The DFB campus in Frankfurt opens as the new center of German football – it should become a kind of laboratory for success. Is that just ambitious or is it also ambitious?
Frankfurt – There are not many people who, looking back, can say that they have achieved what is called “life’s work”. Oliver Bierhoff is certainly not one of the controlled people in the country; In fact, opinions differ about the 54-year-old, who has been working for the German Football Association (DFB) for 18 years, but one thing cannot be denied: that he has accomplished several life’s works at the same time. 1996 as a joker with his “Golden Goal” for the European Championship title in London’s Wembley Stadium, 2014 as manager of the German world champions in the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and now, in the summer of 2022, at a less historic football location: Kennedyallee 274 in Frankfurt am Main, where this Thursday, the last day in June, the monstrous DFB campus will be officially opened on the disused racecourse.
Bierhoff will of course be there. It is by no means an exaggeration to regard the man, who has always liked to think big, as the father of the idea of having the DFB build such a home on 15 hectares (the size of 20 football pitches), costing more than 150 million euros including the inner workings. Bierhoff has been drilling thick boards for almost 15 years, and there are still – maybe not wrongly? – People in the 21 national associations who are skeptical as to whether there will be a healthy relationship between expenditure and income. What remains to be proven.
DFB campus in Frankfurt: It should be a huge football laboratory
The DFB campus is planned as the new center of German football. A think tank, a giant football laboratory, an innovation driver, a regular meeting place for the brightest football people in the country, in Europe and around the world. This is how Bierhoff imagines it, whose light-flooded office with a view of the training grounds, which has long since been set up, has mostly remained deserted. Firstly, because he travels a lot, and secondly, because he resides elegantly on Lake Starnberg, a bit far from the beaten track.
The DFB, founded in 1900 (after Dortmund, Kiel and Berlin), has been at home in Frankfurt, in the heart of Europe, since 1951, initially with eight people in the Westend, from 1957 to 1974 with initially 19 employees in Zeppelinallee in Bockenheim before the move in the Otto-Fleck-Schneise behind the Waldstadion. There, on the edge of the Frankfurt city forest, the organizing committee for the 2024 European Championships has been housed since the move with around 500 DFB employees on the racecourse. It couldn’t have fitted better.
Everything has been thought of on the DFB campus – including charging stations for electric cars
The other day, when the media was shown around the campus and people were still working everywhere, the following is missing: Oliver Bierhoff. Sitting pale-faced with a corona infection at home in Bavaria. He is also academy director Tobias Haupt, a pretty smart professor in the field of sports management, through the building. Main language of a “quantum leap for the entire DFB” and explains the motto of the architecturally very openly designed building: “Sport comes through the house.” You should feel the football everywhere.
Large terraces face the well-maintained sports fields. Site manager Winfried Nass is one of those people who never exude stress. He is steely, has already fulfilled the neighboring World Cup arena punctually as project manager in the first decade of the new millennium. “We’ll be fully operational here on July 1st.” Of course there were a few problems. Mainly because of Corona and because of the war in Ukraine. An example: “We also used wood from Russia that was processed in the Ukraine.” They had to experiment a bit.
Um the terrain of the former Frankfurt racecourse, there had been bitter disputes for years. In 2014, the city offered the German Football Association (DFB) the site for its new academy. But the Frankfurt racing club didn’t want to give up its racecourse. A referendum was not signed enough in 2015. This was followed by a legal tug of war over countless laptops. Finally, it was about the demolition of a wooden house in which chocolate was sold. The city estimates the number of individual procedures at just under two dozen.
The Racing Club around Carl-Philip Graf zu Solms-Wildenfels sued up to the Federal Court of Justice. In 2018, he decided that the racing club had to give up the site. Shortly thereafter, the demolition excavators moved in to tear down the grandstand. In 2019, the DFB received its building permit. dpa
DFB campus in Frankfurt: Only the national team is still missing
And they have prepared well: Frankfurt-born DFB sports director Joti Chatzialexiou has examined no fewer than 200 academies worldwide in order to set up a perfect center for German football in his hometown. There is a large indoor playing field – 12.80 meters high as required by the world association Fifa – with artificial turf, there are conference and training rooms, a 190 square meter conference hall, bistro, fitness area, saunas, a running course, a so-called high-tech performance center (Techlab), where new devices and the latest software can be tried out, a parking garage with 345 parking spaces, 200 bicycle parking spaces, charging stations for cars and e-bikes, rooms for overnight stays. And there is a long corridor that runs completely through the building: the “Boulevard”.
Speaking of rooms for the night. Why doesn’t the senior national team meet here, since so much money has already been spent on the project, which was only completed half a year late despite Corona and the Ukraine war? The answer: Because it doesn’t fit the mammoth entourage of 70 people led by national coach Hansi Flick. There are 33 double rooms in the new athletes’ house, which is not enough for all the players, coaches and supervisors of the A-Team.
DFB campus in Frankfurt: “We only had 150 million euros available”
“It’s not a planning error,” says Georg Behlau, the man with the unwieldy title of Head of National Team Management. “We thought about business.” If the elite squad had been housed here regularly, the construction would have been significantly more expensive, especially since the rooms would have had to be of a different standard than that of a better boarding school for the A-national players who are used to comfort. “We had to set priorities, we only had 150 million euros available,” says Behlau. Whereby the “only” is possibly to be interpreted relatively. Originally, the campus was planned to be much more modest with barely a third of the current budget in the immediate vicinity of the Waldstadion.
Of course, the national team should still benefit from this new magnificent building and the DFB Academy, of which Tobias Haupt is the boss. “We’re all working towards Summer Fairy Tales 2.0,” says the football professor. This will take place with the EM 2024 in Germany. Of course, the perspective goes far beyond this major event.
The problems in the youth sector are obvious. Tobias Haupt has stated: “It’s exciting that we can learn from the small countries.” Joti Chatzialexiou explains: “They make a lot out of fewer players because they develop players and don’t sort them out.” The DFB Academy should also provide coaches with the know-how to better encourage young people. “This shouldn’t just be a campus for elite football, but for all of German football,” says Tobias Haupt, “we want to integrate the base here.”
The women’s national team has already tried out the grass on the DFB campus
We’ll see if that succeeds. Many from the amateur camp are rather skeptical. Because no one stands more for elite football than Oliver Bierhoff, who is notoriously suspected of precisely this at the base,
The office moved from the Otto-Fleck-Schneise in mid-March, and operations in the new premises have long since started. At first it was possible that during a meeting the door would open and a painter would start painting a wall. Tobias Haupt raves about the “positive energy” of the campus, which is of course also energetically built according to the latest scientific standards. “Anyone who has been here wants to come back.”
At the beginning of June, the women’s national team was able to train a few times in advance on the well-kept grass pitches, which a greenkeeper was specially hired to look after – and was thrilled. On October 9, at Kennedyallee 274, the first major challenge beyond normal operations is pending. On that day, the draw for the European Championship qualifying groups for the 2024 finals in Germany will take place in the Frankfurt Festhalle. In the evening, the organizer DFB invites you to its new home for a big gala with 700 guests. Now the association just has to do it again, also in sporting terms am quite big wheel to spin.