'From Kurtekotten to professional football' – part three of the series is about Stefan Reinartz .
163 Bundesliga appearances, 15 Champions League games, 3 full international caps, 39 youth international caps, Germany U19 champion, European U19 champion – all these entries in Stefan Reinartz’ sporting CV happened by a whisker.
At the end of his year with the U15s, in the summer of 2004, it looked like Reinartz' time at Bayer 04 was coming to an end after half a decade. "I actually felt like I was halfway out," said the now 32-year-old. However, the coaching staff had a rethink. "Stefan had always played high quality and intelligent football," his former U15 coach Dirk Diekmann now explains. "He never did anything without a plan. A hurried clearance was absolutely the last choice – and he always had a plan up his sleeve."
The only negative for the tall and athletic player was pace. Nevertheless, Reinartz was given a chance in the U17s under Markus von Ahlen – as a central defender. And everything clicked into place. The youngster born in Engelskirchen developed into a regular first choice, was playing for the Germany U16 team six months later, and he signed a five-year contract with the Werkself in his second year with the U17s.
"The route to becoming a professional footballer involves hundreds of pieces of a jigsaw and variables that play a role," said Reinartz. His own career was a suitable example of that: He was rejected at Leverkusen when he had his first trial at the age of nine. A year later, a former teammate in Bergisch Gladbach, Bastian Oczipka, in effect brought him under the Bayer Cross. He was taken on after another trial.
A couple of years later followed the previously mentioned turning point in the U17s as well as a loan to FC Nürnberg under coach Peter Herman that brought his first appearance in a senior team. The loan deal to Northern Bavaria was a very important piece of the jigsaw of his career, as he says today. "Peter Hermann is the reason why I made it," said Reinartz. "For me, he is the best coach. He succeeded in turning me into a central midfield player. That was 100 per cent down to him."
After his time at FC Nürnberg, Hermann became the assistant coach to Jupp Heynckes at Leverkusen and six years with the Werkself followed for Reinartz before he ended his playing career in 2016 after a season at Eintracht Frankfurt – at just 27 years of age. "I just felt my story had reached its conclusion," he said in explaining the move. Today he works with a former U19 teammate Jens Hegeler at an analysis company that supports professional clubs in their scouting across Europe with their "packing" method.
Reinartz' rocky road through the Werkself youth system shows which role the significance of mind and personality plays in the development of a football player. "In terms of the development of personality and determination, the club gave us an incredible amount," he said looking back.
Like Reinartz, all his fellow 1989 group at Bayer 04 had to show what they could do against two year groups with lots of talent. He remembers a coaching strike after a really weak performance by the team at the weekend, on school marks after a game that went beyond the usual spectrum as well as very clear statements: "It was hard at times but always fair and with a clear plan in the back of their minds." These measures led to the hunger of his year group always remaining high. And that peaked finally in a very special match.
The date is 24 June 2007. The Germany U19 championship final is being played. The venue of the BayArena is full to the brim with the Bayern Munich youth team providing the opposition. Bayer 04 went behind with a goal from a certain Thomas Müller, Bastian Oczipka levelled in the second half. Extra time followed – and Alexander Hettich succeeded in netting the winner at 2-1. Bayer 04 are crowned Germany U19 champions.
"It was a great game with a fantastic result," Reinartz says today in hitting the nail on the head. And nevertheless: "At that point in time it still felt very long way from professional football." Reinartz remembers discussions in the dressing room that it would be great if at least one player from each of the teams in the final would make the step up to professional football. If you look at the team list today with names from back then like Reinartz, Oczipka, Hegeler, Marcel Risse and Julian Schauerte for Leverkusen or Müller, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber on the Bayern side then the discussion in the changing room is an interesting proposition.
At the same time, Reinartz was already certain of the contract at Leverkusen and the person in charge of planning the squad, Michael Reschke, gave him a clear prospect of a five-year deal. "An incredible estimation," says Reinartz today but his only thought was: "Great that I have the opportunity to train with the first team." That was what Stefan Reinartz was like. And all the setbacks and turning points in his youth career under the Bayer Cross played a crucial role as he now explains: "I think we went through a very good and also hard school of knocks in a positive sense. I believe a lot of players from my year succeeded in becoming professionals because of that."
From Kurtekotten to professional football’ – Part II: Erik Zenga
From Kurtekotten to professional football’ – Part I: Gonzalo Castro