Germany did not get anywhere near the credit they deserved given that it was probably their weakest squad for years

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The Independent Online
With the year drawing to a close, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the year's major football event. Everyone, it seems, has had their say on England's performance but, in all the fuss over the achievement of Terry Venables' team in so narrowly failing to reach the final, what about the winners?

To my mind Germany did not get anywhere near the credit they deserved, given the fact that it was probably the weakest squad they have produced for years. Added to which, Berti Vogts, the German coach, had to carry a horrendous injury crisis even before they arrived here.

Yes, Euro 96 was a great spectacle, and our boys did superbly, but just as all the flag-waving was finished and Trafalgar Square eventually emptied, so the old Lufthansa Tri-star was once again touching down with the spoils safely locked aboard.

Nevertheless, lucky or not, the Germans did it again. As Gary Player said: "The more I practise the luckier I get.'' And from all I hear, they do love to practice. Obviously you can't believe everything you hear, but on this occasion my source is impeccable.

Colin Bell - not he of Maine Road fame - was an apprentice and then a professional footballer who never quite made the grade at Leicester City. In 1982, when he was 21 and anxious to play football anywhere, he was released on a free transfer.

Anywhere just happened to be Germany and he eventually finished up at Koblenz, who were then a lower division outfit. Eight years on and all of 30 years old, he became player-manager at Koblenz. Since then he has taken them through the lower leagues to the German Second Division and established himself as one of the brightest young managers working there.

In the eight years in question he has also had to get himself qualified to work as a manager. What is the alternative to qualification in Germany? There isn't one, unless you are Kaiser Franz. Apparently Beckenbauer's honorary exception was enthusiastically greeted by German coaches. They reckoned he still had to get results and, they argue, he did: he went on and won the World Cup. Colin Bell would argue that the management and coaching system helped him and helped the players to pocket yet another World Cup trophy.

"Teutonic thoroughness'' is no cliche as far as aspiring managers are concerned. The "B" licence involves a three-week course and allows you to coach up to the German Fourth Division. Acquiring an "A" licence takes a little longer; mind you it does entitle you to manage up to the lofty heights of the Zweite Liga (Second Division), provided you have had at least two years' practical experience after acquiring your "B" licence.

Then comes the "biggie'', the manager's licence. This must come at the end of a course lasting at least 10 or 12 weeks, mustn't it? Brace yourselves: to earn the licence you must complete a seven-month full-time course at the Sports University in Cologne. Students are allowed back to their clubs at weekends and there is also a seven-week attachment to a Bundesliga club.

But does it all matter, all this theory and education? Historical facts are not theory, they argue. Germany are the most successful international country in Europe, if not the world.

All of which is very different to our so-called "professionalism". Germany recognises the absolute vital necessity to get it right between the ages of eight and 21. If we are to capitalise on the current boom here, then we must do likewise. Anybody can learn to coach, but coaching of our most valuable assets should not be available to just anybody. We wouldn't let it happen at school, would we?

Is there a secret to Germany's success? Is it a mystery known only to them? Have the Norwegians and the Dutch infiltrated and nicked information they shouldn't be privy to?

Apparently not. The German football nation, perhaps the German sporting nation, has a "coaching mentality'', and that by definition means a practising mentality. Excellence is a fact not a figment of misguided thinking.

The bigger the club, the more coaches they employ. Bayern Munich, for instance, would seek to employ more manager's licence holders than anyone else. They want their players at all ages and all levels to have the best available. Players from Kinder to Klinsmann view coaches as professionals due professional respect. As a percentage of the population, Germany has probably double the amount of players registered that we have. The clubs are the focal point of learning and teaching.

Colin Bell is convinced the key factor in Germany's continued success is the quality and thoroughness of the coaches privileged to work under licence. The players get the best coaches and the best practice, and they reckon the more they practise the luckier they get. That's their story, anyway, and they are sticking to it.