- Philipp Ochs stands as a key member of Germany's U-20 national team
- The midfielder looks ahead to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic
- Discusses his struggles at club level with Hoffenheim
The case of Philipp Ochs is just one example of the difficulties talented youngsters in national youth teams face when making the step up into the professional game. In conversation with FIFA.com, the 20-year-old discussed the forthcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, his club Hoffenheim, who are on course to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, and how he is coping with being out of the picture there.
Ochs's career initially followed an upward trend, with the dangerous left-footed winger becoming a frequent goalscorer in Germany's youth sides. In spring 2016 he was a regular member of Hoffenheim's first team as they battled against relegation. He is often fielded in an attacking role in the national set-up, whereas at club level he operates as a left-back or on the flank, slotting into Hoffenheim's system as they often field a three-man backline.
Not that the blonde-haired youngster is complaining: "My strengths are definitely in attack but I think it's good for me to be able to play in different positions and to be flexible. It's good for my development." Given Hoffenheim's expansive style of play, in which they employ counter-pressing high up the pitch after losing the ball, goalscoring opportunities are not hard to come by. "The best example for that is my team-mate Steven [Zuber], who's played in that position and has scored a couple of goals too," Ochs continued. "I'm sure being flexible will be very valuable for the rest of my career."
This season, however, Ochs has rarely been given the chance to shine and has played almost exclusively for the reserve side in the regional league. The Hoffenheim first team are currently on course to reach the UEFA Champions League, and other players are ahead of him in the pecking order. "It's extremely important for young players to get match practice," said Ochs, who has had offers from other clubs but is keen to establish himself at Hoffenheim. "We've got a lot of really good cover in my position and have some great individual players. So all I can do is keep going, keep giving my all and constantly show the coach that I'm there and want to play."
Ochs's team-mates have offered their support as he deals with the current state of affairs. "Younger players such as Niklas Sule and Jeremy Toljan, and some of the older guys like our captain Eugen Polanski have helped me and have always offered advice whenever I've had any questions."
Ochs, who often captains Germany's U-20s, underlined just how important international youth competitions are for players' development: "The European Championship last year on home soil was something really special, but a World Cup in Korea Republic will be a different culture and there'll be a few more teams there. I'm really excited and can't wait for the tournament to start.
"I view myself as a leader, both on and off the pitch," he continued. "That means integrating this year's new players into the team, getting them involved and feeling a part of things. Everyone fights for each other and would give everything for their team-mates out on the pitch." If Germany indeed manage to do that, they could go a very long way in Korea.