The German Model for success

Monday, June 3, 2013, 15:08

This year’s Champions League Final between two German sides seems to have been a summation of how
football history has gone since 1863. The Bundesliga has arguably become the pre-eminent league in
Europe. Germany is reaping rewards planted 14 years ago. Dortmund had won the Champions league,
Bayern missed out by a few seconds in 1999. The German national team had won Euro 96, with a team
bolstered by players from the east, who had been predicted to make Germany unbeatable. But beneath
the shiny surface there were concerns and the German authorities were wise to tackle them.

Following lucrative television deals in 1992, newly rich clubs looked abroad for transfers. Some of the
players brought in were top-class, but many were signed just because they were cheaper than domestic
players, whose price had become inflated, while others offered little beyond off-the-shelf shine. Over the
following five years foreign players’ in the Bundesliga rose from 17% to 34%. This obviously impacted on
players’ develpoment and national team selection.Desperation crept in and moves to fast track foreign
players into the national team took place. This resulted in poor performances at the 1998 World Cup and
at Euro 2000 when for the first time in 34 years Germany lost a competitive match to England. Changes
in the DFB and Franz Beckenbauer assisted by Dietrich Weise , director of youth development outlined a
scheme to ensure development of young German players. All clubs in the top two divisions were required
to build academies, and 121 national centres were established to help 10 – 17 year olds with technical
practice.

That was part of it, but German football had also benifitted from two other factors which the DFB had no
control. As the centres were established, the citizenship laws were relaxed, and as a result a number of
top-class German-qualified players from immigrant backgrounds have emerged. The economy helped as
well by falling and rising at the right time. By 2002 60% of all players in the Bundesliga were foreign. But
then the TV deal collapsed and the clubs faced ruin and had to sell off their expensive foreign players and
invested in cheaper local youth. This year, only 47% of players are not qualified for Germany.

Now with Germany’s economy at least stronger than most, the top German clubs are able to hold on to
talent for longer and to be more selective about buying foreign talent. Dortmund have achieved
something extraordinary in recovering from near bankruptcy in 2005(aided by a loan from Bayern) to
win the Bundesliga in each of the past two seasons, but their wage bill is less than half that of Bayern’s.
It is hard to believe they can continue to fight that inequality. Even if Dortmund do somehow manage to
cope with selling their best players each season, there are concerns in Germany that the Bundesliga faces
a “Spanish problem” – a distribution of wealth so unequal that two sides inevitably dominate, not just
winning the league but crushing their opponents every week. It is a similar picture in England, France and
Italy.

The big worry is that the economies of the game are such that the cycle of one country dominating and
then another has been replaced by the emergence of super-clubs that are outgrowing their domestic
leagues.





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