Champions League success: How artist academies created joy in Germany
Overhauling the way Bundesliga clubs operated after a poor Euro 2000 brought through the brilliant youngsters on show this week
Friday 26 April 2013
Two ferocious footballing thunderstorms this week might have changed the perception of the German game for a generation but the reality of the rise of the Bundesliga has been a while in the making. For more than 10 years German teams have been building in exactly the right way – developing youngsters, working in unison and embracing the values other leagues do not hold quite as dearly.
Considering the changes German football has undergone in recent years, its goals and approaches compared with the rest of Europe, the dual giant-slaying of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final first legs looks like no surprise at all.
Spain's recent successes at club and international level have been built on the production of a remarkably gifted generation, one which means even David Silva, Juan Mata and Cesc Fabregas cannot be assured of places in the national team.
But the next great national generation of players, including many of those who did so much damage in the Champions League this week, is German. Marco Reus and Thomas Müller were born in 1989, Ilkay Gundogan and the currently injured Toni Kroos in 1990 and Mario Götze, the new €37m (£31.2m) man, in 1992. They are the great beneficiaries of the academy system introduced nearly 13 years ago.
After Germany were embarrassed at Euro 2000, scoring one goal and taking one point from their group, there was national agonising about why they no longer produced good young players, with the Bundesliga increasingly dominated by expensive foreigners.
So the German FA (the DFB), in 2001, compelled all Bundesliga clubs to set up academies – with grass pitches, floodlights, artificial pitches, youth teams from Under-12 to Under-23s – as a condition of their licence. In 2002 this was extended to Bundesliga II clubs too. These academies are not merely the property of the clubs, either, they are part of the great cooperative effort of German football. They are overseen by the academies committee, made up of representatives from the DFB, DFL (German Football League) and some Bundesliga clubs.
They have had money thrown at them too, with the clubs spending over €100m on youth development each year now, and over €500m since their establishment. But they have been a radical success, raising the standards of young German players to among the best in Europe, following the Dutch and French academies on which they were based. Kroos, Götze, Müller and the rest owe their football education to them.
In 2002, before the changes kicked in, the Bundesliga was 60 per cent foreign. Now it is 60 per cent German, with more than half the players educated through the academies, where they live and are schooled from a young age. The production line is feeding clubs and the impact is obvious.
But that is the cooperative nature of the German game. The clubs all have similar ownership structures, obeying the 50 per cent plus one rule which means they are almost all member-owned, except for Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen, owned by Volkswagen and Bayer respectively. So there is a commitment to the ethos of competition not shown by some of the absent carpetbaggers allowed to own clubs elsewhere.
Bayern Munich are by far the richest team but they show solidarity towards their rivals when needed. In 2005 they gave Borussia Dortmund, on the verge of bankruptcy, a large unsecured loan for a few months to keep them afloat. "I am a big fan of tradition in sport," explained president Uli Höness, "and I don't think that was a bad thing to do." In January of this year Bayern played a friendly against struggling Second Division team Alemannia Aachen, raising €500,000 for them, and this is something Bayern do often.
Of course, it is slightly easier to be generous when you are rich, and Bayern's colossal income is another part of their success. All of German football has benefited to an extent from the nation's economic strength, and none more so than Bayern, located in wealthy, productive Bavaria. Among their main sponsors Bayern include Allianz, Siemens, Adidas, and Audi, all very significant companies based in or around Munich. Bayern's commercial income last year was £173m, the largest in football history, while their revenue of £317m was the fourth-biggest in the game.
Other clubs benefit from German success – Dortmund have dragged their debts down from €143m to €11m and made a pre-tax profit of €34m last year. But Bayern's pre-eminence does have problems, too. They are buying Dortmund's best player, Götze. They may well buy the same club's Robert Lewandowski too. The more they cherry-pick their rivals' best players, the more the competitive nature of the league may be diluted.
Bayern and Dortmund, like all German clubs, choose to keep prices far lower than they might to increase accessibility to games. A standing ticket in the Gelbe Wand (Yellow Wall) stand at the Westfalenstadion costs €11. While the club could make up to €5m more each year by turning 28,000 standing places into 15,000 pricier seats, they do not want to.
"We value the fan culture we have," the Bundesliga chief executive, Christian Seifert, said recently. "We are the last of the big leagues with standing areas. We want to have our whole society as part of our football."
To judge by the atmospheres in Munich and Dortmund this week, it works. No one could accuse Real Madrid or Barcelona of being overawed by anything but they seemed unprepared by the ferocious relationship between players and fans, urging each other on and resulting in the German sides scoring four goals each. It was a revolution and it had been coming.
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