The best of German football from the Bundesliga and beyond
Bernie Reeves maps the continuing rise of the German game...
There’s no doubting German football is on the up.
The Bundesliga has the best average attendance figures of any European league by a considerable distance this season – 45,556 (according to bundesliga.de) – while 12 of its 18 clubs attract at least 40,000 fans to each home game.
As of next season, there will be four German representatives in the UEFA Champions League, after Germany improved its UEFA coefficient at the expense of Italy’s Serie A. German clubs playing in this year’s Champions League or Europa League competitions boast a strong make-up of young German players, while the national team – along with Tuesday evening’s friendly opponents, Holland – are seen as the only side who could knock Spain off their perch in Poland and the Ukraine.
This will, of course, make the meeting in Hamburg an especially interesting one, with many seeing it as a marker of just how far Joachim Löw’s team has come in the 16 months since the World Cup.
What’s making the national team so strong are the rules on coaching youngsters. The academy system, introduced by the German Football Federation (DFB) following Germany’s disastrous performance at EURO 2000, has since become a compulsory for every club in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga – fail to participate and they will not receive their licensing money from the German Football League (DFL).
The changes have meant that teams in the Bundesliga are using more and more home-grown players. Figures issued in April by the DFL stated that, of 525 players registered at the 36 clubs of the Bundesliga, 275 – over 52% – were trained at an academy, while the proportion of German players in licensed football was over 64%, the highest figure since the 1998-99 season.
Since the introduction of the academies in 2001, clubs have invested around €520 million in educating young players. The Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga is tapping this well of talent, as is Joachim Löw.
So what results have arisen from all these changes? With an increased number of German players featuring in the Bundesliga, quantity has eventually developed into quality. Clubs from both professional leagues in Germany are producing players able to mix it in a top European league, as well as the German national team, with increasing regularity.
It seems the Bundesliga is fast becoming the first port of call for Europe’s leading clubs looking to augment their squads with new talent. Real Madrid took Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil to the Bernabeu in the summer of 2010 at relatively young ages, before moving for young Turkey midfielder Nuri Sahin this summer. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, meanwhile, plunged into the transfer market to take Per Mertesacker from Werder Bremen on the final day of the most recent transfer window. After a difficult baptism to his Premier league career, the 6’7in defender has been a key component of Arsenal’s recent resurgence.
According to rumours, Wenger also had an audacious €35 million offer for Dortmund’s precocious 19-year-old talent Mario Götze rejected by the German club. With Götze continuing to perform so well for his club, and the national team, it seems transfer speculation will surround him for the rest of the season, especially as he looks a sure bet to be on the plane to the Euros next summer.
But as well as Götze, Wenger has apparently been interested in a host of other names from the Bundesliga. Dortmund striker Kevin Großkreutz, who himself admitted that he would love to sign for a club like Arsenal, has been on the North London club’s radar.
Arsenal scout Steve Rowley was seen at Signal Iduna Park earlier this month to witness Großkreutz’s winning goal against Olympiakos in the Champions League. Lukas Podolski’s name has also been quoted as a possible new recruit for the Gunners, as has that of the latest German youngster to light up the Bundesliga, Marco Reus of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Having scored seven goals this season and just been capped for the senior team against Turkey last month, Reus has also apparently attracted the interest of Mr. Wenger, with figures of €15 million being mentioned by sections of the German press.
But aside from those players that have reportedly attracted the interest of other clubs, there are a host other German young players who are excelling in the Bundesliga.
André Schürrle of Bayer Leverkusen has played two full seasons in Germany’s top flight and scored 33 senior goals, as well as having a remarkable five goals in ten games for the Germany team, all achieved by the tender age of 21.
Julian Draxler, born in 1993, has made over forty appearances for the Schalke first team and is already a regular in the side at 18; while his 23-year-old teammate in central defence, Benedikt Höwedes, has been a fixture in the Schalke back four since midway through the 2008-09 season, and is the current club captain.
Meanwhile, Mats Hummels, one of the bedrocks of Dortmund’s title-winning campaign last season, is valued at €18 million and most definitely on the radar of Uli Hoeneß, President of his old club, FC Bayern München.
Then there are the Bender twins, Lars and Sven, playing for Leverkusen and Dortmund respectively; Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer, unlucky not to feature in the Ukraine game last Friday, but in contention to play against Holland at left-back in the absence of Philipp Lahm; goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, who was handed his full international debut against the Ukraine last Friday after impressing with Hannover 96 this season; and even Marko Marin, currently not enjoying his best season at Werder Bremen, but still a seasoned international, are further names to evidence the number of quality players to have emerged recently in German football.
And we haven’t even mentioned the talent that FC Bayern München have in their ranks, such as Thomas Müller (aged 22), Toni Kroos (21) and Holger Badstuber (22), among others.
This conveyor belt of quality, home-grown players is one of the factors propelling the popularity of the Bundesliga, but it’s also the bedrock on which the success of Germany’s national team has been built.
In the last fifteen years or so, Germany have reached the latter stages of major tournaments with stubborn regularity, despite having, according to many, an average side. But after Euro 2008, and especially after their performance at the 2010 World Cup, when they utterly embarrassed England and Argentina in the knockout rounds, Germany are now going into tournaments looking like real contenders from the off. In qualifying for Euro 2012 they won all ten of their matches, and they made Brazil look distinctly ordinary in a friendly game in August.
Tuesday’s game will be an interesting test for two sides that sailed through their qualifying groups. Bert van Marwijk’s team almost emulated Germany by achieving a 100% record in their qualifying campaign for Euro 2012, losing 3-2 to Sweden in their final match last month.
Both sides, either out of choice or necessity, will be missing some senior players. Robin van Persie will not play after an agreement with his club – a wise move by Arsène Wenger considering his injury record when playing for Holland. Rafael van der Vaart is also unavailable after aggravating a thigh injury in the 0-0 draw with Switzerland.
For Germany, Bastian Schweinsteiger is absent after suffering a broken collarbone against Napoli last week, while captain Philipp Lahm will be rested. Löw also intends to experiment with his starting line-up, although not with his formation. Germany were, to put it simply, awful in the Ukraine on Friday and very lucky to escape with a 3-3 draw, because they weren’t used to playing with three at the back.
Hummels, Basdtuber and Jerome Boateng were exposed on countless occasions by a Ukraine side with bags of pace on the counter-attack, and the second goal which Germany conceded exhibited some of the worst defending to be seen in international football for a long while.
But despite the fact that neither side will be at full strength, games between these two countries can rarely be called ‘friendly.’ This is widely seen as a showdown between the best two current teams in Europe behind Spain, and the most likely to take away the latter’s European Championship title.
Regardless of the result, the number of quality young players to have come through into the Bundesliga in the last few seasons has advanced the German national team considerably, since those grass-roots changes were implemented ten years ago.
Good players are coming through all the time and they seem to be adapting to international football seamlessly. Much of last summer’s youthful squad has been retained, while new players like Götze, Badstuber and Schürrle have all been integrated into the national team fold with apparent ease.
Judging by the current level of interest shown in German internationals, Europe’s top club sides are clubs are taking closer note of the talent that Germany is producing. There should be plenty more interest in German players, be they internationals or not, as the January transfer window rolls around and as next summer’s European Championships draw ever closer.
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