By Mike Woitalla
Paul Breitner, famous for scoring in two World Cup finals, including in West Germany’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in 1974, is at the NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia as brand ambassador for Bayern Munich, the club with which he won five Bundesliga titles and a European Cup. Last year, Bayern Munich opened a New York office and launched a partnership with Global Premier Soccer (GPS).
SOCCER AMERICA: You have been at an NSCAA Convention before, in Washington, D.C., 1989 …
PAUL BREITNER: I remember. In fact I recently found the notes to my presentation. It was already a big event back then, with 3,000 or 4,000. But my first taste of American soccer came in 1971, when I visited my in-laws in Atlanta and saw that children were playing the USA.
I returned several times, and I’ve continued to try and gather information about American soccer, and to explain why in Germany soccer is so popular, so important, and what is missing in the USA. And relatively little has changed in one key factor: The club culture, the club foundation that is the basis of German soccer.
I live in a small town of 4,000 and we have 32 sports clubs. Thirty-two! They offer soccer, tennis, track and field, swimming …
The clubs enable children to start playing soccer at 4 years old and to continue playing for as long as I live or as long as I want to play.
SA: How much does it cost children to play soccer in club in your town?
PAUL BREITNER: It costs 10 euros. [$12].
SA: It can cost thousands of dollars a year for children to play club soccer in the USA. Why is it so inexpensive in Germany?
PAUL BREITNER: All amateur clubs -- not the pros – receive support from the government so they can pay coaches and the athletes have what they need.
SA: Besides paying coaches, field use is very expensive in the USA …
PAUL BREITNER: That’s not an issue in Germany.
SA: What do you see as the keys to the revival of German soccer, which culminated in last year’s World Cup win?
PAUL BREITNER: We changed our approach. When I played in the 1970s, there was a 50-50 balance between technique and power. Then it became 25-75 technique-power. Everyone recognized we weren’t playing good soccer. We, including the fans, called Rumpelfussball [crude soccer]. So we readjusted that balance.
SA: Have you been involved in youth coaching?
PAUL BREITNER: I wanted to be involved in youth soccer because it has taught me everything: Respect, fairness and partnership. I didn’t want to become a coach, but in my town I supervised three teams, ages 6-18, following these players for years.
Young players need to learn the right technique, ball control, etc., before they’re 12. Training the individual is key.
But they also need free play. They need free play, complemented by correction.
SA: You say you disagree with Alexi Lalas’ recent statement that soccer can learn from American sports …
PAUL BREITNER: Players are too much like automatons in these sports, receiving precise instructions on how to make plays.
In soccer, on defense, there has to be order and structure. But offensively, the players must have freedom to improvise and be creative, because the attack must be unpredictable to be successful.