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

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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test