Written by Simon Austin — August 6, 2022
IN March this year, the German Football Federation (DFB) announced a revolution in the way the country’s Under-11s would play and train.
No more conventional 7 versus 7; there were small-scale matches, four goals, and shooting zones. The emphasis was on fun and a player-centric approach, with adults being banned from supporting roles.
The DFB issued press releases and leaflets detailing the changes, but two key figures were conspicuous by their absence. The first was the late Horst Weinwho had created the concept of Funino (fun + child, in Spanish), on which the new German game formats were based.
The other was Professor Matthias Lochmannwho had provided a scientific basis for Funino and lobbied for the DFB to adopt the concept for the past seven years.
Lochmann will be the keynote speaker at the TGG Youth Development Conference in Manchester on September 20, outlining the changes in foundation formats in Germany and the reasons behind them.
He was a player at SV Darmstadt in Germany’s second tier in the late 1980s before moving into coaching, starting as U15 frontman at Mainz when Jurgen Klopp was a senior player and future manager there.
Professor Matthias Lochmann will be the keynote speaker at our youth development conference in Manchester on September 20th. We have a fantastic list of speakers including: Alex Inglethorpe (Liverpool Academy Director), Gregg Broughton (Blackburn Director of Football), Charlotte Healy (Man Utd Women’s Academy Manager), Iain Brunnschweiler (Head of Southampton Technical Development).
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A watershed moment came when he watched a presentation by Wein, the former international hockey player and coach turned football missionary of sorts. Wein’s Funino concept has been called “street football for the 21st century” and involved small-scale matches, four goals instead of two, and small pitches.
What Lochmann liked was the fact that Funino not only involved more playing time and touches – “reducing the size of teams gives more touches on the ball, it’s not rocket science” – but also intelligence. Game.
“An intelligent player goes through four phases,” he explains. “You have to observe the environment first. Then you understand what is going on. Then you make a decision. Then you execute. Most training drills focus only on execution, but to have game intelligence, you must pass all four.
“Funino addresses all of these areas and I thought, ‘What will happen if we do this for three or four years with the younger players? We will have players with very good technique who are able to make the right decisions. “”
Then life took over, as it so often does. Lochmann obtained a professorship in the Department of Sports Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, where he still works today, and also started a family. His football coaching took a back seat for a time, although his passion for Funino was rekindled when he started coaching his son’s football team in 2015.
“My son was five or six years old and we started with our team in the official league, 7 against 7,” recalls Lochmann. “It was a big mistake, because the kids weren’t getting a lot of contact and, even worse, they were sitting on the bench and not even playing. Often they cried or ate sweets.
“I knew that if we didn’t change, we were going to lose more and more children to the game. We already had an increase in dropout rates for children aged seven, eight, nine and 10 in Germany.”
In England, we often think of Germany as the powerhouse of European football, with their four World Cup trophies and three European Championships, but Lochmann sees it differently.
“Germany has more than 80 million inhabitants,” he says. “Belgium (11.5m) has a smaller population than the state of Bavaria (13m) but much better efficiency in producing world class players. You have to wonder why and I think it comes down to the way children play the game from an early age.
“In the forefront of my mind were Horst Wein and Funino. I knew we needed a revolution.
Lochmann took the team out of the league and they started playing small-scale Funino-based games instead.
“We now had three mini-courts in the same area that we had used for 7v7 before and were able to involve everything children. They all had more ball touches, they all scored goals, they all developed their technique and they all developed their decision-making. And, more importantly, they all loved playing football.”
There were tweaks to Funino, with a shooting zone introduced where players had to be inside to score. And there was a “self-passing rule” to replace throw-ins, allowing players to pass or dribble downfield from the sidelines. All this helped to develop the intelligence of the game even more.
“Players have two attractors – the ball and the goal,” says Lochmann. “If you use the two conventional goals, the players always go down the middle and not to the sides of the field. With two goals to shoot, they use the full width and have an extra layer of decision-making.
“The shooting zone creates more touches and culture of play. You can enter the shooting zone by passing or dribbling, so we see more decision-making and problem-solving. With the self-passing rule , there is a degree of freedom. If your team “-Buddy is free, then pass to him. Otherwise, you can dribble. This rule was put in place in hockey 20 years ago and now there is even discussion about its implementation in adult football.”
Building on the success of the new format, Lochmann decided to publicize Funino. Former SV Darmstadt team-mate Ulf Schott was now director at the DFB (and later became head of high performance programs at Fifa). Lochmann went to see him to present his findings.
“Ulf was impressed and said, ‘How can we implement this in Germany?’ I said, ‘Let’s do a pilot league.’ So we started in Erlangen, then we went to Munich, Hanover, Hamburg.
As a sports scholar and scientist as well as a coach, Lochmann was eager to gather data and video to back up his belief in Funino.
“We started a scientific study in 2015 and analyzed the number of touches on the ball, the number of ones against ones, the number of shots and dribbles.heart rate and GPS,” he recalls. “The new approach had advantages over the traditional one in every aspect. You could see it with your own eyes, but science has backed it up.
Still, there was resistance to change within the DFB and the wider game.
“Within the federation there are two factions – the sporting side and the administrators. The administrators said, “We have a good system, why change? I was outside, so I wasn’t afraid to tell them why.
“If you want to innovate, you have to be honest and not play tactical games, although innovators are often not embraced or involved.”
Fortunately, there have been some big breakthroughs.
One came when Lochmann presented his findings to a cohort of Pro licenses, including Damir Dugandzic, who was coordinator at the DFB and future technical manager of the DFB’s talent development programme.
“Damir asked me if I could meet a small group of members of a football association and demonstrate theory and practice,” Lochmann recalled. “We showed them the research results and we also showed them on the pitch, with young players, to compare the old and the new system. They clearly saw the difference.”
The biggest turning point of all came in August 2018, when Lochmann was invited to give the opening speech at the DFB International Coaches Congress in Dresden. You can watch a video of the presentation below.
The backdrop was Germany’s humiliating exit in the first round of the 2018 World Cup, as the country’s U17s finished bottom of Torneio Internacional in Portugal days earlier.
Suddenly there was an awareness at the DFB that changes had be made.
“There were 1,200 coaches from all over the world in the Congress and some of the most experienced people in the DFB were on the top two rows,” Lochmann recalls.
One of them was Hansi Flick, who had been assistant manager of the German national team from 2006 to 2014 and sporting director of the DFB from 2014 to 2017.
“When I finished my presentation, Hansi came straight up to me and said, ‘We have to implement this in Germany.'”
After that, things moved pretty quickly. The DFB introduced a two-year pilot of the new formats across the 21 regional associations and in March it was announced that they would become mandatory from the start of the 2024/25 season.
Lochmann is proud of his contribution, although he insists most of the credit should go to Wein, who died in 2016.
“I took things from Horst and added scientific value, but the central idea came from him. He was the pioneer.