How the Germans left us far behind

The journey that took Germany to World Cup glory this summer started with humbling defeat to England at Euro 2000. As Tom Peck finds out, they have come a long way since...

David Beckham whips the ball in from the right and finds Alan Shearer’s forehead at the back post. As it flies past Oliver Kahn and into the back of the German net, and England’s captain wheels away, right arm raised in customary fashion, a German football dynasty is born.

Both teams on the Charleroi pitch that night, 14 years ago, went on to crash out of that Euro 2000 tournament at the group stage, outplayed by Portugal and Romania. The difference is the Germans did something about it. And what they did has made them not only world champions but, as things stand, strong favourites for many major tournaments to come.

BT Sport will be broadcasting 115 live matches from the   Bundesliga this season. Germany’s top flight has the highest average number of goals per game of any European league, 3.16 to the Premier League’s 2.77. The average gate is 43,5000 compared to the Premier League’s 35,500. But mainly, what any English TV viewer who tunes in to watch will see, is a league set up and run to help the national team, not hinder it.

Where Germany succeeded, and where English football is failing, is in allying the interests of the Bundesliga clubs with the concerns of the German Football Association (DFB).

The German team in Euro 2000 was too old. Lothar Matthäus was past his best, staggering around behind the defence and prompting Germany’s Dutch neighbours to ponder with some glee over whether they were a dying football nation.

Now the focus is on youth. Bundesliga clubs spend a total of £85m a year on their academies, all of which are independently inspected, tested and rated by the DFB. The best of those first youth academy graduates are now world champions. Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga chief executive, said:  “This squad is just the first wave. The others are still to come.”

It is a terrifying prospect. Most damning of all, as far as England and the Premier League are concerned, is that this decision to focus on developing young German players was taken during the Bundesliga’s most successful period in decades.

Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League in 1997. In 1999, Bayern Munich were seconds away from winning it. They finally did it in 2001, and Bayer Leverkusen played in the final the following year. The national team even made the World Cup final in 2002.

“But you have to be true to yourself,” said Seifert. “It was an easy path to the final, and that was not a good team.”

According to the Bundesliga figures, there were 1.8 million children playing for German teams back then. The figure is almost the same now, except 5,200 of them are playing at club academies that did not exist before. The Bundesliga reckons Germany has more than 20 world-class talents.

Seifert says the decision to invest in the creation of these academies showed great foresight on the part of German football. “When you are so successful at club level you could just lay back and say ‘hey, you know’, and put your feet up. It is overlooked that it was right in the middle of our most successful period that this decision was made.”

All but two of the German top-tier clubs are majority-owned by their fans. It means German sides do not belong to Qataris, or American businessmen seeking to expand their empires, but to people who want to see the national team succeed. The Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, has become impassioned to end “the blockage” caused by mediocre foreign players that stop young English players playing regular Premier League football. In the Bundesliga, 15 per cent of the players are German and under 23.

Around 39 per cent of its revenues are paid out again in players wages, roughly half the figure for the Premier League. Seifert admits players at Germany’s best clubs could come to the UK and play for mid-table teams and get paid more, but they want to play Champions League football. Young English players meanwhile, are almost never willing to take a substantial pay cut for regular football abroad.

In the World Cup in Brazil, almost half the team of the tournament came from the Bundesliga and 77 Bundesliga players took part. “Against Brazil [in Germany’s 7-1 semi-final win], we scored more goals in one game than England in the last two World Cups,” Seifert says.

The only caveat to the Bundesliga’s success lies in its competitiveness. Bayern walked the league last season and celebrated by buying Borussia Dortmund’s best player, Robert Lewandowski, just as they did the year before, with Mario Götze. Yet in Germany, 11 per cent of the TV revenues go to the top two clubs. In Spain it is 34 per cent. “If we wanted to win the Champions League every year we would just give all the money to Bayern. We choose not to,” Seifert adds.

Across all of Germany’s football academies, the 95 per cent of players who do not make it and are released, leave at 18 with standard school qualifications, and the average grades they achieve are far above the national average.

The Dortmund academy’s major training asset is the Footbonaut, a £1.5m cage, which players stand inside and have balls fired at them from any angle, which they must control and hit through a randomly selected square on the cage wall. Already it has paid huge dividends. According to the academy’s director, Lars Rickert, Götze and Marco Reus, the academy’s two outstanding graduates, used to challenge each other in it for hours at a time.

It is no coincidence Germany’s World Cup-winning goal was from a ball that was taken down by Götze on his chest and fired into the tiny target between the keeper and near post. In that cage, Götze has scored tens of thousands just like it. In every respect, Germany are light years ahead.

This season BT Sport will show more live matches from top-flight football leagues than any other UK TV provider including 115 games from the Bundesliga, 38 Barclays Premier League matches plus top fixtures from the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

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