What can England learn from the German Model?

With a New Year that ushers in the greatest footballing tournament on the planet – fans, managers and pundits with varying levels of informed opinion will begin to cast their predictions as to who will conquer on that final night in Rio. Many will debate that home advantage and the resurgence of the samba style, displayed in their convincing Confederations cup victory will be enough to see Brazilian lips planted on the fabled Jules Rimet for an unprecedented sixth time writes Sam Heaney.

Some will wager that the attacking prowess of the Argentinians spearheaded by Messi, or the current heavyweight champions of the world, Spain, will have enough experience and flair to take home football’s most prominent prize. Some may even look to the dark horses of Uruguay or Columbia to spring an assault on the established order of world football. With players of Cavani and Suarez’s ilk showing their potent pedigree at European domestic level.

Many will also look to the Germans.

Since the humbling German football received in Euro 2000, finishing bottom of their group with one point against Romania, it has been of paramount importance to the DFB to permanently encase the very beginning of the millennium, including THAT Heskey goal, in a tiny opaque box in the marvellous museum that is German football. It is hard to believe that the German game was in dire need of renovation little over a decade ago considering the immeasurable talent that has been formed over the past ten years.

The question is: Can we learn anything from the Germans?

In short yes. The rebirth of the German game in the early noughties began domestically, and more specifically at youth level. The realisation that home-grown talent from within German borders must be manufactured was recognised, and duly penned into the licensing parameters by the German sanctioning body, with every team in the Bundesliga forcibly required to run a youth academy if they wished to compete in the top competitions. The DFB did not stop there. The structural integrity of these colleges of class are also written into the licensing agreement. If a team wishes to operate in the Bundesliga, they must own three grass pitches, two of which floodlit, massage rooms, saunas and all the other mod cons essential to mould the future of the game.

Some may view this as tyrannical from the DFB. Though with teams as prestigious as Borussia Dortmund, last year’s Champions League finalists, without a recognised training facility to speak of at the turn of the millennium, maybe it was a utilitarian move from the top of German football. The decision to invest at grass roots level has accrued enormous dividends in terms of footballing excellence accessible to national coach Joachim Low – with over half of the licensed Bundesliga players eligible for German selection. With an eye watering 520 million euros being pumped into the academy system over a decade, (2001-2011) there is no secret as to the how these schools are generating an avalanche of prospects.

A further tactic implemented by the DFB, to induce competition between the academies, is the three star ranking system. Every year an independent team from Double pass arrive from Belgium to scrutinise the academies, and rank them whilst adhering to an eight point appraisal system – ranging from strategy and finance to personnel and footballing education. Those academies with the highest marks will receive hefty bonuses of up to 300,000 euros as a reward for their effective education.

It is also the exceedingly stereotypical notion of German efficiency, and their philosophy of leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for triumph, that may offer some pointers to the English game. Demographically, the world is changing. By 2030 the global population will be at around 9 billion, of which 5 billion people will reside in Asia. Factor this against a total of 700 million Europeans, currently only accounting for 10% of the world’s population – with a birth rate that has been declining since the sixties.

Simple mathematics state that the size of the potential talent pool in European countries will be limited in relation to those in emerging populations. The Germans have quantified this knowledge and adjusted their academies accordingly. Around 80 different immigrant backgrounds represented within the German academy system. Players such as Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gungodan descend from immigrant stock, and are a case in point of the benefits that integration has had upon the German game and its international team.

Aside from the massive steps taken at academy level, it is perhaps from the balance sheets that the English game can also learn from the German model. The Premier league still has the highest revenues in global football – grossing a mammoth 2.5 billion euros to the Bundesliga’s latest available annual revenue of 1.9 billion. Nonetheless, cast a more analytical eye over the breakdown of finance in Germany and a sub narrative arises – one of sustainability versus the instant gratification of Premier League football.

Over half of the Premier League’s revenue is created through media contracts, whilst the Bundesliga only relies on the media for a quarter of its total revenue. This leaves a broader profit base that doesn’t rely heavily upon one entity – with a greater percentage of revenue earned from advertising and match day takings. Expenditure in Germany is also in stark contrast to the English game. The Bundesliga clubs only spend on average 38% of their revenue on payroll costs, with the English spending a far more telling 64% of theirs. Some privately owned clubs (it wouldn’t take a genius to guess who) see the spiralling costs of their payroll outstrip their annual revenues.

Again, simple mathematics – if the revenues earned aren’t being driven back into player’s wages, they can be spent elsewhere on, infrastructure, facilities or youth development. The practical economic management of many Bundesliga clubs also ensues in lower ticket prices as the ripple effects are felt at fan level. The Mobius strip of positivity that the Germans have developed in regards to shrewd re-investment is an example which many European leagues can only seek to emulate. In terms of sustainability, it will come as no surprise that last summer the Premier League’s transfer outgoings totalled 260 million pounds. The German figure was 50% less than this at 130 million. When a league is self-sufficient, there is no demand for import.

The divergent philosophies of the English and German games are ideally encapsulated in Bayern Munich’s nickname of FC Hollywood. Bayern, the reigning domestic and Champions league holders carry this cross despite being able to boast of four players harvested from their own crop in the starting line-up of last year’s final at Wembley. When stacking Bayern’s expenditure up against either of the two sides that compete in ‘El cashico’ (Chelsea and Manchester City) the comparison isn’t worth utterance.

Finally, in terms of the hegemonic structure of the German clubs and the politics of the board room, the 50 +1 rule is law at 33 of 36 of the top German sides. This economic edict ensures that no oligarch or foreign investor can easily force his way upstairs and occupy the throne. The majority of German clubs are democracies, with the power in the hands of the supporters. There is little opportunity for despotism within the boardrooms of the Bundesliga.

There are positives within the English game.

The academy at Southampton is the crown jewel in the royal tower of national football development. Top talents of the British game such as Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain are a testimony to the productivity of the Saints academy. With the club recently announcing a 15 million pound investment into the redevelopment of their training ground at Marchwood, this can only supplement the already considerable successes the football factory on the south coast can lay claim too.

Moreover, the recent unveiling of St Georges Park at Burton-on-Trent has seen the centralisation of every high level English representing football team into a multi-million pound mega training complex. This will almost surely aid Roy Hodgson and his staff when organising the international team.

The production line is still ticking over as well, with the rise of young players like Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling, providing cautious cause for optimism as England look for a team worthy of replacing the ‘Golden Generation’.

Football is the national past time of this Island, and the fervour for the game will never diminish. The domestic game is founded upon tough tackling, high tempo football – a style which is the envy of much of the footballing world. It seems that the English game is in need of reformation rather than revolution – and the blueprint may just lie over the North Sea…

Sam Heaney

Click here to follow Sam on Twitter and read his blog ‘The Northern Lads Club’ by clicking here.

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