One question that often pops up in the English football themed chatter that I have with my mates in the pub is “Which country should we go to, to watch a football game?” Whenever this has been posed in the past, the answer that we usually settle on before our plans ultimately fizzle out due to lack of funds or the inability to get the time off work, is Germany. What could be better for a match day experience than being able to sample excellent beer (even at your seat!) and excellent food amongst the back drop of a full stadium and a cracking atmosphere? If you factor in the friendly nature of the locals and the reasonable ticket prices for a Bundesliga game, then it looks a match made in heaven for any football fan looking to sample the perfect match day experience.
When this question was posed recently however, as we looked to plan a European jaunt for next season, whilst the agreed destination was the same and the aforementioned reasons were all still valid, I found myself citing “The quality and the excitement of the football” that is played in the Bundesliga as another reason for why we should all jet off to Germany. Remarkably, nobody disagreed with me, and it would seem a point that on reflection is very difficult to argue with, as German football has undergone somewhat of a resurgence over the last decade or so. A resurgence that has had repercussions for the Bundesliga, the German national side and the rest of European football (including the Premier League).
So how and when did German football suddenly become an exciting spectacle? The process began after the German side limped out of the European Championships in 2000 in Holland and Belgium. The abject performances the side produced in that tournament were the final straw for the German FA. They saw fit that it was time for a complete overhaul of the entire country’s football system. They introduced a new protocol which saw the emphasis being placed in the development of youth players from many different cultural origins. This was the “Extended Talent Promotion Programme” which was introduced in 2002, assigning more coaches and better facilities, to all teams at all levels. Since the initiation of the new programme, an extra €10 million per year has been invested throughout the German footballing pyramid. The programme also saw that every league club in the country was to open a centre of excellence, to aid in their development of youth players.
This turnaround in mentality became evident as Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, and the nation took pride in a more fluent German side that reached the last four of the competition. The side was lead by Jurgen Klinsmann and he began to blood future household names like Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski. This investment in youth began to bare further fruit three years later. In 2009 the rest of Europe marveled at a young German side that trounced everyone in their path on their way to securing the U21 European Championships. What was most peculiar about this success was how they did so in a considerably un-German fashion. The team played with a flair, a pace and an attacking intent that the country had not seen before. A far cry from the rigid and stagnant team that ignited this whole overhaul nine years earlier.
Since this new brand of youngsters began to emerge in 2009, the Bundesliga sides began to adapt their own styles and systems to accommodate these flair players. Before the World Cup in 2010, Werder Bremen built their team around a relatively unknown Mesut Ozil, whilst a youngster by the name of Thomas Muller was looking seriously impressive at Bayern Munich. Hamburg was also making strides towards the Champions League, inspired by the youthful exuberance of Jerome Boateng and Piotr Trochowski. It was only after the World Cup in 2010 that the rest of the football world stood up and really took note of this new brand of footballer that Germany was producing. Under Joachim Low and his 4-2-3-1 system, the combination of skill and flair that these new youngsters possessed, mixed in with the solidity and experienced qualities of the old guard, resulted in the German side exceeding all expectations as they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, easily disposing of Argentina and England on their way. Now, a decade on from the initiation of the ETTP, Germany go into Euro 2012 as many peoples favorites to win the tournament.
The refocusing of the German FA has had a considerably positive effect on the domestic front too, as the Bundesliga has also gone from strength to strength. Most Bundesliga teams have adapted the national sides system and play with a sense of adventure and vigour which has given them recent success on all fronts. Schalke 04 defied all odds reaching the Champions League Semi Final in 2011, in turn leading to the development Manuel Neuer who is now lauded by some as the world’s best stopper. This year, Bayern Munich have the chance to win the trophy on their own patch and Chelsea now stand between them and a fifth European Cup. Borussia Dortmund have now also secured the Bundesliga title for two seasons consecutively. They seemingly have a proverbial conveyor belt that keeps on producing top German “wunderkids” such as Mats Hummels, Sven Bender and Mario Gotze, all of whom are pushing for first team places in the national side. Gotze in particular is hailed as the best young prospect in the world alongside Neymar, and with the emergence of Marco Reus and Toni Kroos through the club academies, some of the top young talents in the world are now plying their trade in the Bundesliga.
It’s for this reason that Arsenal and Chelsea fans can look at their respective signings Lukas Podolski and Marko Marin with a sense of optimism. The Bundesliga now offers a perfect foundation for any players looking to trade the Germany for the Premier League and new imports from the Bundesliga have already shown signs of succeeding in the English game. Whilst in the past not all transfers from the Bundesliga sides have flourished in the Premier League, most recent January imports Papiss Cisse and Gylfi Sigurdsson have proved to be fantastic pieces of business for Newcastle and Swansea respectively. Cisse has scored 13 goals in 14 appearances since his arrival from Freiburg and has adapted superbly to the physical nature of the Premier League. His seamless transition has put pay to the cliché that foreign strikers struggle to adapt to the forceful nature of the Premier League. Sigurdsson meanwhile has been a key cog in Swansea’s ‘total football’ type approach, leading to some of Europe’s elite sides taking a good look at the Icelandic international. Edin Dzeko has also had success after his arrival from Wolfsburg in January 2011, scoring some crucial goals for City on their way to the title this season, including four against Spurs in a 5-1 win and twice against United in the famous 6-1 derby.
But what is encouraging for the German domestic game that top talents are choosing to stick it out in the Bundesliga. Retaining established players like Arjen Robben, Shinji Kagawa and Frank Ribery can only mean good things for the league, whilst world stars in waiting such as Reus (who has recently signed for Dortmund) and Gotze are choosing to remain in Germany, whilst they could jump ship for more lucrative offers elsewhere on the continent. The development of Dortmund as a genuine title challenger has also increased the entertainment value at the top of the table, as Bayern now have a serious rival in their quest for domestic success, whereas they have often strolled to the title in recent seasons.
Things are certainly looking up for the German game and the progression shows no signs of slowing up. I think I’ll definitely start saving up for next season.
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