Taste of the top for five junior hopefuls
When FC Bayern set off for their training camps some talents from the junior team youth section are usually part of the squad -- in the Black Forest, at Lake Garda, and for the last few years in Doha. This time Milos Pantovic (19 years old), Niklas Dorsch, Fabian Benko, Marco Friedl (all 17) and keeper Christian Früchtl, who is only 15, have joined the pros in Qatar for the winter preparation period.
"It's a sign for the young Bayern players that despite huge competition everybody has the possibility to prove himself," declared sporting director Matthias Sammer, explaining the reasons behind introducing the youngsters to the pro squad. And the talents have made "a good impression on and off the pitch" in Doha, confirmed captain Philipp Lahm. "They want it, they go for it, and that's always the main thing for young players."
Forward Pantovic is an integral player in the Regional League reserve team with 18 appearances and five goals so far this season. He made his Bundesliga debut in the narrow 1-0 victory away to Bremen in mid-October when he was brought on shortly before the final whistle. "It's a bit odd. You look up to the guys, they've achieved everything -- and now we're in the thick of action. But they've accepted us unreservedly. We feel very much at home," Pantovic told fcbayern.de.
"I think it's easy for new or young players to be integrated at Bayern," stressed Lahm: the established pros always help the rising stars. "Everybody respects them," which in turn helps the juniors play without mental pressure. "I think many older, experienced players are role models in many ways, so it isn't a big problem for young players to gain a foothold here," added Lahm.
Keeper Früchtl youngest-ever player
The juniors can fully focus on training, which is "more intense than with the reserves. But it's fun," reported Benko, who has made 13 appearances for the second team. In addition he plays for FCB in the U-19 Bundesliga on a regular basis, just like Dorsch and Friedl, who are the same age. It is a "great honour to be able to play with the senior team," added Pantovic. "We have to work for a long, long time to have a chance to achieve what these lads have achieved."
Out of the five Christian Früchtl has perhaps the longest way still to go. The Bayern goalkeeping talent is the youngest-ever player to join the pros at a training camp in the long history of the German record champions. "Sure, it's very early indeed," Sammer said about the 1.90 m tall 15-year-old. "He has all the makings of a great player. His fitness and physique are fantastic, as are his talent and abilities. He's interesting and strong."
Früchtl can prove his talent alongside the World's Best Goalkeeper Neuer and established Bundesliga keepers Tom Starke and Sven Ulreich. Instead of attending school after the Christmas holidays he is attempting to save shots by Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller & Co on the pitch under the auspices of Toni Topalovic. "He does it well. He's very receptive and takes everything on board," the 34-year-old Starke said of the teen who is young enough to be his son.