AS Bayern Munich look to finish off the job against Arsenal in the Champions League tonight, Middlesbrough defender George Friend reflects on the Bundesliga success story
FOR the first time in Champions League history, all four German and English teams competing have made it through to the tournament’s last 16 - even if Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea could all slip out at this stage.
But with both nations dominating the group stages, their respective leagues have to take credit for the undisputed control and influence demonstrated, but who has the upperhand?
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Germany is fast becoming the dominant, leading force in European football, unsurpassed on the pitch while exhibiting exemplary financial benchmarks off it.
The Premier League, seemingly untouchable, the football ‘shangri-la’ we Brits hold in such high regard, is about as significant as a Yorkshire pudding or cream tea to the average German football fan.
The dedication and fanaticism shown by fans towards the Premier League is undeniably astonishing. However it would be incredibly ignorant to believe we are alone in showcasing such passion on a similar scale towards a nation’s top football league.
In my opinion, the Germans have surpassed us and show no signs of stopping, like it or not British football lovers, but there’s every possibility that we are now lagging well behind, on both an international and domestic stage.
With two of its biggest clubs (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) in last season’s Champions League final, the Bundesliga also boasts the highest average attendance of the five major leagues in Europe.
Its success is apparently down to a ‘fan comes first’ policy and, quite possibly, the fact the league possesses the best players in the world right now.
The whole structure and approach of the Bundesliga seems to be the antithesis of its continental counterparts in Spain, Italy, France and, of course, England’s Premier League.
Although all the countries mentioned will argue that the fabric of their league follows a similar ethos whereby the ‘fan comes first,’ there is evidence that Germany remains successfully on top. In fact miles ahead of the pack.
In the Bundesliga, most of the stadiums that were built for the 2006 World Cup regularly host sell out crowds of happy, energetic German fans, whilst proudly upholding low ticket prices (the lowest out of Europe’s top five leagues).
Using one of last season’s most impressive and exciting teams in the whole of Europe as an example, Borussia Dortmund, their ticket prices certainly don’t reflect their success.
The Westfalenstadion, Dortmund’s stadium, is home to the largest stand in the world: ‘the yellow wall’, which seats 26,000 with an admittance charge of only £13 a ticket. When comparing this to our Premier League ticket prices, there is only going to be one nation’s set of fans with a stack of beer money in their back pocket.
In this time of global economic uncertainty and financial constraint it’s somewhat refreshing to learn that at least one league in football, the Bundesliga, runs smoothly enough for teams to make a profit, rather than the inevitable scares of administration and transfer embargos that surround our home leagues, many of whom are plagued by debt and borrowings. The implosion and devastating fall of Portsmouth and Glasgow Rangers come to mind.
Germany’s top league generated over €2bn in revenue last season with a post-tax profit of €55m. The League may produce less match-day revenue than the Premier League, but because the clubs are run sustainably and there is an unwritten promise that ticket prices will remain affordable without fluctuation, the league continues to prosper.
We are yet to see the influx of British players swarming into the German league, perhaps because most wage bills don’t match those in England or Spain. Some, Kevin Keegan for instance, have made the trip across to central Europe in the past, but it’s hardly been a memorable stomping ground for our home-grown players.
Are English players, from our illustrious Premier League, good enough to grace the Bundesliga’s elite? Perhaps not!
When you scratch the surface and delve beyond the Manchester sides, Arsenal and Chelsea, our famed Premier League begins to lose its world-class recognition.
Football great Zinedine Zidane is an advocate of the German/Bayern movement, having publically expressed his opinion on who should have won the Ballon D’Or award.
He said: ‘I would give it to Franck (Ribery) because he was fundamental in the three trophies that Bayern won last season.’
There’s further strength and depth, aside from Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. The threats of Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, Bayern Leverkusen and SV Werder Bremen, are just a handful of tongue-twizzling yet exciting, dangerous sides that make up the League.
Importantly the Bundesliga is a true exponent of youth development and demonstrates the resurgence of home grown players regularly breaking through.
Whether or not you have seen a Bundesliga match it’s inevitable that the teams involved are likely to display a cultured, entertaining performance that has been heavily developed from their stereotypical defensive and efficient past.
So much so that one of the world’s best managers, Pep Guardiola, has embarked on a career in Germany this season at Bayern Munich. As a football purist and true architect of the beautiful game, surely he had a pick of any league at his disposal after leaving Barcelona.
As the game’s founders and a passionate and patriotic footballing nation, it might be difficult and onerous for England to praise Germany for their success.
Nevertheless the Bundesliga deserves huge plaudits and our serious attention, as it doesn’t just begin to outshine our precious Premier League, it might in fact have already eclipsed it.