Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bayern v Dortmund: Ten years in the making

Bayern Vs Dortmund
Ten years in the making
The scene was Euro 2004 – arguably German football’s lowest point, ever.

Knocked out in the group stage, without a single win or goal, this was rock bottom for Die Mannschaft.

Something had to be done.

Germany, quite frankly, wasn’t used to this state of affairs.

From Fritz Walter’s 1954 heroes to Franz Beckenbauer’s seventies powerhouse to Lothar Matthaus’s 1990 World Cup’ winners, victory had been synonymous with Germany.

Germany had remained the dominant nation of the nineties, finishing runners-up at the European Championships in 1992, quarterfinalists at the 1994 World Cup and winners of Euro ‘96.

However, somewhere amid the jubilation – which included the unification of West and East Germany – the ever-efficient Germans had missed a step. For once there was no contingency for the future – no progression from Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Matthias Sammer’s golden era.

So, here it was. Domination over.

Signs of decline had been evident at the 1998 World Cup in France where Germany’s veteran champions were eventually overrun by a younger and quicker Croatian team in the quarterfinals.

Germany – perhaps complacent from the successes of a special generation – had no plan and no quality youth to reinvigorate the national team.

Glory Boys...
German fans celebrate another win

The result was Germany’s first-round elimination at Euro 2000 and a period of three coaches in six years after having only had six in the previous 75 years.

Reaching the 2002 World Cup final only served to paper over the cracks. In truth, it was a limited German side, inspired beyond recognition by the heroic performances of Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn’s immense keeping.

On the club scene the story was similar with Bayern Munich’s triumphs at the turn of the century – crowned by Champions League glory in 2001 – representing the last kicks of a dying horse.

In the years that followed, German influence on the Champions League waned, and after Bayer Leverkusen reached the final in 2002, no German club reached the last four for the next five seasons.

So, here it was: Euro 2004, a crossroads.

Thanks to this disastrous first-round exit minds would finally be concentrated on the task of turning things around – of returning Germany to the mountain top.

The road back – 2004 to 2013

Jurgen Klinsmann was, in many ways, the perfect messiah for Germany; even if he wasn’t the first choice (both Ottmar Hitzfeld and Otto Rehhagel turned the job down; an indication, perhaps, of how dire things were).

When Klinsmann took over as national team coach in 2004 he provided invaluable impetus to a regeneration process that had begun in 2001.

Klinsmann’s main goal was to give German football an identity. He focused on imparting a particular style of play and building on the academy program initiated by the German Football Association (DFB) in 2001.

Following Germany’s Euro 2000 disappointment the German FA had instructed all Bundesliga clubs to set up youth academies – with state of the facilities and teams from Under-12 to Under-23s – as a condition of their license.

The following year this was extended to all Bundesliga II clubs as well.

These academies were not merely to be the property of clubs but would be overseen by an academies committee, made up of representatives from the German FA, German Football League and Bundesliga clubs.

In 2002, before the changes kicked in, 60 percent of players in the Bundesliga were foreign. Today the number is reversed.

These wholesale changes to the system still had fervent sceptics. Change is never easy or readily accepted and it’s fair to say that although foundations were being set, no real unified progress was being made.

The Future
Borussia Dortmund's next generation
The vehemence of Klinsmann and his assistant coach Joachim Loew was vital in pushing through change. The two designed a new blueprint for German football that was to be religiously followed throughout the system.

“When Jogi (Loew) and I took over the German side, we made our plans very public and made it clear that we were trying to rebuild from the bottom up,” Klinsmann said in 2010. “The German Football Association helped us by putting a lot of pressure on all the first and second division teams in the Bundesliga to build academy programmes and ensure talented young players were coming through.”

What began to emerge was a blueprint for the style of play that would be used by all national teams in Germany and what came about was a new, vibrant football ethos.

Germany had been dominant in years past but with a different, efficient style of football, based on a sweeper system which had become outdated.

Now, Klinsmann wanted a radical change.

“We eventually decided to go down an attack-minded route, passing the ball on the ground from the back to the front line as quickly as possible using dynamic football,” Klinsmann says. “It was our intention to play a fast-paced game, an attacking game and a proactive game.”

The by-product was the 2006 World Cup which changed the way the world viewed Germany but also the way Germans viewed their football.

The fast-paced, attacking game Klinsmann advocated was the way to go and so came part two of the process for Germany.

Complete football development is a positive loop. Culture is built at the grassroots and is reaffirmed at senior level. A nation may have the finest youth system but if the national side does not promote the same identity, the process is defeated. Similarly, a senior team may espouse a certain style – and even achieve success – but if this is not backed up at the grassroots success will not last.

Germany’s complete approach has enabled vivacity throughout the country’s game.

The focus on academies and a national playing style has translated into Germany’s eye-catching transformation and is epitomised by two club teams in Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund that play a furiously fast-paced, attacking game.

This is the way the German Bundesliga is today – rapid, offensive and entertaining.

Mostly importantly, this revolution is spearheaded by German talent, players brought up in the system.

On the up
Mario Gotze, one of Germany's rising stars
And the number of quality German players coming through the ranks is quite staggering. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos – just name a few – are all 24 years-old or under. All are genuinely world-class and all play in a style they understand, a style that’s built to suit them.

From Dortmund to Munich

How quickly German football has managed to remodel itself is one of the great wonders of the world, but perhaps it’s just an example of German efficiency.

Dortmund’s case is still astonishing, though.

As has been well-documented, just seven years ago Borussia Dortmund were on the brink of bankruptcy and needed a €2 million loan from Bayern Munich to help cover its payroll.

Dortmund were forced to sell their best players, Tomas Rosicky for example, to stay afloat and even flirted with relegation. Today, Dortmund are a rising star which has more than doubled its revenues in the past three years, winning two Bundesliga titles in the process.

Two factors have been fundamental.

One is the appointment of Jurgen Klopp as manager in May 2008. His fiery, passionate attitude has galvanised the club and his tactical nous has brought on-field successes.

The second is a shift towards youth that was necessitated by their financial troubles (which had partly been brought about by overpaid, foreign stars).

Players such as Gotze, Reus, Marcel Schmelzer, Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lucas Barrios have either come from Dortmund’s academy or have been bought at low cost.

This transformation of Dortmund, based on youth promotion, probably best illustrates German football’s amazing renaissance.

Bayern, on the other hand, has always been a superpower capable of buying the best talent. For example, Bayern’s financial might has allowed the club to spend more than €200 million over the past four seasons to sign global superstars such as Javi Martinez, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben.

Nevertheless, Bayern is emerging from a slump – from 2003 to 2009 – during which they were unable to keep up with the might of English teams, Spain’s technique or Italy’s tactical nous.

Bayern were a non-factor in the business end of the Champions League.

It’s only in the past four seasons that Bayern have re-established themselves as a genuine superpower of the European game, reaching three Champions League finals in that period.

The Money and the Gem...
Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos
Bayern have bought star-players but, like Dortmund, their recent success is built on German talent. Manuel Neuer, Philippe Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kroos and Muller form the backbone of Jupp Heynckes’ team.

The beginning of German domination?

To say this is the beginning of German domination is premature. But clearly Germany is back and here to stay.

What football has frequently taught is dominance goes in cycles. Not so long ago there seemed no end to the dominance of English clubs. Spain’s duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid has, at times, also seemed unbeatable – going hand in hand with the Spanish national team’s international dominance over the past six years.

The strength of English Premier League remains significant, especially financially. The English Premiership has a new bumper television deal coming into effect next season that will increase income even more.

Spain remains the benchmark all-round. La Liga currently has the world’s two top footballers and remains the most attractive destination for the game’s superstars. The Spain national team, meanwhile, holds both the European and World Cup trophies.

Nonetheless, what sets Germany’s model apart is its sustainability and the rules in place to safeguard the vitality of the game.

One such rule is the 50+1 Rule which prevents wealthy investors from buying a club with short-term gain in mind. Each German Bundesliga club – apart from Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, who are owned by Bayer and Volkswagen respectively – is 51 percent owned by its supporters.

This measure is intended to stop clubs from falling into massive debt if their wealthy owners leave, such as what happened to Portsmouth. The rule also encourages clubs to spend within their means and not to be dependent on cash from wealthy owners.

In addition, the Bundesliga is governed by strict financial rules. Each club is required to present accounts to prove they will at least break-even for the coming season. In the transfer market, meanwhile, buy low and sell high is the motif for most German clubs.

The 12th Man
50 + 1 Rule in action
The focus on long-term success is entrenched. Clubs are currently spending over €100 million on youth development each year and over €500 million since the establishment of the country’s academy system.

As a result of this academy program, 60 percent of the players playing in the Bundesliga are German, with more than half educated through the academy system.

Things are looking up from all angles; the Bundesliga is now the best supported football league in the world with an average attendance of 45,134 fans per match and Die Mannschaft is again a perennial contender at international champions. And this marvellous rise is crowned by the first time two German teams have contested a Champions League final – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Whether this heralds an era of domination only time will tell, but this is Germany’s time in the limelight; and it has been ten years in the making.


  1. Wow, great read! It does appear that Germany is coming back big and will likely become dominant in the near future, maybe even next year in Brazil (liken this to Spain's story)....with a strong middle class and lots of money being spent on development, they should be the kings for the next ten years, starting next year.

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