10/16/15

The Bundesliga Blueprint by Lee Price: Book Review

The-Bundesliga-Blueprint-Lee-Price

The Precis

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.

02/14/14

Random Rambles Part II: Anelka’s Appeal and More Brazilian Protests

As I said I would be posting a couple of articles with my thoughts on a few current issues and here is the second part of my random rambles, focusing on Anelka’s appeal against the FA’s charges regarding his quenelle gesture and yet more social unrest brewing in Brazil.

Anelka’s appeal carries no weight.

Following Anelka’s ill-advised quenelle salute during a match against West Ham on 28 December, 2013, the FA found the Frenchman guilty of making a gesture alleged to be “abusive or indecent or insulting or improper.” A further statement from English football’s governing body read “It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3, in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief.”

The West Bromwich Albion forward, who faces a minimum five game ban, has launched an appeal against the charges and requested a personal hearing in a move which could see his ban doubled if he is still found guilty after the appeal. In my opinion doubling his ban is exactly the line the FA should take.

Anelka's quenelle celebration vs. West Ham back in December 2013.

Anelka’s quenelle celebration vs. West Ham back in December 2013.

Having written about this incident a few weeks ago in my article European Footall and Fascism, I advocated a severe punishment for Anelka and his appeal merely reinforces my view. Just like his friend and compatriot, comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala (the man who brought the gesture to prominence), Anelka has denied the quenelle is a ‘reverse Nazi salute’ or a gesture with anti-Semitic connotations, instead claiming that its anti-establishment. This is disingenuous.

Whether the quenelle started off as anti-establishment (about which I am sceptical) is largely irrelevant. The gesture has been pictured in front of synagogues, Auschwitz, at the Jewish school where Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah killed three children, by signs for rue des Juifs (Jews’ Street) and in front of the train wagons that transported French Jews to the concentration camps.

It seems unlikely that this celebration was spontaneous, heat of the moment and without forethought. Especially considering it was during a match Anelka knew was being televised in France. So whether it was a dedication to his comedian friend or not, why did  he feel the need to show his support for Dieudonné on this global stage and in this manner?

There is an argument suggesting the gesture was more anarchic then anti-Semitic as the celebration did not occur in a specifically Jewish place, a fact pointed out by Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of Jewish institutions in France. However this is flimsy at best. Anelka used this argument in a Facebook message in which he asked the FA to “kindly remove” the charge made against him, however Cukierman has further clarified his comments saying the player’s sympathy for the gesture is “clearly suspect”. He hits the nail on the head. Anelka is a 34-year-old man and a close friend to Dieudonné, so the theory that he was oblivious to the gestures more sinister nuances or lacked the foresight to predict the potential fall out from his celebration lacks credibility.

The symbolism of a gesture remains whatever the setting. Take Prince Harry’s ill-fated decision to dress up in a Nazi costume for a party back in 2005. It was a naive faux-pas from a juvenile 20-year-old. However this did not save him from a public backlash, the media running headlines such as “Harry The Nazi”. Of course a gesture is more provocative and offensive in certain environments than others, but that doesn’t negate its symbolism. As soon as the quenelle became associated with anti-Semitism, it developed a symbolic power and a Premier League footballer in today’s society, right or wrong, is a role model to millions across the globe. Therefore Anelka should have known better.

You can bet your bottom dollar there was a young child somewhere across the globe imitating Anelka’s celebration. Even young Romelu Lukaku (on loan at Everton), came out in staunch defence of a man he identifies as one of his footballing idols. The FA lost the initiative having failed to respond with immediate repercussions. They must now look to set a precedent by banning Anelka for a minimum of eight to ten games.

“Protests and more protests in Brazil”

“There Will Be No World Cup”. This was the slogan of one of the recent protests in Brazil. The economic fragility and gross social inequality has seen malcontent spread throughout the country and the public furore concerning government expenditure on this summer’s World Cup has by no means been alleviated. Add this to the fact that 2014 is not only a World Cup year in Brazil, but also an election year with Dilma Rousseff set to run for a second four-year term as president, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Protests flare up in the streets of Sao Paulo. 'There will be no cup' (Photo from www.therepublic.com)

Protests flare up in the streets of Sao Paulo. ‘There will be no cup’ (Photo from www.therepublic.com)

The political protests tainted what was a very successful Confederations Cup for the host nation on the field and they remain a real concern to the Brazilian government who fear that similar unrest could severely disrupt this summer’s tournament. Since the demonstrations witnessed last June, Rousseff’s government have been unable to assuage public discontent. Although recent outcries have been smaller in scale, they have still resulted in vandalism of banks and violent clashes with police, as hardcore groups of protesters nationwide, some of whom call themselves ‘Black Blocs’, cause disruption within some of Brazil’s major cities. The latest development’s in Rio de Janeiro have seen hundreds of people clash with authorities during protests against increased fares for public transport. The skirmishes have been brutal with six people left injured, twenty arrested and a journalist left in critical condition in hospital after he was struck by an explosive device.

Reports have claimed Brazilian security forces are implementing a stringent crackdown, using undercover agents, intercepting emails and meticulously monitoring social media to try to ensure this summers World Cup is not remembered for the battles on the streets rather than the battles on the field.

Having already commented on this issue – Brazil, Stadiums and Protests – all I want to add is this. It is all very well making sure the World Cup runs smoothly and everyone wants to witness a successful event which celebrates football. However as an emerging nation in the world’s global economy, the Brazilian government and FIFA must not attempt to conceal and neglect the country’s social and economic shortfalls under the guises of a footballing fiesta.

Using the words of the recently deceased Nelson Mandela “Sport has the power to inspire and unite people” and football is such a vehicle. Despite the protesters slogans, the ‘show will go on’. But it is the government’s responsibility and FIFA’s (despite their mumbling) to make sure that once the World Cup comes to an end, these social and economic ills are not swept aside once again in preparation for their next major sporting event – the 2016 Summer Olympics. The World Cup has provided the Brazilian government with an audience, they now need to prove the country is worthy of one.