How German Teams Conquered Europe
Posted by Hendra Gunawan on May 27, 2013
German football is enjoying rich success and delicious irony.
When Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich meet in the Champions League final later this month it will be the first time two German clubs have contested European club football’s biggest prize.
That the final is at Wembley, in the English FA’s 150th anniversary year, makes the achievement all the more sweet.
“Fussball”, as many here are quick to point out, is coming home.
Dortmund and Bayern’s on-field success is driven primarily by a group of lavishly talented players, many of them young and homegrown, the product of Germany’s focus on developing its own talent.
But the structure of the German game has also played a part, allowing supporters to remain in touch with their clubs and their heroes in a way that is not always apparent in England.
Football here has the fans at its heart. The clubs are rich and commercially successful by European standards, Bayern lavishly so, but the supporters retain a controlling interest.
The Bundesliga’s “50% plus one” rule requires that non-profit making supporters’ groups have to retain a majority stake in the club. Clubs can spin off parts of the organisation into commercial entities – Bayern have major commercial investors and Dortmund are listed on the stock exchange – but ultimate control lies with the fans.
As a result ticket prices are low, averaging £20 across the league, compared to £30 in the Premier League.
Safe standing areas help keep costs down, with tickets for the remarkable 25,000-seat South Stand at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, known as the “Yellow Wall”, costing as little as £10 per match.
Strict financial controls also promote stability, with debt regulated and one eye always on the long-term.
The contrast with England, where Premier League clubs have been snapped up by overseas oligarchs, oil potentates and private investors, is clear.
The German model appears to foster a special bond between stands and stars, and there is nothing the fans like more than seeing a homegrown talent prospering.
At Dortmund three of the brightest stars, Mario Gotze, Marco Reuss and Kevin Grosskreutz, were all raised within a few miles of the ground.
They are the product of a commitment to unearthing fresh talent that has seen Germany thrive on the international stage as well as at club level.
Bundesliga clubs spend up to £100m each year on youth development, sewing and growing players who shine for club and country.
Around 50% of Bundesliga first-team starters are German, compared to around 35% of English-born players in the Premier League.
But for all its merits, the German model is not a panacea.
The Premier League remains more lucrative, largely because of its huge popularity with international audiences hooked on the breathless entertainment and global talent on display.
Germany has its problems. Hooliganism rumbles in the background, and there are a handful of club owners lobbying for an end to the 50% plus one rule so they can attract investment to compete more aggressively with their continental rivals.
There are questions, too, about the strength in depth of the Bundesliga. While Bayern and Dortmund dominate the Champions League, German clubs have made less impact in the Europa League, the second-tier competition that some believe is a useful indicator.
And for all the talk of mutual ownership and fan power, club sponsors and commercial partners are equally prominent, and sold just as hard, as in England.
But this is unquestionably Germany’s time. Two clubs that are the toast of Europe, a generation of wonderfully talented players, and an abiding bond between clubs and their communities.
There is much to admire.