When Germany became World Cup champions at Brazil in 2014, the average age of their squad was an impressive 25.7, with only three players (Miroslav Klose, Roman Weidenfeller and captain Philip Lahm) in their thirties. Germany’s match winner in the final against Argentina was 22-year-old Mario Gotze, one of the many prodigies who have come to symbolise the regeneration of German football over the last decade.
But as author Lee Price highlights, the roots of this triumph can be traced back to Euro 2000, a competition in which Germany suffered an ignominious group stage exit. German football had reached its nadir and this prompted a bold, but necessary overhaul. Their football authorities embarked on a journey to rebuild Die Mannschaft, in what has become known as Germany’s ‘10-year plan’.
The ‘revolution’ has ensured that although the Bundesliga is yet to be considered the ‘biggest’ football league in Europe, it is certainly the most stable. The national team has reaped the benefits.
Drawing upon the expertise of former Germany internationals, including Michael Ballack and Jens Nowotny, as well as a number of prominent coaches and administrators in the German game, Price maps out the key factors in this success; a commitment to the holistic development of youth and coaching, maintaining a fan-centric philosophy, an emphasis on financial prudence and an unwavering determination to avoid complacency in the face of success. It is a ‘Blueprint’ which Lee believes the English should follow.
How does it relate to Beyond the Field of Play?
Fans: Stakeholders vs Customers
After subsidising tickets for Bayern Munich fans travelling to watch their team play in the Champions league against Arsenal in 2014, Bayern’s former chairman Uli Hoenness proclaimed:
“We do not think fans are like cows you milk, football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
Price’s analysis of the relationship between fans and clubs is of particular interest to Beyond the Field of Play, in which fandom is a recurring theme. The Bundesliga is the best attended in Europe. Clubs are committed to providing cheap tickets in the name of inclusivity. Putting this into perspective, the cost of one Arsenal season ticket is enough to buy you ten of Bayern’s equivalent. Safe-standing terracing has also been embraced in German stadiums, which fans view as a vital component of their national game’s identity.
Then there is the 50 + 1 rule, which stipulates that clubs must retain at least 50 percent of shares, plus one share, to ensure outside investors cannot become majority stakeholders. The prominence of Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs), who represent fan’s interests, and act as their voice in board meetings, is also crucial. This is the antithesis of the situation in England, in which fans are often treated as a commodity. As Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke summarises:
“In England the fan is now basically a customer…But if you tell a German supporter that he is just a customer, he’s going to kill you.”
Youth & Coaching: A Holistic Approach
After the debacle of 2000, the German FA (the DFB) had a clear strategy; invest in youth. A task force was created and within two years it was compulsory for teams in the first and second division to have an academy. But this focus wasn’t just about honing footballing talent; it was also about embracing a “holistic approach.” As Price acknowledges:
“Whereas English prodigies often abandon their school lives entirely in pursuit of football dreams, the German model demanded equal focus on education in the classroom and on the training pitch.”
The CEO of the DFL (the German Football League), Christian Seifert, considers it a “social responsibility” to provide the best possible education to youngsters, while Pellegrino Matarazzo, the coach of FC Nurnberg’s Under-19 team, points out that winning is not the be-all and end-all and advocates a tailored coaching style that is geared to player’s needs. This culture has undoubtedly helped talented Germans stay grounded and maintain professionalism.
Given that many English youngsters often fall foul to the lofty expectations and pressure to achieve results, or become distracted by the riches and culture of excess that accompanies a career in football, as Price concludes, “the English game would do well to observe what’s worked for Germany – and try and apply some of it.”
Should you be reading Bundesliga Blueprint?
In one word; yes. The Bundesliga Blueprint is a well-researched and informative account of the transition undergone by German football over the last 15-years. For those with Anglo-Germanic interests, I would go as far as saying it is essential. Furthermore, it broaches a number of socio-cultural issues which are of interest to those who analyse beyond the field of play.
It is short and crisp and Price’s writing style is accessible and pithy. You could even say efficient and astute, much like the blueprint about which he is writing. While Price is clearly in awe of German football, he does seek to acknowledge its shortcomings, even if only for a chapter. But more importantly, he makes a compelling argument for why English football should seek to follow in Germany’s footsteps. After reading, you may find it hard to disagree.
The Bundesliga Blueprint — How Germany became the Home of Football by Lee Price
(Bennion Kearny, £9.99)
With thanks to Melanie Greer and Bennion Kearny for the opportunity to review this book.