German newspaper <World Online> series
<The School Life Of The German National Team Players>
Part 7 - Neuer “unimpressive”, Oezil “slightly autistic”
Original Article in German 2012.5.30
This spacecraft for football sits less than 200 meters away on a small hill in royal blue and white. The reflective glasses of Schalke Arena sparkle in the sunlight.
Down here, on the delicate wooden chair in Room 219 of the comprehensive Berger Field School in Gelsenkirchen. The colossus at the back succumbs for a brief moment to explain the entire career of two world stars. With this motivation at your doorstep, you have to work hard…
A few years ago, Manuel Neuer and Mesut Oezil were sitting in these chairs. During class time, the expression in their eyes directed obliquely towards the board, or furtively towards outside. The two national players grew up here almost in the shadow of Schalke Arena. With this ever-present reminder right there in the back, they are trying to accomplish that one day.
View of the Park Stadium
Has it already served as motivation for their career? In summer, when you visit the school of Schalke, which is one of the best teams in European, you could almost run up with their own school team.
On the way to school, while crossing numerous parking lots in Gelsenkirchen, Alder District, and Adenauerallee, one feeling has already creeped that you are already on the club grounds at FC Schalke 04, and somehow that’s not the wrong feeling. On Bundesliga matchdays, the fans of the club park here, while on weekdays the 118 teachers of the comprehensive school park here.
The school shows up suddenly, as if from nowhere. Gently and flatly, it ducks into the green surroundings, as if to hide in the shadows of the big neighbors. Further to the right, you can see that the old Park Stadium locates behind the training center which is in the middle of the school building.
Is this school affiliated to Schalke? “We are an ordinary school with a strong football profile. It is now very successful, and we are proud of it. But God knows we are not all about football,” says the principal George Altenkamp (64).
Anyway, this is how the school sees it to present themselves. Once inside, we now sit at a large round table in an old campus office with the headmaster, the sports coordinator, Mesut Oezil’s class teacher, Manuel Neuer’s class teacher, who is also the coordinator of the football training, and two former classmates as well.
Everyone is familiar from the inside out that the “elite school of football” is deeply rooted in the school’s running system. Since the school established its present campus in 1974, it has been in a close relationship with the club for more than 20 years, yet without a binding contract.
“In 2000, Helmut Schulte, who is the sporting director of Schalke’s youth section, came to us and said, ‘Man, we are neighbors and do not worry,’” recalls football coordinator Arthur Preuss.
The immediate proximity leads to the success of cooperation: since then, 137 students have experenced the program of “football school of Schalke”. They are trained three times a week in the morning on the premises of the club, and receive tutoring in the afternoon, and mentors’ reviews are released.
The students are gathered in the so-called sports classes, where they are taught together among ordinary students - with certain privileges.
Neither stars nor fans
“This integration is the core of our work,” says Altenkamp. The school does not want a cult, they are neither stars nor fans. Those football players among the students are now prohibited to run in club Schalke’s clothes on the school grounds. “That was a long process,” says Preuss.
But through the years of work, we are now at a point where we would keep the envy factor of classmates within limits - and also the attitudes of the players towards stars. The list of graduates is as long as prominent: Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Hoewedes, Julian Draxler, Joel Matip, Alexander Baumjohann. ” 39 students have made the leap into the professional football career,” says Preuss.
Mesut Oezil is also one of them, perhaps the most successful one. Through various associations in Gelsenkirchen, he made his way into Rot-Weiss Essen in 2000. During the same year, he also comes to the Berger Field school and is a student of Christian Krabbe.
“A little bit autistic”
The 46-year-old teacher has been Oezil’s class teacher for six years. And now Oezil is one of the stars in Real Madrid. Krabbe knows him as much as his own son. “We had been together for such a long time , almost like a family. We got along very well beyond the school time,” he says. He keeps this Turkish immigrants’ son on mind as a modest, introverted student. He is slender, and almost delicate.
As for Jochen Herrmannm, Oezil is even “a bit autistic.” The 50-year-old is the sports coordinator for the school, responsible for the exchange of players between schools and clubs. “Mesut wants to play football, and the rest does not attract him. He wants fun with the ball. I always had the feeling that he went to bed in the evening with the ball.”
When in the 5th Grade, they play against the 8th Grade, Mesut danced on the field from all others. “When he stood alone in front of the goalkeeper, he has not pushed in and turned jubilant, but played acrossed him. Mesut was not noticed by many goals, but actually because we won the game with him,” recalls Krabbe.
Discovered at the school
Oezil starts at smaller clubs, but he is long for the big clubs. Although the chief scout of Schalke sees defensive weaknesses in him, but he also sees the athletics in him that others lack. The former teammate in the school team initially tells the coach Herrmann behind closed doors what they want from Oezil.
“At that time they were playing in the 3rd league and he came and asked me how I’ve thought about that since then. It was clear that there was also been luck and chance in it, but as a discovery from the school, we could already attach him to that level.”
Krabbe often gets the question whether he was proud of the fact that he has once taught Mesut Oezil, he says: “We are proud that he has remained down to earth, that’s key point.”
Humbleness and Earthiness
The school emphasizes a “whole person education” approach, which is to provide students with modesty and practicality. You are nothing special, just a man with a talent which a player is given along the way, says Krabbe. And the association holds on to it.
“We can say this very often that they are to remain down to earth. Even if any spinners say you’re a superstar and here’s the key to your new car, we would still run faster with our flat feet.”
Herrmann thinks Oezil is a follower and does not interested in taking vocation. Only after he moves to Schalke 04 in 2005 and celebrates the German A-junior championship in 2006, “he has got a tail wind.”
Oezil needs trust
He left the school after tenth grade to a middle school and celebrates his Bundesliga debut for Schalke a few weeks later at the age of 17. Then he joins Werder Bremen, and after World Cup 2010, he moves to Madrid.
At Real, Oezil has coach Jose Mourinho who stands wholeheartedly behind him. “He gives him the confidence that is important for him. Mesut needs someone to signal: You can grab it!” Says Herrmann.
Marvin Pachan, who has spent considerable time with Mesut, thinks that Mesut is much more talented. This muscular 22-year-old is in the same class with Mesut during 9th and 10th grade. They attends sports training and Berger Field’s courses together.
“Of course it was stressful and highly organized from morning till night, but one could imagine nothing better,” says Pachan today. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, students gathered in the morning for a two-session training in addition to that in the Arena. Before and after the training there are regular classes.
In the afternoon the players get homework assistance, and additional pedagogical-psychological counseling. And four nights a week, they watch the team training. “Mesut has been able to predict game situations before they ever occurred. He can read the game like no one else. He has earned his success. We have all granted this to him,” says the 22-year-old Pachan.
For him, the prosperity lasts only briefly. Although he gets his first contract in 2009 with Schalke 04 under Felix Magath, but will soon be relegated to the second team and now plays in the fifth division.
Concept of “dual career”
From the perspective of Arthur Preuss, Pachan is the best example of how the school with the concept of “dual career (football and study)” moves right. “Even if there is no injury, football players can still get back to other business and the career would work out as they hope. Of course that must be a terrible idea if someone gives up his business at 30 years old and believes that professional football bubble is real life. Players who cook only in football career, dry up eventually. “
Manuel Neuer struggles his football career and school study for several years. The completion of study has benefited the now 26-year-old a lot for his professional football career.
In 2000, he moved from a school in Gelsenkirchen-Buer to the Berger Field boarding school, which as a newly funded school, keeps football as its “trial balloons”. Preuss recalled: “Manuel’s school career would have been normally terminated with the average maturity, but through our communication, we provided him with more usable education.”
In the integrated sports class where Neuer is, “he was a completely normal student. You would not recognize him in the classroom,” recalls his teacher. He is never unpleasant, never lazy, and initially unimpressive, because physically he’s not so great.
“Manuel had the rogue in the neck. He was a little rascal, and he knew how to celebrate.” When the school team is in the national final of “Youth Training Camp for the Olympics” against Berlin Poelchau High School where Boateng-brothers play, Neuer catches three shots during penalty shoot, leads the team into the closing ceremony afterwards and tells jokes on stage. In 2006 he graduates from the technical college.
And today? A “Kids Foundation” has been established in Manuel Neuer’s own name. This foundation aims at helping disadvantaged children in the Ruhr area. He financed a fruit basket for the first big class break every day for all five classes.
“You can say that Manuel earns enough now, but he doesn’t need to do it, and he does it anyway.” says Christian Krabbe.
Through this foundation where lies the heart of Neuer, he gives back some of what the school had offered him. The fantastic views of the mighty arena in the back was certainly a motivation to help.