac made his debut against Greuther Fürth in a 2-0 victory. After he signed a new contract with the club in 2013, Kolašinac unfortunately tore his cruciate ligament and was out injured for six months. Despite representing Germany at youth level, Kolašinac decided to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina at senior level and he made his debut for the country in a friendly against Argentina on 19th of November 2013. He was called up to the Bosnia and Herzegovina squad for the nation’s first ever appearance at a World Cup in 2014.


Signing for the Schalke academy in 1987, Jens Lehmann made his debut for the senior team shortly after. The start of his time at Schalke was shaky and many fans were unconvinced by his talent, but after a couple of seasons of maturing and improving Lehmann finally won the affection of the Schalke fans. After 10 years at the club and winning the UEFA cup in 1997, Lehmann decided to leave and join Serie A club A.C. Milan. Failing to impress in Italy, Lehmann moved back to Germany a season later, but this time he decided to sign for Schalke’s fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund, frustrating the Schalke faithful.

Despite winning the Bundesliga in 2002, disappointing performances from Lehmann a season later led to his departure in 2003 where he would sign for Arsenal. In his first season at the club, Lehmann made history as Arsenal became the first English side to go unbeaten in the league as they won the Premier League in 2004. Lehmann then signed for Stuttgart in 2008 before announcing that he will retire at the end of the 09/10 season. He did come out of retirement for a brief time as Arsenal had an injury crisis in goal and were forced to sign him on a short-term deal. Lehmann won many club trophies in his career, but he also won individual awards like UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year and UEFA Club Football Awards Best Goalkeeper.


Schalke’s production line keeps on producing the top talent with Leroy Sané and Max Meyer as possibly two of the biggest upcoming stars in German football. The former is grabbing the headlines this season with his match winning performances and goals. Sané is capable of playing on the wings or behind the striker. He started the season as a substitute after being promoted to the first team permanently, but he has now has established himself as one of the most influential attackers in the team.

Max Meyer is an attacking midfielder that joined the academy back in 2009. He made his debut for the club on the 9th of February 2013 as he replaced Raffael. Meyer took over the vacant number 7 shirt for the 13/14 season after Raúl left the club in 2012, he has now settled in as a first team player and has been likened to Mario Götze due to his dribbling ability and technique.

Another player that has made some noise in the Schalke academy is Donis Avdijaj. The young forward is yet to make an appearance for the first team, but he has been setting the youth league alight with his goalscoring record. This convinced Schalke enough into offering the youngster a new contract with a staggering €49 million release clause. The attacker is known for his low centre of gravity, pace and composure in the final third. Avdijaj has been loaned out to Austrian side SK Sturm Graz on an 18-month deal to gain first team experience and to mature as a player.

Written by Alex Smith

Alex Smith

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