Dr. Dietrich Gerber

Dr. Dietrich Gerber, Member of the Advisory Board – First Star


 “We will help to establish chinese talents in the Bundesliga!”

Interview with Werner Stahr (Managing Director First Star – Football Support), Dr. Dietrich Gerber (Member of the Advisory Board First Star) and Stephan Schmidt, coach and author of the Book „Im Glanz des 4. Sterns“.

International companies transfering their Know-How to China is a more or less normal thing in the business world. The idea to support the development of Chinese football by using foreign expertise isn’t new as well. Many international clubs and organizations are already engaged in China and are offering their services, for example with licensed football camps. The Chinese president recently put the development of football on his agenda. First Star – Football Support, a new project on this sector wants to sustainably transfer and manage existing expertise between Germany and China. Managing Director Werner Stahr, Advisory Board member Dr. Dietrich Gerber and author Stephan Schmidt talk about success stories in German youth soccer and the potential of knowledge transfers to other countries.

Mr. Stahr, why did you start yet another football school with First Star?

Werner Stahr: First Star is different than existing projects which are very often just licensed enterprises of big European clubs. These football camps make a lot of money, not only in China but also in Germany. First Star is different because we want to give real support to football in China.

Why is first star different than existing programms?

WS: It is important to know our roots. Last year I managed a visit of a sports academy from Shanghai to Berlin. Officials, athletes and coaches wanted to experience the culture in the home of the world cup winner, Germany. The group arrived and all way knew was that there will be a group of 11 and 12 years old boys. Everyone loved their time in Berlin but a couple of questions poped up soon afterwards: Does the big effort we put into organizing and executing justify the results? Which long term effect does the visit have? That’s where First Star comes into play.

Mr. Gerber, you have a lot of experience in the fields of youth and high performance sports development as a member of the board of directors in the Berlin sports federation LSB. Do you think that the current franchise modell, Mr. Stahr just described could support a sustainable development of Chinese football?

Dr. Gerber: I don’t think so. Coaches and athletes won’t learn things they can profit from in their future development. Even if they want to learn, a couple of training sessions and games against local teams can’t solve structural problems. Improvments have to be cultivated and contacts have to be cherished.

WS: I would like to add that First Star can rely on expertise of experienced and successful officials and athletes like Dr. Gerber or Jürgen Kohler – world champion in 1990 who just recently joined our team –  to enable our partners to access a huge network of knowledge within First Star.

So First Star is  trying to establish a joint venture?

Stahr: Yes, indeed. We want to establish a businesslike but also emotional partnership. Our coaches would like to do more than just their pure duty. Everyone involved has to understand how Germans approach youth development. That’s why we take our partners not only to training grounds but also to the Berlin Olympic Stadium to show them where successful and hard work will lead them.

Which problems does chinese football have at the moment? A German coach, working in China said in an interview that “the Chinese don’t get the game at all”. Did you make the same observation?

WS: The Chinese football lacks a bigger experience in working at the grassroots level and coaching fundamentals. In other sports, i.e. high diving other countries go to China to learn exactly these skills. Allthough I can’t understand the quote you just recalled.  China will close this gap quickly due to ressources and the willingness to improve. Germany should look to China if we don’t want to fall behind.

Herr Schmidt, based on your experience: Do you think that an exchange of knwoledge between Germany and other countries could be a valid model for the future?

Stephan Schmidt: I love football and I try to show in my book that it makes sense to discuss the framework of youth development programs from time to time. Additionally, it is important to see that Germany has a long tradition of coaches going abroad and passing on their knowledge to local coaches and players. I see First Star in the tradition of coaches like Rudi Gutendorf, Detmar Cramer und Winnie Schäfer. Many of the concepts that were successful in Germany can be successful in other countries as well.

Dr. Gerber, where are your responsibilities with First Star?

DG: I have a strong expertise with high performance and youth sports and I want to bring this to the table. Werner Stahr and I developed a new concept when establishing the Poelchau School as a sport focused institution and we are willing to do the same with First Star. I ask myself: Why shouldn’t there be a chance for Chinese talents to establish themselfs in Germany? To achieve that we have to influence local conditions. The developement of good coaches is going to be central for First Star!

What are the most important tasks for First Star, in order to be successful?

SS: Working on the grassroots level ist he key tot he German success story. I think that this hast o be First Star’s main goal. I don’t want to interfer First Star’s strategic approach, but the people in charge have to make this a clear priority for everyone involved. If they can manage to do so, I can’t see a reason why their shouldn’t be a fast learning curve. An intersting cas study ist he evolution of Japanese soccer. Ten years ago, only a couple of talented players made it to Europe. Now all major leagues are stacked with talents from Japan.

Why are you as the founder optimistic that First Star will succeed, Mr Stahr?

WS: The demand for training camps in Berlin is huge. This is a good first step to elevate players and officials onto the next level. We will lay the foundation in China and their trips to Germany will help them to develope in the long term. We are aiming for sustainable results.

DG:  It is important that we don’t dictate every step oft he process. We have make clear that it will take time and that all theoretical concepts need to be adjusted to the cultural situation.

WS: I want to stress one thing: Our main focus are the coaches. We have to educate them to the right methods and teach them the skills they need to solve complex requirements of team sports.

Herr Schmidt, going back tot he „German way“. Which ideas are behind that phrase? Listing to Mr Stahr, the idea of First Star sounds like a strategic consulting process.

SS: The formula of success is a practically proven concept. I tried to show the process the German Football Federation, DFB,  went through after 2000. The world leading youth developement program was built and executed within the DFB. Winning the title in 2014 was no lucky coincidence. Hard and dedicated work by everyone involved was the foundation for a large pool of world class players Jogi Löw could choose from.

How are your plans to make First Star more visible in the public perception?

DG:  For us it is important that coaches and officials understand that sustainable succees needs long term partnerships. We want to show that we have the know how you need to establish these partnerships. Known figures like Jürgen Kohler or the existing expertise in our management and advisory board will help us.

WS: I am confident that everyone, no matter if Chinese or German, who is involved will recognize quickly that a strategic partnership will be a win-win-situation for everyone. Chinese sports will profite but also gain access to a large network of coaches and knowledge. We as the German side are willing to share our ressources. We want to stay competitive and think that the Chinese administration and economy can support us.

As the coordinator of sports in one of Germany’s most prestige sport schools, Werner Stahr could create a successful youth development program. Besides world class football players like world champion Jerome Boateng, Stahr supported plenty of Olympic athletes on their first steps. Stahr is founder and managing director of First Star – Football Support.

Engineer by trade, Dr. Dietrich Gerber was a long time executive member of the Berlin Sport Association and co-founder of the supporting association for the Berlin Olympic base, the central  training and developement institution for Olympic athletes. In 2016 he received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Stephan Schmidt is a former professionel football player and author of a ground breaking book about the reasons behind Germany’s triumph at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He is one of the most distinctive German youth coaches.