“Off the Pitch with Active” is a program of interviews with people involved in junior sport in some capacity for the benefits of children’s development. I am hoping that these interviews will help parents and players gain more knowledge to help them develop to their best possible potential.
In this program Active Illustrated share experiences and wisdom from ex-players and educators related to the topic of junior sport.
By Ken Willner, Adelaide 5th August 2017
This time I am excited to spend time with André Meyer Director of PM Academy and UNISA Technical Director
André Mayer’s experience is impressive. In this interview you will learn about an ex- professional player from Germany with an academic mind. His professional football career was cut short due to injuries when he was a “breath” away to make it at the highest level in Germany (Bundesliga).
After the end of his playing career in Europe, Australia provided new opportunities for André. I sat down for a coffee with Andre, and he begins talking about the football culture in Europe and comparing it to Australia.
André: Because of the culture in Europe and because it is established in the living philosophy, football is every day. You find most parent coaches have played the game since they were young. They maybe not on a professional level but on a decent amateur level; and the stock is so much stronger than we have in Australia.
The issue we have in Australia is that the sport is very young. The immigrants that came here in the 1950, 1960 and 1970 couldn’t keep their football lifestyle so their kids started to follow footy instead. Through that, the local game was not really developing.
It is more amateurish and we didn’t have that generational build up. For example you can go to Switzerland and see a player in a 7 div amateur team and think “Oh my God he is that good he could play in NPL or state league 1”. And he is a pure amateur, he goes out on a Saturday kicking the ball but he has got a very high level of technical understanding because he has grown up in an environment of football.
You can’t blame anything here in Australia, we just don’t have the culture and generations of football fanatics Europe has. We are a country of grass and parks and we have good facilities but we have grounds where sometimes clubs must share with footy or cricket.
Active: I used to play on sand/gravel when I was a child so it’s not bad here in comparison.
André: The issue is the sharing of facilities, the upgrading and the pure purpose of soccer facilities. Lot of clubs have to leave their grounds for another sport off season.
So, you struggle with this part of it. Football federation itself is growing but this is not always the answer. We are not playing on artificial pitches, we are a grass sport.
As you know in Europe artificial is a must in winter. 1860 Munich for example has an artificial turf at their facilities but always play their game on grass.
Active; So where did you start with soccer as a little boy?
André: I was 4 years old playing with a local junior football club. I stayed there until I was 12.
Active: Where was this?
André: In Dusseldorf and it was just a small local club. From there I got selected into the National selective system. That was a very big thing where they pick players from all over the country. So, I trialled at WEDAU, a famous German sports academy. It is the home of the German National team. I got a 3-year scholarship. I left home and moved 250km away.
Active: How was it leaving home and family at that age?
André: I grew up with 4 brothers and I think they were quite happy to get rid of me [both laughing]. They got more space and one brother took my room. It was not really that far. 250km on autobahn is close and I could see my parents on weekends.
Active: So you basically lived there during the week?
André: Yes I went home sometimes on weekends and my parents could watch my games.
Active: So your schooling and soccer were held on camp?
Active: What sort of coaching did you get there?
André: We had a lot of famous players at that time Uwe Seeler,
Frans Beckenbauer and Berti Vogts. People like that who were involved in the system of mentoring, and lecturing and held training sessions. I met all these people when I was young, it was amazing! So I stayed there until I was 16 years old.
Then I went back home played with a 4th Division club who took me on. This only lasted 6 months as Fortuna Dusseldorf asked me to play in their reserve system.
I was still not driving then and that was a big problem.
Active: Oh yeah! because you must be 18 to have a driver license in Europe.
André: Yes, so it was a bit of an issue for me. I had long train rides every week. It took me 2 ½ hours to get to training from my home.
Active: Was that every day?
André: Yes, every day for little bit over 1 ½ year. I did my homework on the train and came home at 9 to 9.30 every night. So I kept going like that until I got my license at 18. Lucky, I was on a contract at that time as a fringe player. This means I was part of the U18 and reserves system and earned a bit of money which was good. As soon as I got my license I went straight out and bought a BMW.
Active: You must have felt that you had arrived as a pro then?
André: Yes, I thought I had arrived then. And then 6 years later I was still there. It took me a long time to progress. As an under 18 and reserves player it was very, very hard. Very hard to get out of that system at that time.
AI: In what way?
André: Because that was the era of the Klaus & Thomas Allofs brothers, Günter Thiele centre back. Lot of imported players in the first team. I was a left wing back and was quite quick and left footer but that position was held by foreigners. I lived a dream of a professional soccer player. I got paid and it was my job and I did nothing else.
In that period, I had two knee reconstructions. I had two ACL on the same side. Both were impact injuries from slide tackles. At that time slide tackles from behind were very common. Ewald Leinen had that horrific injury on his ham string and that was the era they started clamp down on these tackles.
I was part of that and by the time I was 22-23 I had already had two ACL each of them was 15 to 16 months’ recovery.
Active: During the time when you when you did your first ACL, you were a professional player and young. You must have been mentally challenged to stick to your sport at that level?
André: First time I had a lot of support
AI: From the club?
André: From the club, parents and players. I had a very good rehab program and I came back. They kept me in the club but I basically had to start from zero. I had to start making the team again. I was lucky because the club persisted with me.
Active: Did you get paid during this time?
André: We had a very similar system as Australia with the player association and insurance. That part was very good. But you don’t care about money it was all about playing. No players really care about money. If a player cared about money they would be over 32 and at the end of their career and have to look at the future. But when you are a young player, money is the last thing on your mind.
Yes, so I came back and got myself a spot but then I was again unlucky. It was a friendly, I actually got an opportunity at a camp to play in the first team and I did it again.
Active: Same knee?
André: Yes same, I had another reconstruction. It took me 18 months this time.
Active: Did you have any doubt and think you better quit?
André: I didn’t think that, but my father told me to give it up. “Get a job” he said. I did study and I have a marketing degree which was very important to me to have something to fall back on. But football was always my passion and always on my mind.
So, I came back to Borussia Monchengladbach at that time. Jupp Heynckes was still coaching. I had a trial there and he liked me the first night. He wanted to sign me straight away. I had my speed back I worked very hard but [pause] I didn’t pass the medical.
They said the reoccurring chance of it happening again was too great. I was a wing back so I was involved in tackling and running away from people so they were worried that they would have that burden with me. So, I gave up.
I never made the jump into the Bundesliga. I then started to hire myself out. That’s when I came to Australia.
Active: So how did you come to Australia?
André: My agent at the time in 1992, told me that there is something in Australia. “Austria, I always liked Austria”-I said. He said “no, no, Australia!” WHAT AUSTRALIA! They play footy there. Watching Skippy on TV when growing up, I thought it was like that.
I came over and trialed with West Adelaide first team. It didn’t really work out. I had a couple of training sessions and they liked me but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it from where I came to where I was going. It was nothing against West Adelaide. It was a great club. People were great but it was a bit of a culture shock for me.
I eventually went to West Torrens Birkalla. Con Makris was the coach there. So, I ended up continuing a semi pro career in NPL. I came here as an older player really but I continued playing to my late 30’s.
Then I got an offer in Indonesia to go to Jayapura.
To play in Asian Championship League against Adelaide United. A club from Papua New Guinea with a German coach from the Bundesliga which I knew from my time in Germany. He had been one of the development coaches when I was younger.
I learnt to speak Indonesian (Basa) and was very close to the culture. This (closeness to the culture) really started at rehab in Germany when I did my knee. I then went into Martial Art and Pilates to naturally strengthen my core.
I been into Silat for virtually 26 years. It is an Indonesian style Kung Fu based Martial Art, very athletic, very acrobatic and very dynamic. Through that I had this connection with Indonesia.
Well! so I went to Papua helping the German coach. He wanted me to play because foreigners were limited so mostly local players and I had some experience. I was always very fit and I had a good spell for a season with boys like Freddy Agius (who used to play for Adelaide United). I ended up in a player coaching role so I brought Freddy over.
I stayed with that club and had some success that season and then Football Federation of Indonesia invited me over to Jakarta and offered me a job as a Technical Director of the professional League. For which I held for several years.
Then went further as a Football Business Officer for Indonesian Football Federation. That period was very tough. Indonesia is a very different country but we had some success. The under 17 won the Asian title which was a product of our regime there. We had coaches like Wim Rijsenbergen (played in 1974 World Cup with Johan Cruyff).
Very famous former player and coach. I got him to Indonesia to coach the National Team. We brought stars like Bronckhorst,
Jesper Blomqvist (MAN U), Dida (Brazilian goal keeper), Alessandro Costacurta, Eugéne Dadi, Mario Karlovic, Serghino, Milan Susak, Roque Junior just to name a few.
I was involved bringing in about 140 foreigners.
Active: How did you do that? Was this through contacts while you were playing in Germany and through different agents?
André: Yes, I was one of the head organisers of the legends game AC Milan v Indonesia legends so I started doing that quite frequently. Helping out to bring in foreign coaches. Even Zoran Matić out of Adelaide, he had a fantastic spell.
I did that for 3 ½ years then Paul Augustino invited me to Munich, Germany. Were we built Munich soccer camp MFC which today turn over 3000 children a year.
Active: So you moved back to Germany?
André: Yes I moved back for a year to set up the academy with Paul. It is a concept of former professional players integrating into youth coaching. I wrote a program for DFB (Deutscher Futßall-Bund on). The program I presented was a rehabilitation and integration of formers professional footballers to the Federation and into the local football.
It was very highly received by DFB. Not every former footballer will get a job at Bayern Munich or other Budesliga clubs. It is very hard for some of them as some are introverted or they lack the communication skills necessary. Obviously they were class players and coaching them in junior football was amazing. But some of them were not ready to be a teacher and coach but they had so much knowledge.
Proactive coaching was the program to bring in … “let’s do more show and less talk”. Then after they start to develop the articulation skills, they warm up to the players better and start to explain things better.
So the program was very highly received and 1860 Munich FC now have over 12 former professionals going through the program all year. After that they move out to different clubs; they may go to a Bundesliga club or a youth team.
This program is highly received because the academy is highly received. They are listed on the DFB website and they are endorsed and fully backed by DFB. They loved the program, they thought it was brilliant.
In Australia it is not well received. I don’t know why. Perhaps because it is a clash of the unknown to the known and there is a big gap in between … look football is not rocket science! You watch it on tv and you can watch every major league in the world. You have full media access, every clip, every technique and every drill so there are NO secrets.
My personal opinion is that everyone who has played the game semi-seriously and we are talking about 1st amateur Div to ADL UTD are candidates. They have put in a lot of effort. They put themselves out there and have experienced all the downfalls particular to their capacity and abilities. It is important when you coach that you understand that “I could not do that but I see a kid who can”.
I have enjoyed the academies I have run over the years. Being part of so many people from the community and come into this and learn. Sporting Lisbon is a good partner of PM.
This is one of the famous academies in the world.
They are integrating locals into their training sessions all the time. They go to small clubs and the dad coach there who coaches the U11, invite him to the academy and put him next to the guy who coaches U11 or U12 in the club. Basically he gets asked to run it with him and help.
I was surprised how they do it. Very friendly and very well done; and the new guy gets a completely new perspective because they are amateurs. They may have not played the game but they rub shoulders with an ex-footballer and they become better coaches.
Coaching is not just about the technique itself. Coaching is about lecturing and mentoring as well. I have met some amazing guys there. One Sunday for example we played Port Pirates U14 and the coach was a fantastic guy. I don’t think he was a former footballer; he maybe played a bit but the way he was approaching the game and the way he was with the players was excellent.
This is the type of people you want around and they are happy to work with someone who has played the game a little bit more seriously.
To be continued……
In part 2 our conversation starts off with asking the way Andre is coaching in PM academy where he have so far developed several 100’s kids.
To contact André Meyer click here PMProfessionalfootball
About Off the pitch with Active is a creation of Active Illustrated.
Interviewer: Ken Willner
Photos provided by Active Illustrated and André Meyer
©Active Illustrated 2017
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