By Kate Partridge
When the fireworks went up at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on July 1st last year, the light of Spanish football burned at its brightest.
After winning Euro 2008, a maiden World Cup in 2010, and then a 4-0 demolition of Italy to defend their European crown, all the plaudits went to Vicente del Bosque’s team, and all the pundits cooed over la Liga.
But for every headline, there’s always a sub-plot. Spain’s continental endeavours saw them equal Germany’s leading tally of three titles. While Joachim Loew’s fancied team itself bowed out at the last-four stage – just as they had in South Africa, where they still beat their own record with a 12th top-four finish. On an international level, die Mannschaft are consistently formidable.
So it was perhaps only a matter of “when” this relentless success would be emulated at club level. After watching rivals Dortmund lift two successive Bundesliga trophies, and enduring the humiliation of losing last year’s Champions League final to Chelsea on their own turf, Bayern Munich were out to prove a point; and did so with clinical efficiency.
A 25-point margin of victory over Dortmund in the league was followed up by a late 2-1 Wembley triumph to complete a double over Juergen Klopp’s men, and a fifth European crown, in the first ever all-German Champions League final.
Then Bayern held off Stuttgart 3-2 to win the domestic Cup final and seal a unique German treble, ensuring coach Jupp Heynckes departed at the end of the season on a high, and left the nation in football’s ascendancy. Spain – home of both beaten Champions League semi-finalists – was temporarily forgotten.
Cue: Pep Guardiola – and the 14-title former Barcelona coach wasted no time. Twelve games into his tenure, Bayern made history, breaking Hamburg’s 30-year-old record to become the first Bundesliga team to record 37 consecutive unbeaten games with a 3-0 home romp over Augsburg.
Guardiola’s own tally of ten wins and two draws was also the best start to the season by a new coach in the league’s history. His side went four points clear at the top of the table – and are into the Last 16 of the Champions League, aiming to be the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to successfully defend their crown. Wunderbar.
So what makes German teams – both international and domestic – so good?
Almost forty years ago, Franz Beckenbauer captained Bayern to three straight European Cups and West Germany to 1974 World Cup glory. And the legendary skipper puts the current German success down to home grown investment.
“In the last ten-to-fifteen years, our youngsters (Philipp) Lahm, (Bastian) Schweinsteiger, (Mario) Goetze, (Marco) Reus – all these young players came from the academies,” said Beckenbauer.
Along with producing their own world-class players, German clubs provide seven of Europe’s top 13 most attended grounds, unencumbered by the necessity to provide all-seater stadia.
While, unlike most big European clubs, only a few German teams belong to one owner, with shared control of running the financial and commercial responsibilities – a system that comfortably works in tandem with UEFA’s strict new financial regulations.
And, after leading Bayern to that first German treble, Heynckes then seamlessly handed over to Guardiola. The top club team plus the top club coaches obviously equals a formula for success – both on the pitch and off it.
The advent of the young Catalan to Bayern also coincided with the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, after winning 38 trophies in 26 years. These changes also occurred during the publication of a report claiming Bayern had overtaken United to become the world’s most valuable football brand, worth $860m (£570m). Their status as European champions had given them access to a wider, global audience.
Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona were ranked third and fourth respectively, followed by English sides Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Milan – treble winners in 2010 – was the highest placed Italian club, at number 10.
Yet the Brand Finance findings added that the Bundesliga was still second to the English top flight in brand value terms. The Premier League clubs have a combined value of $3.1bn – over 50% more than the $1.9bn combined value of Bundesliga teams.
“The commercial transformation of the English game, which has created hugely successful global brands, had been seen as the model to emulate,” said Brand Finance CEO David Haigh. But there’s a caveat.
“The escalation of player wages, poor financial management and alienation of grass roots fans has left many people jaded.
“In contrast, the cheap tickets, high attendances, democratic ownership structure and financial prudence of the Bundesliga now looks like an attractive alternative, particularly now it is delivering world-beating, fluid football rather than the more workmanlike style German teams had been known for.”
As Haigh says, these observations are borne out at the turnstiles. A Bayern Munich fan can buy a season ticket to safely stand for £104.48, while it’s £985.00 to sit at Arsenal. Bayern’s tickets also cost half as much as at the Emirates.
Put in the context of a protracted global economic crisis and it means that either all Arsenal fans are rich or, more realistically, some are risking credit. Rather like the owners of some English top-flight clubs.
This pattern seems symptomatic of an age-addled system that mitigates against producing a successful national side. While Germany has prudently planned for the long-term, England has long been fond of throwing cash at short-term solutions, overplaying their best players, investing little in youth and lamentably under-educating them, while failing to encourage young footballers from outside a shrinking working class.
As England prepare to host Germany in a friendly on Tuesday, both sets of fans will probably recall their 2010 meeting in South Africa. Germany beat England 4-1 – a worst-ever World Cup defeat for the Three Lions – though not without the controversy of Frank Lampard’s 38th-minute strike, which crossed the line and would have made the score 2-2 – but none of the officials saw it.
Ironically, a similar goal that was given had helped England win the World Cup in 1966 – so far their only international triumph – while the country’s record in the Euros is two third-placed finishes and five times failing to qualify.
So while Spain and Germany are divvying up the spoils, in the country where football was born and its revenues are plentiful, the argument rages over whether a player should value his club over his country. Germany is proving that you can have both. In fact, you can have it all.
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