Time to ‘do’ football the German way?

When you compare last Saturday’s first all-German European final with the Premier League top four’s failure to progress past the competition’s last 16, the reality of how much English football lags behind its rivals hits home hard.

The English game, however attractive, is plagued by business imperatives, and has struggled to maintain connections with fans, and to progress on the international stage. Pep Guardiola’s decision to bypass the opportunity to manage a Premier League ‘giant’ in favour of Bayern Munich typifies the need for change. Germany are currently running away with their qualification group for Brazil, and have finished third in the last two World Cups – achievements the current England set-up could only dream of.

Such recent success owes much to Germany’s footballing structures, which place considerable importance on developing home-grown talent and respectable financial structures. The number of under 23s playing regularly in Bundesliga first team games increased from 6% in 2000 to 15% by 2010. In the last two World Cups, both the Young Player of the tournament award winners were Germans playing in the Bundesliga at the time. Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski are now globally renowned names in world football.

For German fans the ‘50 plus 1’ rule is possibly the best thing since currywurst: they always have the final say in how their club is run, as it is they, not business owners, who hold the majority share in their club. Fans are viewed less as a consumer but more of an asset, with more affordable-priced season tickets for the typical working-class fan. At Bayern the season ticket price is the equivalent of £106. Notice the startling contrast with the ludicrous £985 charged by Arsenal. Considering the price levels of Premiership corporate tickets, the chances of ordinary supporters being able to watch their beloved side is fast diminishing. A £62 away-day match ticket at the Eithad says it all. Notably, away day travel is subsidised by Dortmund. It doesn’t take an ‘Einstein’ to work out which one has the deeper collective ethic.

In German football, no elements of the elitist corporate-style leadership found in the Premiership are to be seen. Many critics would argue that German style operations would be a clear constraint on any team. Dortmund have arisen from the brink of bankruptcy in 2005 and are now revelling in success all be it on a tighter budget, winning: two League titles, a German Cup, and reaching the final hurdle of the Champions League in the course of the last three seasons.

Perhaps success on the pitch and looking after the fans can be achieved in the modern day game after all?

Inequality in English football is as prevalent as salt is in the sea. The majority of English clubs are under constant threat of going bust and are left vulnerable relying on heavy investment. Foreign ownership can mean a tendency to dismiss or stagnate the club’s youth development and to alienate the fan-base.  Blackburn and Cardiff fans would have opposing views on this matter.  Money seems to have replaced any desire of players to play their heart out for adoring fans. Look no further than QPR’s severely underwhelming season, as a host of players contently sat on big money deals, regardless of form.

The German game is ethnically more diverse and its tactics more expansive than the English set up. German scouts have modernised their footballing education, searching for the most technically gifted seven to ten- year olds, rigorously developing their skills, before incorporating strength and conditioning later at sixteen, with Mario Goatze a prime example. Jurgen Klopp has built on ‘transition’ – the current buzzword of European football, where a well-organised side attacks as soon as they retrieve the ball. If academies don’t meet German FA standards, they won’t be awarded a license. Simple and effective, right?

Diversity is celebrated in German football; sadly the English game does not have similar levels of tolerance. Germany Head Coach, Joachim Löw can bolster his sides options picking players of Ghanaian, Tunisian and Polish origin, who legitimately play for the German team on merit. Asian supporters’ groups, such as the ‘Manchester United Singhs’ and ‘Punjab Wolves’ nevertheless reflect the barriers for Asian players achieving professional contracts: British Asians aren’t represented in the Premier League –  or for that matter in the international game. There are only ten British Asian players in twenty Premiership academies, and a mere handful of professionals throughout the Football League. Pollster ‘Populus’ indicated that 16% of fans attending top flight matches over a five year period were from minority backgrounds. The English game needs changes at grass roots level to ensure that the diverse talent pool does not go unnoticed.

Back in 2000, Germany found themselves deep in the footballing abyss, finishing embarrassingly bottom of their European Championship group. Did England not share a similar fate after the catastrophic Euro 2008 qualifying campaign? Former Everton and Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, summarised German resurrection from this, by saying ‘we have learnt from our mistakes and this is what we get now – good young players coming through, and an education.’

It’s not only England who could learn a lesson or two from our German counterparts. Barcelona were outplayed, losing 7-0 on aggregate to eventual winners Bayern. Whilst Mourinho’s Madrid were outfoxed by Dortmund’s class and endeavour. As German football continues to thrive harmoniously in all forms, we disgruntled Brits continue look on with envy.

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