Enter the next Level

A comprehensive look at the Red Bull Academy

the Red Bull Academy in Liefering is one of the most advanced centres of player development in the world - and has an unrivalled record in talent production. let's take an exclusive look around where our future stars are being trained.

The Red Bull Academy is found deep in the beautiful countryside surrounding Salzburg. The approach road is lined with trees with the River Saalach flowing on the left side and the River Salzach running a bit further on to the right. After a kilometre on the road, you reach the 12,000 square metre complex where 200 young football talents from seven countries train for  eight youth (U7 to U14) and three academy teams  (U15, U16, U18), guided by 120 highly specialised staff covering all relevant areas with great professionalism - from the content of training to preparing desserts.

High-tech complex with six football pitches

It is a high-tech complex that is one of its kind in Europe and boasts a unique level of success - with six football pitches, indoor pitches, a weights room, athletics room and a motor skills park. It features sensors that gather data day and night that gets saved on servers and is processed by computer programmes. The focus here isn't on football in 2020, but football from 2025 and beyond. You can't fail to see the sign over the main entrance of the academy opened in September 2014: ENTER THE NEXT LEVEL.

The levels that the facility has helped us to achieve are already impressive. In 2017 our U19 team won the UEFA Youth League - the youth version of the Champions League – with eight players developed in our own academy appearing in the final. In 2018, FC Red Bull Salzburg made the UEFA Europa League semi-final and started with six players developed in the academy. Nowhere else are so many academy talents currently making the leap to top European football.

What makes it different to other academies?

Top clubs from abroad regularly come to visit the academy in Liefering, most recently representatives from the German Bundesliga and La Liga. Just what is it that differentiates the academy from other major international youth development centres? Is it the size, the facilities or the technical know-how?

Manfred Pamminger, general manager of FC Liefering, says: "Our playing and development philosophy is set in stone. Every single coach, every single member of staff and every single player works towards this idea. That has made us so successful." The players get to internalise pressing, gegenpressing and quick transitions at a young age. There is a real sense of a shared mission on the pitch and off it. This philosophy is fulfilled with state-of-the-art technology. Welcome to the future of football.

point 1: the Athletics room – full speed ahead

What comes into your mind when you think of sprint training? At a lot of top European clubs it is still a matter of players pulling sleds, which only effectively trains an explosive start as a sled in motion offers less resistance than a stationary sled.  

Things are different in Liefering. A special sprint training device sees players buckle a belt around their pelvis that is connected via a cord with a computer-guided high-tech rope winch - allowing players to test themselves against an exactly set resistance. Coaches can monitor performances in real time on a laptop and can see after a few sprints against what resistance a player produces maximum force, when they reach their top speed, how long they can keep that for and even which foot generates more power on the ground. This data provides the opportunity to continually fine tune training. As it gets stored in a database, it also allows for the performances of a player to be tracked over several years. 

Manfred Pamminger sees the device, called 1080 Sprint, as being one of the cornerstones of the academy's success. He says: "Our boys have to be extremely quick and powerful, as that's what our playing system centres around. In modern football, 90 per cent of all sprints are a maximum of 20 metres long."

Sometimes the academy players even go quicker than they actually can, as the rope system can be adjusted to make the cord not only offer no resistance but to reel in the players. Players feel like they have a wind at their back and get the chance for their legs to adjust to new speeds.

point 2: the High-tech weights room – Video Workout 2.0

Right next to the treadmill are 13 pieces of equipment for strength training. It's not your usual gym though - players log in via a tablet, choose their programme and receive feedback from a computer or trainer. A computer is mounted at every piece of equipment that monitors training via an infrared camera and tablet, collects data and saves it in a network. The great thing is that this allows athletics coaches to put individual workouts together on software in their office - in real time if needed. If the coach is busy they can also analyse the video hours later on a PC.

An additional feature is that players can compare their performances with team-mates in the room. Infrared cameras track how the bars are moving, count every repetition and record the power in watts as well as the maximum and average speed at which the bars are being pulled up and pressed out (in metres per second). The question of who the strongest player in a given age group is can therefore be answered.

point 3: Anti-gravity treadmill - training on the moon

Sometimes it's a hefty tackle and sometimes a nasty twist. No matter how fit you are, injuries are all part of football. Players have to learn to cope with them, and above all, they have to learn to recover as quickly as possible. The anti-gravity treadmill at the academy helps players to make significantly quicker comebacks, as the training device designed for astronauts gives sportsmen the chance to get active again at a very early stage of their recovery process.

Pamminger: "The players wear special trousers on the treadmill that seal them into an air chamber reaching up to their waists. A fan creates an excess of pressure within that, which can lower the body weight by up to 80 per cent." By doing their very own version of the moonwalk, players can get used to making their natural movements again at an early stage and makes recovery training in water unnecessary, With it being possible to simulate inclines of up to 15 degrees, a reverse running mode and a high speed of 19 km/h, the AlterG provides a much more innovative way to recover than the usual approach of getting in the water. There is an additional feature of an integrated motion analysis system that tracks the length and frequency of steps plus weight distribution while also showing any incorrect positioning.

Many people who see the training facilities at the academy soon end up posing the same question - is football still viewed as a team sport here or an individual sport? The players do train to individual plans with varied content and intensities, depending on position, and adjusted to personal strengths, weaknesses and training aims. That isn't only a matter of athletic development but also increasingly in thinking, in grasping and solving game situations as well as decision making.

Alexander Schmalhofer, the 32-year-old Head of Match Analysis and Innovative Projects, focuses on breaking new ground at the academy. His latest project is the SoccerBot360 - a training tool on the second floor of the academy, 50 metres away from the gym.

point 4: the SoccerBot360 – Football starts in the head

The SoccerBot360 looks a little like a life-size computer game. It's also an opportunity to turn the athletes briefly into kids smashing a ball against the garage door. That's pretty much what happens in the circular device with a diameter of ten metres and area of 90 square metres - albeit with the very latest technology.

Six projectors place images on the wall, for instance miniature football goals, which the players have to pass the ball to as the clock ticks down. Schmalhofer says: "The boys have to learn to think quicker, to become more efficient and train their vision." A high speed camera tracks how well they are doing. It spots how quickly and precisely they hit the ball. It also checks how often a player uses their weaker foot - as a good score is only really achieved when both feet are used at almost the same rate.

Another incredible sight at the academy is of clips of training and matches being projected onto a wall that show, with virtual replays, the kind of passes or movements that the players may have neglected to make. The positioning data required for this is gathered by a local-position measurement system, which is 100 metres away in heart of the academy.

POINT 5: LPM Indoor – Big Data in a big hall

There is a pretty exciting rainy-day option at the academy. The artificial pitch in the 6000 square-metre hall doesn't only host training and competitive matches, as an LPM system, the most exact sport tracking system in the world, gathers positioning data of all the players and the ball with eight basis stations. It does this 25 times a second. We'll do the maths so you don't have to - for 22 players and the ball over 90 minutes that means over three million items of raw data are gathered. An LPM system is accurate to between five to ten centimetres, making it a hundred times more precise than GPS. When combining this with the raw data, you get a precise figure on the distance the players covered while accelerating, running at high speed and while slowing down - as well as technical and tactical values such as passing accuracy figures and the time spent in possession.

The system can even gather biometric data such as heart and breathing rates or the players' skin temperatures. Impressive stuff, but Schmalhofer rightly points out: "I could have all the data in the world, but without putting it into context it doesn't help me at all." He and his team therefore process, interprete and link data on computers to make conclusions and provide analysis for coaches.

point 6: Packing values – making the most out of data

Is there a recipe for guaranteed success in football? Nobody has found one of course. Schmalhofer is keen on elements that increase your chance of success though, and therefore is a fan of the packing value - an indicator for efficiency in football that measures how many opponents have been bypassed with a pass. The thinking behind it is that a footballer who can beat a lot of opponents - whether by passing or dribbling - is a good player. The value increases if the player is close to the penalty area or puts the ball through a defender's legs. The situation in the match also has an influence. Packing came to widespread attention in German-speaking countries during the 2016 European Championships, with ARD pundit Mehmet Scholl calling it the holy grail. The team with the best packing figures win 86 per cent of matches.

"The challenge lies in processing data in a way that it interests coaches and players, and is understandable for them." A great tool for that is with video analysis showing players what they have done. Big data is the future here as well. Previously, match analysts had studied opponents with footage from three or four matches, put their chances and transitions into a video and presented their findings to the coach. This job can now all be done by software. Thanks to artificial intelligence, it recognises particular situations within a match and learns more with every match it processes. Analysts are spared a huge amount of time watching footage that they can instead spend analysing details.

Well, we have got to the end of the tour. Schmalhofer is sure that football over the next five years will become more flexible, individual and challenging - in a physical, technical and mental sense. He says: "Those who win in the future will be those who can make the best decisions more quickly. And carry them out more precisely - just as well in the 90th minute as in the first."