Jörg Neblung has been a player’s agent for many years, once looked after Robert Enke and has always had numerous goalkeepers in his portfolio. In an interview with SPOX and GOAL, the former rehabilitation and athletics coach from Borussia Mönchengladbach talks about the changed transfer market and explains why it has become more difficult for goalkeepers in particular.
Mr. Neblung, you have been looking after numerous goalkeepers for years and are trying to make the transition from junior to professional with many of them. Why has the goalkeeper market become difficult in the meantime – can this question be answered in isolation?
Joerg Neblung: no In principle, the budgets of the clubs have also shrunk as a result of the corona pandemic. Strikers and top talent are extremely expensive because the imagination of winning inspires the clubs. They want young, resilient players who can increase their market value. Many think you have to do it like Borussia Dortmund.
That would exclude numerous players who are already a bit older.
fogging: Exactly. This ultimately led to an overemphasis on the attribute “young” and is a clear misjudgment of the market. The absolute top talents that clubs like Dortmund, Leipzig or Leverkusen buy cost an outrageous amount of money due to the great competition among themselves. And then the question remains whether they really take the next step.
Broken down to the goalkeepers, does that mean that savings are most likely to be made there?
fogging: Yes. It’s like it used to be at school: whoever is chosen last has to go in the goal! There is still a mentality in the clubs that has not understood the value of goalkeepers.
In what way?
fogging: A good goalkeeper saves you six to nine points in the season, but also gives impetus to the offensive game. Many don’t see that. Mostly it’s the clubs that call for a big, loud goalkeeper. However, this is a merciless disregard for the really important quality attributes of a goalkeeper.
The market for German goalkeepers in particular has shrunk because it has become more and more international over the years. How do you look at it?
fogging: We have a global market for all positions, the way players are viewed has changed tremendously. All European first division clubs work with data software. You enter all the key points of a player that are important for you in a mask, i.e. position, age range, physical characteristics and so on. The system then spits out players from Singapore to Chicago. This selection must then be further selected until, say, ten players remain at the end, who are then viewed via video.
And the domestic market is suffering as a result?
fogging: Yes, because people are no longer looking to see who is on their own doorstep, but around the world. This system has seen emerging talent from SC Freiburg, for example, find themselves in direct competition with players from FC Nantes and Atlanta United. In the past, the scouts and consultants only provided the sports directors with a small number of interesting players, today they receive incredibly large amounts of data from their own data specialists. This is a trend of recent years, but it is becoming more and more extreme and means that more and more international players are taking places from local players.
Neblung in an interview on the 10th anniversary of Robert Enke’s death: “You’re getting old, my dear”
Is German goalkeeper training also weakening?
fogging: Yes. This is because after good training in the junior area and a very good setting within the youth academies, the next level of play is more and more often lost.
Does that mean specifically?
fogging: Too many clubs are deregistering their second teams. This is a huge problem. However, the training takes longer, especially for defenders and goalkeepers, while for keepers it is only completed from the mid to late 20s. Especially a goalkeeper needs match practice. However, the clubs lack the courage to trust young German goalkeepers and put them between the posts. Sometimes we consultants have to take a look at our own noses.
fogging: Because the transfer to a well-paying first division team tends to be realized even though the second division club, which pays less, offers the player regular playing time. It’s a big problem that we now have reserve goalkeepers without exception in the U21 national team – and everyone is partly to blame for that: clubs, players and agents.
What role does the association play?
fogging: If you think about how big the DFB’s catalog of requirements for the youth academies is, what is prescribed there – and as soon as the training is finished, nobody there is interested in what happens after the U19s. That no longer affects the NLZs, the clubs suddenly have to know that for themselves and decide for themselves. That means: Before the flower comes out, you cut off the top of the bud with a rather bloated apparatus. One thing is clear: the step from an average U19 team of a Bundesliga club to its internationally active professional team is simply too big.
While RB Leipzig and VfL Wolfsburg recently canceled their second teams, Eintracht Frankfurt is going the opposite way: there is now such a team there again.
fogging: That’s a very good sign. If I want to keep top talent from the U17 and U19 area, you just have to know that it doesn’t work without a second team – because most of them aren’t Leroy Sané, who once just dribbled his way up at Schalke. It’s even more extreme with the goalkeepers: the last ones to do it were Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno. Everyone else went the way of smaller leagues in the senior area. What most clubs don’t understand is that as a young goalkeeper in that tricky last position on the field, it takes time to pick up the mental and technical skills needed to succeed.
Do you also lack self-confidence?
fogging: The difference to a right-back, for example, is that he can still hide a little behind the central defenders and the goalkeeper. A young goalkeeper sometimes gets that thing through his braces – and then you have to deal with it. But that’s exactly what these guys lack: the experience of having blundered on a bigger stage but still being confident on the pitch next week. That’s missing.