Club | 02/06/2016

FC youth on the rise

Four for the Future

The 1. FC Köln youth academy is where young players dream of becoming pros. Marcel Hartel and Lukas Kluenter made the breakthrough this past season – Salih Ozcan and Sven Mueller look to follow.

Is that really the number 24? There are 20 minutes left in Hoffenheim, 1. FC Köln has a 1-0 lead, and the reserve players are warming up behind the FC goal as athletic coach Yann-Benjamin Kugel holds up a jersey with Lukas Kluenter’s number on it. “Me? Seriously me?” asks Kluenter in the direction of the coaches. Yes. You. “I was surprised, but it was also a huge boost of confidence that Mr. Stöger wanted to insert me into such a hard-fought match at that point in time.”

They were the first Bundesliga minutes in the young career of Lukas Kluenter, for whom it was a moment in which a dream came true. But often times reality does not play out the same way it does in a dream. In the last minutes of the match, Kluenter sprints with the ball down the opposition touchline. He is then fouled and dispossessed, but no whistle is blown. Hoffenheim then make use of the numbers with Kluenter still on the floor and score the equalizer. It was a painful but important learning experience for the young Kluenter in a world in which every coaching decision and substitution is dissected by the media. “We always monitor the performances in training and our young players have deserved some playing time. They need to adjust to the speed and physicality of the professional level, but they are all willing learners – an important trait for anyone looking to make a positive development,” said FC Head Coach Peter Stöger.


Lukas Kluenter plays as a professional for the first time.

The evidence is right next to Kluenter in the locker room. Timo Horn, Yannick Gerhardt (now at VfL Wolfsburg), and Jonas Hector all made the jump from the youth team to the senior squad. Horn and Gerhardt joined FC as U10 players, while Jonas Hector arrived in order to join the second team (U21). Today Jonas Hector is part of the German national team preparing for Euro 2016 in France. “This shows that we have done a proper job here,” said FC Sports Director Jorg Jakobs. “Young talents can see that they can better themselves in our academy and that they have a realistic shot of making the senior team. We want to continue to strengthen this aspect of our work here.”

The example set by players like Horn, Gerhardt, and Hector works as motivation and spurs the current cream of FC academy players. In addition to Lukas Kluenter, this season had three additional players training with the senior squad: Marcel Hartel, Salih Ozcan, and Sven Mueller. For the current youngsters the path is even harder than the aforementioned Horn or Hector, because at the time 1. FC Köln was still playing in the second division. “The difference between youth football and the Bundesliga is a major one. But all of these youngsters have qualities that can help our team,” said Stöger.


Marcel Hartel marked his debut in the derby against Mönchengladbach.

Marcel Hartel made his debut this past season in the derby away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Since then he has made a total of five Bundesliga appearances and signed his first professional contract with 1. FC Köln. “It was an incredible feeling to be substituted into a Bundesliga match for the very first time,” said Hartel. “I was really nervous at the start, but then I calmed down after the first two contacts with the ball.” Hartel played with flair and confidence, showing that he is an attacking player that savors 1v1 situations and can threaten the opposition goal. On Hartel’s contract extension, Stöger states: “I am convinced that it is the right decision for him to stay here – both for him and for the club.” 

Just like Marcel Hartel, Sven Mueller has been playing for FC since the U8 days. The 20-year-old goalkeeper is a member of the German U20 team and played the first match for his country in a 2-0 win over Poland. “I can learn something new everyday in training. My first opportunity to train with the pros came when I was still with the U17 team. That was the first moment that I realized I was getting closer to my dream,” explains Mueller. He is currently gathering match experience alongside Salih Ozcan in the FC U21 team.


Sven Mueller will be the third-choice goalkeeper for the start of the coming season.

The 18-year-old Salih Ozcan is a well-developed footballer who plays best in a holding midfield role or as a box-to-box player. He has been a part of the 1. FC Köln youth set up since the U10 team and just like Hartel and Mueller he was once part of the youth club known as SC West Köln. “I am very happy that Marcel and Lukas played their first games in the Bundesliga. This motivates me even more to give 100% in training everyday,” said Ozcan, who was part of the Germany team that played in the U17 World Cup in Chile. 

One thing rings true for all young talents: do not assume that you will have a long and successful football career. This is why 1. FC Köln promotes not just the development football, but also the learning of a second trade. Mueller completed his apprenticeship as a clerk at the Kölner Verkehrsbetrieben (Cologne Transport Services), while Ozcan is studying for a technical diploma and Kluenter studies at the German Sports University. 


18-year-old Salih Ozcan has been training with the pros.

The German Sports University and 1. FC Köln have a trusted and effective partnership built on scientific purposes. Since the past season the youth players from U8 to U19 are trusted with the experts of the university dealing with sports psychology and mental training. Jorg Jakobs states: “the sporting development of our youth players remains our core practice. But we are building our youth academy in a way that the pedagogical, psychological, and social aspects have a high level of importance as well.” These are the changes aimed at improving the development of the players and to create a stronger stream of youth players that can make it to the professional level. “To do so we will also have to build the necessary training facilities at Geissbockheim,” states Jakobs. Providing the facilities and the environment for players to succeed is the job of the club. Taking that final step to the pros is up to the players. 

The original text (in German) can be found in Geißbockecho Issue 17 of the 2015/16 season.

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