Germany showing the way

The German system is strictly organised to promote native talent. For the last dozen years and more, when the national team’s failure had promoted what you might call an agonising reappraisal, no club could be licensed to compete without an academy subject to demanding criteria. By Brian Glanville.

Every now and then in football history one country or another seems to have shown the way. To have evolved a style and a structure which give its football dominance, and a model for others to follow if they only can. At the moment that country is emphatically Germany, the two crushing defeats by Germany’s leading clubs of the equivalent clubs in Spain suggesting that the German model is pre-eminent. Hardly, in their first leg semifinal, had Bayern Munich brushed supposedly incomparable Barcelona aside than next day Bayern’s rivals Borussia Dortmund were doing the same to Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo and all. Indeed, the one goal Real managed to score came only as the result of a calamitous mistake in the Borussia defence.

With a 4-1 deficit to contend with in the return game at the Bernabeu, that solitary goal gave Real at least a notional chance of turning the tables, but their 2-0 home win was not enough. Barca were worse, and lost 3-0 at Camp Nou, one of their worst defeats in Europe.

German football seems, however, to have got it right not only on the field of play but in terms of financial and organisational practice. It has been pointed out that whereas for bad example in England, the Premiership, or “Greed Is Good League” as I named it from its dubious beginning, contains in its teams substantially more foreigners than Englishmen, to the frustration of the England team manager Roy Hodgson, in Germany the proportions are virtually reversed. Where match ticket prices are so cripplingly high that young fans and working class supporters are largely excluded from the stands, the cheapest ticket in the Bundesliga is a negligible £10.

Club supporters are enabled to exercise an influence unthinkable in England; and in parenthesis, the German system is infinitely more democratic than Spain’s, where clubs are allowed to negotiate their own television deals, meaning that Real Madrid and Barcelona will always enjoy a colossal advantage over lesser clubs. The consequence in La Liga is almost unvaryingly a two-horse race. And for those tempting to say that such is also true of Germany, just look at the Bundeslinga table where for all their shining success in Europe, Borussia Dortmund languish hopelessly and even embarrassingly behind Bayern.

And the German system is strictly organised to promote native talent. For the last dozen years and more, when the national team’s failure had promoted what you might call an agonising reappraisal, no club could be licensed to compete without an academy subject to demanding criteria. Yes, English clubs have them too, but you tend to wonder how much good they do.

Arsenal, for example, have spent millions on a youth section run until recently by Liam Brady, once their star creative inside-left, but the mountain seems alas to have parturated barely a mouse. Ashley Cole, who left them sullenly and greedily for Chelsea, was one such development but is almost impossible to think of any other till it came to their currently outstanding playmaker Jack Wilshere, with whom it is true almost from childhood but in fact initially on the list at Luton Town. Moreover whereas the leading richest Premiership clubs — and they will all become vastly richer next season when a new TV contract is implemented with British Telecom — tend to buy stars rather than develop them, even the Bayerns and Dortmunds tend to give the 19-year-olds their chance, with consistent success.

With oligarchs and Arabian billionaires pouring their wealth into certain English clubs the Premiership is somewhat more lucrative than the Bundesliga, though new European regulations will bring tighter monetary control. And German clubs predictably benefit from the sheer strength of the economy, meaning that sponsorship money flows abundantly into the Bundesliga.

Yet there are paradoxes. After the cataclysmic defeat of Barcelona by Bayern Munich, it seemed strange to think that Jupp Heynckes, the manager and architect of this well balanced incisive team, is due to depart and to be succeeded by none other than Pep Guardiola, manager and inspiration of Barcelona at their best. Yet with Lionel Messi, the essential goal-scorer of the team, clearly not fully fit, Barca were swept aside in Munich and then, without him, at Camp Nou. What then does that tell us of the seemingly irresistible and inimitable pattern of Barca’s intricate short passing style? Would Guardiola try to impose it on a Bayern team of wholly unfamiliar style? And could it be imposed at all without years of careful coaching of junior players?

Might one also mention that in the previous European round, Bayern actually lost 2-0 at home to an Arsenal team deprived of the outstanding Wilshere. And lost last season’s European final at home to a defiant Chelsea, albeit on penalties?