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