Bayer 04 Leverkusen has a strong record of producing top talent with Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz being amongst the most recent success stories. In this article, learn about how technology fits into the club’s approach to talent development.

For a while, Germany has been famous for its well-structured football youth development system. The story of the German Football Federation (DFB) revitalizing youth football after the failure of the national team at Euro 2000 is well known. 

The cornerstone of the DFB’s talent development program were competence centres set up around the country. This allowed young talented footballers playing for local village clubs to get access to the DFB’s qualified coaching one day a week. Eventually,  this new approach benefited not only the national team, as documented by their World Cup success, but also the wider German Football ecosystem. 

Current Chelsea midfielder Kai Havertz in Bayer Leverkusen colors - a product of the Leverkusen academy. (Image rights: Bayer 04 Leverkusen).

One of the clubs that has been a great platform for emerging talent is Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In the recent past, the club has had the likes of Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal, Kevin Kampl, Christoph Kramer and Benjamin Henrichs spending developmental years in Leverkusen. 

In the last couple of seasons, impressive German youth international Florian Wirtz has made his first team debut at age 17, and the record  fee paid by Chelsea for Kai Havertz is indicative of the strength of this academy system to produce international-class talent.

One of the key pillars of Leverkusen’s talent development philosophy is an intelligent upbringing, explained Gilbert Gorges, the Head of Match Analysis Academy at the club. “We don’t tell the players what they exactly have to do in each situation on the pitch, because there are too many in football, but encourage them to come up with their own answers,” said Gorges. “I think this approach is more beneficial as it develops a knowledgeable and independent player. You cannot predict all the situations a player comes across during the game, but you can provide them with tools and knowledge. And then players take responsibility to make decisions on the pitch.”

Bayer 04 Leverkusen's head of academy match analysis, Gilbert Gorges. (Image rights: Bayer 04 Leverkusen).

Leverkusen adopts the same football philosophy and implements the same training methods from the academy all the way through to the first team. The club’s DNA is dominance on the pitch not just with high ball possession but through creation of high quality goal scoring chances. It’s crucial to track the progress of all the youth teams by collecting the data and running reports, according to Gorges. 

That’s when technology comes into the spotlight. “On Hudl Sportscode we have an output window to track the chances created for and against, as well as any other data we need. “Every two or three months we update the coaches with the progress of our style. We go into details like the percentage of chances created on the right wing, in which zone we score or assist the most. We visualize the reports and show them not only to the coaches but to players as well. It helps them to understand our style of play, the game in general and grow their game-intelligence.”

You cannot predict all the situations a player comes across during the game, but you can provide them with tools and knowledge".

This intelligence on and off the pitch is the club’s obsession. Leverkusen aim to make sure each youngster is a well-rounded person and prioritize education. The most famous example is the story of how Kai Havertz missed an important Champions League game against Atletico Madrid back in 2016 as the match coincided with his school exams. 

According to Gorges, this focus on education means that the coaches have to make the most out of their time with players. “Lack of time is a big challenge in youth development. Players are busy studying and we have to plan our activities in terms of coaching and analysis very scrupulously,” he said. 

Already making an impact from his debut as a 17-year-old, Florian Wirtz is the latest talent to come of the Leverkusen production line. (Image rights: Bayer 04 Leverkusen).

Technology really fits into solving these challenges, Gorges goes on. “Players can watch our analysis of the games or their individual performances on their smartphones when they are at home or are driven to school in the mornings. Some players spend around 45 minutes commuting to the training ground, so they use this time to watch instances and become better as a result.” 

Players get a chance to evaluate their performance not just in training but also during the games. Analysts find it beneficial to share key instances with the squad at half time. “We only have a few minutes at half time, so it has to be easy to the players to understand. It helps them understand better what the match analyst or the coach  is saying, to visualize the information. Besides, they can switch their attention after a tense first half. It calms them down,” explained Gorges. 

“Players can watch our analysis of the games or their individual performances on their smartphones when they are at home or are driven to school in the mornings".

After Kai Havertz moved to Chelsea, the conveyor belt of talent at the club has already developed a new rising star, the aforementioned Florian Wirtz. Wirtz joined the Academy in January 2020 and was swiftly called up to the first team, breaking Havertz’s record and becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days. Growing up a short drive from Leverkusen, Wirtz has already made over 30 appearances for the first team only one year after his debut. 

According to Gorges, what makes Florian so special is his courage. “When he joined the club, he played for the U-19 team while he was 16. His first match was with Schalke-04 and he immediately took control on the pitch,” said Gorges. “He always wants to win.”

Undoubtedly, this holistic approach of integrating a unique educational model with modern technologies is what enables Leverkusen to develop world class talent.

You can learn more about how Hudl is powering modern football with Hudl Pro Suite, and did we mention we've also released Studio, our brand new telestration tool which links to Hudl's ecosystem of analysis products. 

Also check out our professional case studies with German Bundlesliga teams - including SC PaderbornBorussia Dortmund, and Monchengladbach.