'In Germany, every game has the feel of a cup final,' says McClaren

Despite his poor start, Steve McClaren is loving life at Wolfsburg. Nick Harris reports on what the Bundesliga can teach England

One of the noisiest, brightest, most exuberant scenes in European football, if not the world of sport, symbolises why Steve McClaren is still enjoying the Bundesliga despite the pressure he's experiencing at Wolfsburg from three defeats in his first three games.

The former England manager witnessed this scene in person on Saturday, as Wolfsburg lost 2-0 at Borussia Dortmund. "Magnificent," he called it, and it's certainly extraordinary.

It's Dortmund's "Yellow Wall", or Gelbe Wand, aka the precipitous Südtribüne terrace at the club's Westfalenstadion, a ground that holds 81,000 fans for league games, and just shy of 66,000 for internationals (seats only). The Wall alone houses 25,000 people for domestic fixtures, and of the places available in this bouncing, barmy swarm – a sea of flag-waving yellow, from the shirts of Dortmund – 24,000 are sold as season tickets, the others much sought after on a match-by-match basis.

The cost? A season ticket for £150, and individual games for £9 to £11. You can drink beer, eat sausage, be raucous, watch the footy and then, at the final whistle, take part in a ritual that helps to bind the team and the fans. The players line up to applaud in homage to the Wall. The Wall en masse gives the "We're not worthy bow" with flailing arms.

As with the biggest European nights at Anfield or Celtic Park – venues where games are also prefaced, as at Dortmund, by a rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' – witnessing it can send a tingle down the spine.

McClaren could be forgiven at the weekend for not dwelling long on this. He had, after all, just recorded his hat-trick of losses, with the pressure mounting ahead of his fourth game, this weekend's hosting of Hannover. Yet he remained enthused enough by his new surroundings to describe to The Independent how the German love for the beautiful game is every bit as passionate as in England.

"Every stadium you go, the atmosphere is fantastic," he said. "The Germans love their football and they love being successful and their league is growing [in popularity].

"My first impressions are that it's a very tough league, very competitive every week, a little like the Premier League. To win in the Bundesliga today, just like winning in the Premier League, takes so much effort, so much focus, so much concentration. When you win in any week, it feels like a cup final, and that's how it is here."

Wolfsburg lost his first match 2-1 (last-minute), then lost 4-3 after being 3-0 up (to Mainz), then lost on Saturday. But McClaren says: "The beauty of the Bundesliga is any one of 10 teams can win [the title]. They're not so far apart... so it's very open."

This is a glowing testimony, and it isn't isolated. A common perception is that the Bundesliga is a league, in all senses, of harmony; one with strict rules that dictate club members should own 50 per cent plus one share of voting rights; that there are few debt issues, sensible wages and cheap tickets; and that a vibrant youth system with an emphasis on home talent helps feed the national team.

All this is true, broadly, although all leagues have flaws and drawbacks, and it's no different in Germany. Not all clubs operate under the "50+1" ownership rule; majority holdings are allowed in some circumstances after long affiliations.

Wolfsburg are owned 100 per cent by Volkswagen, for example, and Bayer Leverkusen are owned 100 per cent by the pharmaceutical firm Bayer. These industrial giants pick up the tab for losses at their clubs, which are owned for marketing as well as community reasons. Their subsidies are not Abramovich-esque, but not always popular with rivals.

At Hoffenheim, the major shareholder is Dietmar Hopp, a software billionaire, and while he isn't technically in majority control, he's poured in tens of millions to take his club from the eighth division to the elite in 10 years and has an effective carte blanche. At Hannover, meanwhile, president Martin Kind is challenging the "50+1" rule because he wants to be majority owner, and invest more money to try to build his club to compete in Europe. Having a relatively equal league is fine, but Germany has not had a Champions League winner since Bayern Munich in 2001.

Minority control discourages such investment, Kind argues. A legal verdict on his challenge to "50+1" could arrive as early as next month and change German football.

While the Bundesliga has never seen a club go bust or enter administration (unlike the Premier League, with Portsmouth), it would be wrong to say financial problems never occur.

There are no individual debt mountains akin to those amassed as a result of the leveraged buyouts at Manchester United and Liverpool. But Schalke's debt reached £210m last year. Dortmund came close to bankruptcy in 2005 and signed a stadium rights naming deal with insurance firm Signal Iduna to keep the wolf from the door. And 1860 Munich, home-sharers with Bayern Munich and in the top division as recently as 2004, are a financial basket case, forced to sell their share in the Allianz Arena in 2006 to avoid going bust and now surviving partly through the largesse of Bayern.

Having said all that, Bundesliga clubs do, typically, make regular profits. They are largely unsusceptible to the whims of trophy-asset owners.

At development level, German football is healthy, witnessed not just in the youthful success of Germany finishing third at this year's World Cup. A tour of Dortmund's academy on Saturday was hosted by Lars Ricken, who scored for Dortmund against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 1997 Champions League semi-final, then became the youngest winning scorer in a Champions League final, aged 20, netting with his first touch against Juventus.

An articulate, one-club-for-life man, at 34 he now works at the academy and explains the ethos that has persuaded Bundesliga clubs to invest £430m collectively in youth development since 2002. All Germany's elite academies must have specific standards of pitches, equipment and coaches. Quotas for German youngsters have helped increase the number of German academy products in the league – and the national team.

Even the developmental tactics – such as the formation of 4-2-3-1 – are matters of written policy at Dortmund. "Those [tactics] are most popular in the Bundesliga," Ricken says. "And we believe this system allows you to play all the other systems, and offers all the variations... The national team essentially plays the system, aggressive, well schooled, well trained."

Football has a place within the wider national mentality in Germany that it doesn't in England. Most Premier League clubs have good academies (18 of them, while Wigan and Blackpool have centres of excellence) doing much the same as in the Bundesliga. And most "scholars" in England are English (82 per cent aged 16- 18), as most are in Germany.

But at a wider level, German society – especially the education system – treats sport as much more important. Education is more flexible in Germany, where a Bundesliga "scholar" will reach 18 having had 10,000 hours of "contact time" at his club, against 3,000 hours in England.

If McClaren should get a result against Hannover this weekend, and go on from there to extend his stay in Germany, he'll no doubt discover this and other pluses. He's already seen enough to want that to happen. "The stadiums are great, magnificent; the atmosphere is brilliant," he says. "So despite the results – and I knew it was going to be hard at the beginning – I'm enjoying it."

Bundesliga v Premier League

Average attendance

Bundesliga 42,000

Premier League34,000

Global popularity (annual income from overseas TV rights)

Bundesliga £35m

Premier League £479m

Average ticket prices

Bundesliga £18.30 per seat

Premier League About £36 per seat

Wage bill as percentage of turnover

Bundesliga 51 per cent

Premier League 67 per cent

How competitive is the league?

Bundesliga 5 winners in 10 years

PremierLeague 3 winners in 10 years

Champions League success (10 years)

Bundesliga 1 winner, 2 runners-up

Premier League 2 winners, 4 runners-up

Overseas contingent

Bundesliga: 84 players went to World Cup in South Africa (No 2 league)

Premier League: 118 players went to World Cup in South Africa (No 1 league)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone