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Why Germany is Europe’s new football superpower

Jonathan Liew examines the forces that have guided two Bundesliga teams towards the Champions League final and the important lessons that can be learned in other European leagues

1 Academies

THE miracle of Borussia Dortmund has been their transformation from the bottom half of the Bundesliga to the brink of the Champions League final while generating a net transfer surplus.

The answer is to be found at the club's academy, where Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Nuri Sahin all learnt their trade. Even when big-spending Bayern beat Barcelona, it was with four of their own academy products: Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Alaba and Thomas Muller.

German football invested heavily in youth after the debacle of Euro 2000. No team were granted a licence unless their academy could meet exacting standards, with almost €713m invested in youth scouting and development in the past decade. But finding the players is only half the struggle.

"Most importantly, German youngsters – players of 19 and 20 – get a chance in the first-team squad," says Uwe Rosler, Brentford's German manager. "The development system is better there. In England, we develop good youngsters, but what happens is they get lost, too many of them, at 18 and 19.

"You need to work out how to give younger players a chance to develop. And go only for the top, top foreign players rather than the average foreigner who block the young players coming through."

2 Finance

The Premier League remains the most lucrative in the world. But the Bundesliga is catching up. Its latest financial figures, released in January, revealed record-breaking revenues of €2.1bn – still some way behind England, but with a good deal of potential to be exploited. A new bumper television deal starts next season which many analysts believe still undervalues the product.

Where Germany is undisputed master of the planet is in the commercial sphere, where the strength of the economy and the business nous of its top clubs have led to strong revenues from sponsorship, advertising and merchandising. Rather than tying themselves to one partner, German clubs forge alliances with a number of companies, a model Manchester United are now trying to emulate.

Commercial activities account for 55pc of turnover at Bayern Munich, 53pc at Schalke and 51pc at Dortmund, compared with 27pc at Chelsea, 22pc at Arsenal and just 15pc at Newcastle.

The traditional German aversion to debt has also been key. "What happened to Portsmouth could not happen (in Germany)," adds Rosler.

"Things like administration are non-existent. You have to supply the federation with all your documentation, contracts etc. Your budget has to be cleared by bank guarantees. Over time, that means German clubs have become very good with money. They couldn't compete to get the best players, so they improved their infrastructure and spent wisely. What they have now is healthy finance, a lot of young German players and not many foreigners."

And clearly, a well-run club with solid foundations in place is far more likely to catch the eye of investors.

3 Fan Culture

The average price of the cheapest Bundesliga ticket is €12, which would barely get you into most Conference grounds in England. Moreover, match tickets are also valid for travel to and from matches. The 2006 World Cup has bequeathed a clutch of brilliant new stadiums, and despite the fact that every single match in the top two divisions is televised, attendances in Germany are higher than anywhere else in Europe.

"Dortmund is a special club, the fan base is phenomenal," says Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert, who won the Champions League with the club in 1997. "And the league is very strong. Every Bundesliga game is mostly full; that's due to the prices. They get it spot on with entertainment, the way they love the lifestyle is a major factor, so there is an argument maybe we should take a leaf out of the German model."

There seems to be a recognition at all levels of the game that the fan is the most important entity in the entire system. This may have something to do with the 50+1 rule, which states that at least half of a club's shares must be owned by their supporters.

The supporter is seen as a participant rather than a mere paying customer. German fans are certainly more demanding than they are in England; in August 2010, Dortmund fans boycotted an away game against local rivals Schalke in protest at the home club doubling their ticket prices – to €22.

4 Competitiveness

Perhaps the most fundamental structural difference between the Bundesliga and La Liga is how television money is distributed. Under the current system, the Bundesliga champions receive twice as much as the bottom team. In Spain, the ratio is roughly 12:1, with Barcelona and Real Madrid allowed to sell their rights separately and thus able to corner a huge share of the market. This may explain why they have carved up 25 of the last 29 titles between them.

The Bundesliga has traditionally been a more open contest. But the transfers of Gotze and, possibly, Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund to Bayern have posed searching questions.

Bayern's revenue of €368m and wage bill of €166m is around double Dortmund's, and the gap is widening. The fact that even the second-best club in Germany cannot resist Bayern picking off their best players points to a worrying future.

"The top two teams have become so successful that the Bundesliga is in danger of going in the same way as the Primera Liga in Spain," says respected German journalist Hartmut Scherzer. "The old slogan in the Bundesliga was that any team could beat any team. That cannot exist any longer. Bayern just buy the best players."

The irony, then, is surely this: a week in which the Bundesliga model dramatically asserted its success could ultimately lead to its erosion.

5 Tactics and coaching

Much has been made of the stylistic similarities between the four Champions League semi-finalists, but there are points where the Spanish and German schools diverge. The slick, measured passing game common in La Liga is inflected with a greater urgency in Germany, where more teams play a high-energy pressing game designed to win the ball and break at speed.

Despite languishing near the bottom of the table, the likes of Hoffenheim and Augsburg have remained true to this philosophy. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that 17 of the 18 Bundesliga clubs have a home-grown coach.

Attendance at the world-renowned Hennes-Weisweiler Academy in Cologne is now a mandatory requirement for any coach in the top three divisions. Apart from ensuring a plentiful supply of top-class coaches, it has been central in engendering what one might term the German footballing ethos.

6 Governance

One of the consequences of the 50+1 rule has been that clubs are democratically elected in a way that would be almost unthinkable at most clubs in England.

The relationship between club and fans is thus akin to that between a company and its shareholders, where an elected management board rules by popular consent rather than a statement to the stock exchange.

The differences are clearest at a club like Bayern, where the manager and his coaching staff – even Pep Guardiola – are very much temporary appointments. While managers at English clubs enjoy an almost patriarchal status, even in this era of meddling chequebook-owners, in Germany the real dynasties are built upstairs, often with ex-players at their core. At Bayern, for example, former internationals Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge sit on the board, while Franz Beckenbauer is the club's honorary president. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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