Auf Wiedersehen, Premier League: Why The Future May Be German

By on Apr 2, 2011 in English League Football, European Club Football, Latest | 8 comments

It’s time to welcome another new face to Twohundredpercent. This week, Luke Edwards explains how he has fallen out of love with the Premier League and sought solace in what may well really be The Biggest Football League In The World.

You hear time and time again from pundits and media alike that, “the Premier League is the best in the world”, and this is a comment that is seldom challenged in the mainstream media.  For me, though, this season has been no more than just another underwhelming Premier League season.  Manchester United are playing at nowhere near their best, yet they are seemingly cruising towards their nineteenth title. Meanwhile, barring Liverpool’s demise (with Spurs or Manchester City take their place), the top four is always the same and the high ticket prices and predictability of it all are starting to drive people away. People like myself, for example.

For me this season, the Bundesliga in Germany is hitting a spot that the Premier League cannot reach. A quick look at the table shows Borussia Dortmund, a mid-table side last season, eight points clear at the top of the table, having only lost three games all season and looking certain for their first title since 2002. They have achieved all of this with an average squad age of 22.3 years, and even Arsene Wenger could learn a thing or two from their coach, Jurgen Klopp, on the subject of how to bring the very best out of a young squad.  In which other league would you get a team, Wolfsburg, who were the champions just two seasons ago but are now second bottom in the league and in danger of being relegated? It’s crazy, it is unpredictable and exciting.

Then we have Schalke, who are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League who have spent €14m on Huntelaar, €12m on Jurado from Athletico Madrid and the great Raul, (who turned down a number of Premier League clubs), on a free transfer. Looming large behind them, meanwhile, are Bayern Munich, the Manchester United of German football. “FC Hollywood” were double winners last season, but this season they lying in fifth place in the table and are in danger of missing out on Europe altogether. This has already cost the Dutchman Louis Van Gaal his job this season, with the sale of the World Cup’s bête noire Mark Van Bommel having had a detrimental affect on their midfield. Meanwhile, defensive issues haven’t helped them, with Demichelis leaving, Daniel Van Buyten showing signs of ageing and Breno not matching pre-season expectations, leaving them with considerable work to do if they are to meet as much as their minimum objective for the season.

There are also several features built into the very structure of the Bundesliga that have been earning envious glances from many in England this season. One of these is the league’s Safe Standing policy. This, along with considerably lower ticket prices than the Premier League, means that attendances are generally higher (Borussia Dortmund, for example, get 80,000 turn out for every home game).  The Premier League has, without making a very convincing argument as to why, opposed Safe Standing, but it is an issue that refuses to go away and The Football Supporters Federation have been pushing its agenda for many years. On their website, they claim that:

“Every week thousands upon thousands of fans stand in front of their seats for the duration of the game while following the team they love – attempts by the authorities to end this practise have failed. Surveys regularly show the vast majority of supporters back the choice to stand or sit. The FSF’s National Supporters’ Survey showed that 90% of fans back the choice to stand or sit.”

To this extent, the Bundesliga is probably the best example of how Safe Standing could work, and this isn’t the only thing that makes some in this country’s eyes turn green. The ownership model of German football clubs could certainly be regarded as more progressive than that followed in Britain. All professional clubs in Germany are majority-owned by of the fans under what is known as the “fifty plus one” rule. This means that fans have a bigger say in the running of the club and also limits the amount of debt that they can run up in the pursuit of success. In order to obtain a licence from the DFB (the German Football Association), the following conditions must be met:

  • That all payment obligations can be met at all times.
  • That regular match operations can be guaranteed at all times.
  • Plans in place to counter any financial problems that may arise.

It was also decided not to take the Premier League’s route of the commercial option.  The chief executive of the Bundesliga, Christian Seifert, told the BBC website in a recent interview that, “If you see a club merely as a marketing tool, why should you care about the national team?”. Oliver Bierhoff, now the general manager of the national team, agrees and has added that, “It was very important to have a common goal, a common interest, clubs came together for the good of German football”. In England, meanwhile The Premier League could even be seen to have undermined the national team, and the fruits of this labour were thrown harshly into view at the World Cup finals last year.

In Germany, clubs such as Bayern Munich, who have been overlooked in many areas of the British media and have been somewhat unfairly described in recent years as under-achieving (even though they made the final of last year’s Champions League), may find that  the DFBs financial prudence may well prove to be to their benefit in the long-term when the UEFA Fair Play Rules come into practice. The Premier League’s financial model could yet be left lagging behind, especially if UEFA see through their threat of not allowing teams compete in European club competitions if they have huge debts.  If the first decade of the new century belonged to the English super-clubs, we may well find that the second and third end up belonging, in part at least, to the Germans.

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    8 Comments

  1. Good points here.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the German model has a lot to recommend it, particularly in respect of the ownership model.

    The fact that the focus of German clubs is fans and football rather than brands and profits has certainly done their national team a great deal of good.

    Much of the written evidence to the current government enquiry refers to the German model as the way to go. But the FA and the Premier League are big self-interested brakes on any progress.

    … and then their is the issue of players and agents and their income …

    SJ Maskell

    April 2, 2011

  2. Couldn’t agree more, I mentioned the great example of safe standing in the Bundesliga on my blog a couple of weeks ago but sadly it seems increasingly unlikely that the Premier League/FA are actually ever going to listen to what the fans want.

    There is so much that the Premier League could learn from the Bundesliga but they seem to think all is well in the English leagues if a few pundits keep on saying how the Premier League is the best league in the world.

    James

    April 2, 2011

  3. Your on the money Luke! Ever since the all German semi in the UEFA cup between Hamburg and Werder Bremen German football has looked much more exciting all round and the national team is the leagues top priority! Also matches on a Friday night!!! Bloody beautiful that one is.

    Kevin Leonard

    April 4, 2011

  4. There is a lot in this article that is true. But some points need to be disputed.

    Certainly the German Bundesliga is more entertaining than the Premier League because of the ups and downs the top teams might experience, like Bayern and Schalke did this season.

    I’m not sure the UEFA Fair Play Rule would be so good for instance for Bayern. They claim they have millions in their accounts but it’s not clear, whether this money is available for the daily business of running a football club and paying the players. There is no evidence that clubs are not paying their players more than the allowed percentage by UEFA under their new regulations.

    As for the ownership, the 50+1 prevents clubs of becoming prey for investors like in England where Portsmouth must be a warning example to any one. However these rules do not imply any democratic running of the clubs. The executive board themselves decide whom they nominate for the supervisory board. Therefore excluding the fan base from any decisive decision making.

    Christoph

    April 4, 2011

  5. I totally agree. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little about almost all the leagues big and small over there. That said, It is awesome to see a club like Dortmund winning it hopefully this year who is getting to be financially stable unlike so many English clubs.

    I will be curious to see with 4 CL spots starting in 2012/2013 if there will be a few semi regulars making it as I think that does help you gain experience. That said, Tottenham had no experience and they seem to be doing quite well this year in the CL.

    I went to 2 Borussia Dortmund home matches this past September and the atmosphere was amazing!! I also went to see St. Pauli at FC Koln and that was cool as well. There was no problems amongst supporters at all 3 matches.

    I forgot. I even went to see 1860 Munich at FC Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga 2 and that was even a good time.

    TattooedSean

    April 5, 2011

  6. This is great stuff, but I don’t see how English football can change without a lot of pain for the supporter : if your club is going to be restricted in the way it operates , it is going to be less successful or might even go to the wall. Maybe that’s how it must be ; and we all take the (temporary) hit. What is for sure is that the present system is gross and mocks the very people who support it.

    John Butler

    April 12, 2011

  7. I myself became disillusioned with the PL a while back but did not choose the Bundesliga as my alternative.

    I went back to my roots, to the Blue Square North, where I have watched Hyde FC become embroiled in financial meltdown and flirtation with relegation.

    I’ve written about the first part (http://www.raindropsolutions.com/index.php/2010/07/united-no-more/) and am working on the second piece which will be completed when Hyde’s future is confirmed.

    I’ve found that the grass isn’t always greener but it is definitely not greedier.

    Lee Bennett

    April 13, 2011

  8. German football has the correct balance between supporter and corporate interests. The collective debt of both professional leagues does not equate to the debt of Man Utd. German fans vehemently defend their football culture and will mobilise to dissuade the need for pandering to corporate involvement thus making the benefactor model obsolete. Can’t wait to get back to berlin to get my fix of Union and TeBe!

    Great article!

    Chris Simpkins

    April 13, 2011

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