After Dortmund’s demolition of Real Madrid set up a likely all-German Champions League final at Wembley, one wag on Twitter observed that German fans would now be able to experience a proper football experience of bad public transport, overpriced tickets and weak beer. There’s been much rueful casting of gaze towards Germany and the Bundesliga after this week’s twin triumphs by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund over Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, and inevitably some are asking if the country is now the centre of the footballing universe.
It’s too soon to tell if some lasting shift of power has occurred, although if football teaches us anything it’s that rushing to conclusions is rarely wise. Remember all the self-important crowing about the strength of the Premier League around the time of 2008’s all-English final? Part of football’s appeal is that sporting success continues to be cyclical, despite the efforts of the football business to eliminate that pesky element of chance that so threatens lasting profit. And it’s at this point that we get to what has caused the apparent ascendency of German football to resonate so strongly with so many supporters in England.
The success of the Bundesliga is built on the twin foundations of investing in youth and maintaining financial discipline. After the nationalmannschaft were eliminated from Euro 2000 at the group stage, the German game took a hard look at itself and rebuilt from the bottom up. German clubs have collectively spent £610m on their academies since then, and top German clubs are run on a far more financially sound basis than most top English clubs. It’s telling that, as the Germans began to rebuild, England went to Munich and beat the national side 5-1, then settled for crowing about it rather than building on it.
The German clubs have not splashed the cash on players and wages as the supposedly all-conquering Premier League has, instead trying to instil systems that outlast individuals. It’s an approach that Swansea have adopted with some success. In issue two of The Blizzard, Uli Hoeness tells the tale of how Borussia Dortmund itself was brought back from the brink of ruin induced by the short-termism previous success had sparked, and it’s an instructive read. In many ways, Dortmund symbolise the modern character of the German game, a well-run club with a long term approach which draws on domestic talent and recognises the role of the fans.
Looking at the Bundesliga from the supposed heights of Premierland, we see a game with less debt and fewer prima donnas, a more genuinely competitive league – something which surely must help those clubs who compete in Europe – and a better fan experience. In short, a country which cherishes its football culture and looks long-term. And we wonder, what would it be like if we did that in England?