The German Way

 Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

– Gary Lineker

This week there was probably one of the biggest and more evident power shift in modern football. Bayern Munich truly became the biggest fish in European football by thrashing Barcelona 4-0 at home and Borussia Dortmund beat Real Madrid 4-1, with four goals by Robert Lewandowski. Both teams dominated their opponents in such a way rarely seen; Barcelona and Real Madrid were simply outplayed. 

There have been for some times talks about how German football was the next big thing in European football. Reasons were easy to point out: modern and wonderful stadiums always full and with great support, a generation of great players, economic stability, and good teams.

This improvement became evident on the pitch firstly for the National Team. Two semifinals in the last two World Cups, one final and one semifinal in the last two Euros, always playing some of the best football of the competition. True, the Mannschaft lacked the extra mile to win, but still manage to greatly impress and few could argue that eventually this team would be able to win on the international level.

Lack of concrete results has happened also for German clubs. The last success of a German team in any European competition was Bayern Munich Champions League victory of 2000/01. After that, the Bavarians managed two other finals (in 2010 and in 2012) lost to Inter Milan and Chelsea, whilst in the UEFA Cup/Europa League Borussia Dortmund in 2002 and Werder Bremen in 2009 were on the losing end against Feyenoord and Shakthar Donetsk. Beautiful but losers? Maybe, but it must be said that to get there is still a huge result.

In fact, German teams, especially in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, had good cup spells, almost every year getting at least one team to the quarter finals. This constance made Germany go ahead of Italy in the European rankings and expand from this season their Champions League pool to four teams, as many as England and Spain. Although this year it has not been effective in term of quantity (Borussia Mönchengladbach was eliminated by Dynamo Kiev in the play-off), it has definitely been in term of quality, with two semifinalists with very high chances of reaching the final, the first all-German.

All of this is even more astonishing given that no team is in the red financially (the German Federation forbid being in red for more than two consecutive season in the early ’80) and no team is owned by Russian oligarchs, Arab sheiks or Asian billionaires.

Arguably critics can point at the almost hegemonic rule of Bayern Munich, not only the richest team in the league, but also the most successful (nicknamed FC Hollywood by opponents) and with the tendency to strip its adversaries of their best players. Thus, the £30 million for Goetze come last of a long line, after the buying of Ballack, Klose, Gomez, Neuer and many others, all from direct adversaries, if not main rivals.

The hegemony of Bayern is undoubtedly true (they have won the league 23 times, the second most successful are the two Borussia with five titles). Nevertheless in the past ten years, the Bundesliga was won by six different teams, in contrast with the four of the Premier League and the three of La Liga and Serie A. Manchester United has won thirteen of the twenty Premier League seasons, but no one is pointing out and saying that the league is boring. Simply, hegemonic teams are common place in all leagues, in all sports. The only European league so far without an hegemonic team is Ligue 1, and it is clearly the weakest among the main countries of Europe. Now with PSG and AS Monaco pumped with money things may change, but is still yet to be seen.  

What lessons can the other leagues take from Germany success? Many, given the different problems of the different leagues. The Premier League could take the development of the youth system and perhaps the atmosphere, Serie A the infrastructures, La Liga the equal TV rights division, Ligue 1 the stadium affluence and the fan passion. All the leagues should follow the economic stability of the Bundesliga.

Clearly noone of this can be achieve overnight, but with patience and planning, two virtues that Germans have in abundance and this plea for the Bundesliga does not mean that all the leagues must begin to relentless copy the German model. But in a time of economic recession, football must begin to realise that it is time for a wiser economic policy and that this goal does not by any means imply minor success on the pitch. A German model not only in economics but also in football? It seems so.

Author Details

Giacomo Fracassi

Italian in London, fan of the Beautiful Game and pundit-wannabe.

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