Playing in Germany in one of the biggest leagues in the world is an opportunity not many players get. Joe Gyau shares his experience of learning his trade as a professional footballer in Germany and how it made him into the player he is today:
My dad really pushed me to soccer at a young age. I played a lot of sports, especially basketball but from a young age and my dad’s background in soccer that’s what really pushed me to pursue it. D.C. Stoddert was my first organized soccer in the Washington D.C. area. I was doing well and scoring a lot of goals and we came up against a team called Bethesda Roadrunners who were good, so a lot of my team and this Roadrunners teamed joined up.
Having my dad as the coached really helped me a lot and sped my development up as a player rapidly. I was just playing soccer all the time. He was a coach in the area too so whenever he had sessions girls, boys, and private sessions I would just be there sometimes all-day getting touches and being around soccer. It was a big factor to why I’m the player I am now.
At that time club soccer was the only real serious organized setups. This was before MLS academies and everything they have now. It was around this time they had state teams and you had to go and tryout for ODP. Then these state teams would play other states to be the region team. From there you advanced through a series of trials to represent the region at the national camp. At the u-14 level. Throughout the process it was a pure love for the game and playing for my dad and with friends, it never really hit me how serious soccer was getting until that national camp and we were getting hooked up with a lot of free gear, and getting professional level hook-ups and support. That’s when I realized and started seeing a bigger picture of professional soccer and national team soccer and what I can achieve.
We played a friendly against Brazil and I did well and that’s when Hoffenheim contacted my agent and it was surreal at the time because outside of the premier league getting show on TV in America, not many people, myself included knew that much about Bundesliga apart from the fact it was one of the top leagues in Europe with teams like Bayern and Dortmund. I remember getting to Germany and right away I saw the contrast in how soccer was treated there. It was everything, it was part of the culture there.
Once I started playing there, I saw how the actual soccer was taught and the reason why Germany is a powerhouse is soccer. The attention to detail, the development of the technical aspects of the game and how much they value consistency in a player there. How they preach being on you’re a game everyday not only on the field but off it too. The other side of the game. I was still a young player, so I wasn’t used to the politics and things associated with that. Every player goes through it at some point, but I don’t think a lot of people outside of the game really understand that sometimes it’s not always your soccer. You could be the best player on the team but if the coach doesn’t like you for whatever reason, or if you don’t fit into that culture of the team you won’t get opportunities to play. At the end of the day it was a learning experience for me which made me a better pro.
From Hoffenheim I spent a season on loan at St. Pauli then went back to Hoffenheim and eventually made a move to Dortmund. My two and a half years at Dortmund again was a learning experience for me. Being at a club of that size and getting to work with Jurgen Klopp and his staff was great. Top to bottom everything was run to a perfectionist like nature, which really summed up Jurgen Klopp. But at the same time Klopp really valued the players happiness and developing a culture where all the players gel and work well together and you can see that in his Liverpool side now. Plus being able to train and play with players like Aubameyang, Marco Reus and Henrik Mkhitaryan you really appreciate watching them day in day out and seeing how world class they are. Especially their final product that’s what stood out for me and what separates those types of players is just the automatic nature of their final product.
Of course it being at a club like Dortmund was a great for me as a young player, I still had to go through huge hurdles there mainly the biggest Injury I’ve had that kept me sidelined for almost 2 years. At that age it was a lot to go through, a whirlwind of struggle that can be hard for players. It’s something I had to battle and learn on my own. Those were the hardest days, knowing how long I was going to be out for and still having the mindset to go in and do the rehab day in and day out. I could’ve easily caved and just mentally lost my head, but fortunately for me that’s not how I was raised, and I had a great support system around me from the club and family and friends.
Discipline is the biggest thing I learned in Germany.
It was evident in everything they did over there. Because systems and formations are important there it required discipline to learn quickly for different managers I played for and to be a flexible player and not have my game suffer transitioning to a new formation. Having the discipline to work on your game everyday and refine your technique, was something ingrained into me at my time in Germany. It made me a better all-around player but improved the strengths I already had in my game. Even when I was injured having the discipline to stay focused on doing the rehab and the parts of the game that are less rewarding.
When I left Germany and came back to America and the MLS. It was a mix of not seeing myself staying in Germany long-term and having been away from my home country for so long I wanted to come back and experience something new as a player. In a league that had grown leaps and bounds since I left. It’s been great as a player to be apart of all different types of environments in soccer. Coming back to the MLS just the ‘newness’ and level of facilities in the states committed to soccer are world class. A lot of people don’t realize how dated and old some facilities in Europe can be so it’s nice to come to a league where everything is the best you can get. As well as playing in a different style of league. The MLS is very direct and attacking which I like as a player and suits me.
As a player I think its always important to not take everything so personal. It could be feedback coming from a coach or self-reflection. Sometimes I used to stress out over a bad practice or a few mistakes in a game and it would throw me off for a while. It’s something that happens to a lot of guys. It’s important to remember you reached the level your at for a reason and trusting in your own ability because that's what got you there.
Never compare yourself to someone else’s situation. Don’t keep looking left and right at what other people are doing just keep your focus straight and keep watching your path.