The German Grass Looks Much Greener...

They might not be dominating Europe but you wouldn't find a German club spending silly money on players or spending 100% of their turnover on wages. Oh no...

Last Updated: 13/03/12 at 16:53 Post Comment

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Despite the constant claims from jingoistic pundits and journalists that the Premier League is the 'bestest League in the world', amongst the majority there is an acceptance of the evident flaws present within the English game. With Serie A and La Liga also experiencing recent difficulties (principally in terms of finances and a lack of competition), Germany's Bundesliga is, in certain quarters, being viewed as the forerunner of European football.

Such a success story is largely due to the stable financial nature of the league, and German football is the sporting model for good governance. There are no 'wealthy' foreign investors or Fit and Proper Persons test, no points deductions for voluntary administrations, and clubs don't attack the transfer market like a student with a new loan instalment in freshers' week.

Instead, financial stability is ensured through the innovative '50+1 rule', instigated by the German Football Federation (DFB). The basis for this model is that a minimum of 51% of each club must be owned by the club's members. There is the potential for significant investment of external parties, but such investors are prevented from having overall direction of the club. The boards of Bundesliga clubs are chosen by the shareholders, and therefore club members have the ability to directly affect the running of the club. In addition to such structure, the DFB also implements tight restrictions on the percentage of turnover that can be spent on players' wages, negating the likelihood for clubs to live vastly beyond their means.

The ability to influence the managerial decision-making within the club makes supporting a Bundesliga club an attractive prospect. It has the lowest ticket prices of Europe's top five leagues (Dortmund have tickets available in their huge Die Südtribüne for around £10), away teams receive ten per cent of home capacity, individual home tickets contain a free rail pass and fans are able to drink reasonably priced beer as they worship at their football temple of choice. A season ticket for Borussia Dortmund costs £152 for 17 domestic home games and one European game. Is this not paradise?

Unsurprisingly, such an inviting atmosphere attracts an impressive number of supporters, and the average attendance in the Bundesliga last season was 42,690. That's over 7,000 more than the Premier League, 13,000 more than La Liga and 18,000 more than Serie A. Across world sport, only the American NFL has higher average attendances, and of the top 20 supported football clubs in Europe last season, nine were from Germany.

Due to the financial regulations imposed, Bundesliga clubs are less prone to signing players for exorbitant transfer fees, and in the last year only two players have been signed by German clubs for a fee greater than ten million Euros, both purchased by Bayern Munich (Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng). The DFB and Bundesliga created a rule a decade ago dictating that in order to gain a license to play in the top tier, each club must run an education academy for youth players. German clubs therefore seemingly prefer to develop and sculpt their young, home-grown talent, leading to remarkable results. Nineteen of Germany's 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup were the product of Bundesliga academies, and of their last named squad of 20 players, 13 were under 25.

Germany's success at the 2010 World Cup with a young group (the average age of player in the squad was over three-and-a -half years younger than England's) and subsequent impeccable qualification for Euro 2012 is a testament to the sustainable excellence of the German model for domestic football. Young players are continuously and consistently given experience at the top level, demonstrated by league leaders Dortmund. Of the 14 players used during their victory over Bayern Munich in November, only four were over 24 years of age, an almost alien concept within Premier League football.

In addition, the Bundesliga has another crucial difference to the Premier League, in that the television revenue is distributed on a much more equal basis, an initiative to instigate increased competition within the league. Although Bayern Munich continue to raise significant income through sponsorship and marketing (and are thus the most successful team through this use of their brand) the Bundesliga is one of Europe's most competitive leagues, and has had four different winners in the last five seasons. More starkly, ten different clubs have finished in the top four of the Bundesliga in the last five seasons. The Premier League can boast a total of just six (with Spurs and Manchester City adding to the traditional 'Big Four'). This competition also provides the prospect of the fairytale story, and when Wolfsburg won the title in 2009 they had finished the previous season in 15th. Somehow I suspect Villa fans have accepted that next year will not end in title success.

The only current criticism of German football is the performance of their clubs in Europe. Bayern Munich's appearance in the Champions League final in 2009 is the only such occurrence in the last decade, and the same figure is true for the Europa League (or UEFA Cup), with Werder Bremen losing in the same year. Could the tight financial regulations be holding back the performance of German clubs in Europe? Whilst this may be a possibility, it must be said that the Bundesliga had as many representatives in the last 16 of the Champions league as England, Spain and France.

Moreover, the introduction of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules may well reveal the substantial extent to which the Bundesliga's competitors have been utilising an uneven economic playing field, and it may well be that German clubs are about to have their time in the continental sun. If the rules continue to provide loopholes for those that live beyond their means, German clubs will have to make do with the moral high ground and financial security (not to mention a hungry and successful international team).

Thankfully, the temptation to forget principles in favour of prizes has been forsaken, and German clubs have voted to keep their precious 50+1 rule. To quote Dutch journalist Leander Schaerlaeckens, the German clubs will be content to "survive without liabilities in the long run and with mediocre on-field success...rather than being successful on the pitch in the short run, but being dead in the long run." Fans of Portsmouth, Darlington and Port Vale, amongst numerous others, may well applaud such a mindset. For football purists, the Bundesliga remains an appealing and attractive illustration of domestic football.

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