Germany's Bundesliga may be one of the biggest soccer leagues in Europe, but it's far from the richest or most competitive. Accordingly, the league is finding it hard to attract the world's best players.
Ismaël and Makaay are stars in the Bundesliga, but not internationally
Both domestically and abroad, the only consistently serious contender in German soccer is FC Bayern Munich. The Bavarian club is the Bundesliga's traditional powerhouse and the home of past German greats like midfielder Franz Beckenbauer, goal-scoring maestro Gerd Müller and keeper Sepp Maier. The club is also the place to find current stars like Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
But Bayern's strength is the rest of the league's weakness and without Munich holding the banner high, German soccer would have a hard time being represented in international competitions such as the Champions League.
"Germany is lacking, with the exception of Bayern Munich, clubs with international power," was the assessment of Hamburg SV president Bernd Hoffmann in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
"The Bundesliga is not the top place for stars to be playing. We don’t have the financial strength like the English clubs and have not been successful the past few years," he said.
Brazilians like Germany
Schalke 04 Manager Rudi Assauer (r) with clubs newest young talent, Brazilian Rafinha
The hunt for top talent has long stopped being a national affair. European club scouts are travelling around the world to seek the next Pele. If you scour the rosters of Bundesliga clubs, then you wouldn’t necessarily know that you are looking at a German club. Whether it be Lucio, d’Alessandro, Vittek or van der Vaart, the big names in the league are no longer a "Who’s Who" of German soccer.
In the 2004-05 season, only the English Premiership had more foreign players (56 percent) than the Bundeliga’s 48 percent. Heading into the 2005-06 season, that percentage dropped down to 42.6 percent as cost-cutting measures increase. Financial woes have forced club management to rethink policies.
"I think that the clubs learned their lesson after the Kirch (media company) crisis," said German Soccer League (DFL) managing director Christian Seifert before the season. "They are investing more in their youth programs."
Nevertheless, the transfer deadline which expired on August 31, revealed that clubs would not hesitate to improve their lot by turning to players from abroad. Young Brazilians, some of whom shined at the Under-20 World Championships this summer, figured in many of the deals.
Dortmund's bad example
The bosses at Borussia Dortmund could talk all day long about how costly foreign talent can be. It almost cost the club its league license.
Borussia Dortmund stood on the brink of ruin
After taking the 1997 Champions League, the Ruhr Valley club went on a spending spree. To finance the expensive transfers, the club decided, among other things, to go public and list itself on the stock exchange during the high-flying days of the Internet boom. To pull it off, the whole scheme was dependent on one thing -- winning. This they failed to do and Dortmund was just a hair away from declaring bankruptcy last season.
It may sound dumb but the financial health off the field and the success on it rests more and more on the ability of the team directors to find talent before they blossom, that is, before they become overpriced.
Bayern recipe for success
Some complain Munich have an unfair advantage in that if a good player wants true international recognition, he will receive it in the Bavarian capital. It becomes an upward spiral of success.
International midfielder Sebastian Deisler is not a starter at Bayern Munich
The team wins, receives more money which it can spend, and in turn, get better players when needed. Still, being a very good German player, even being on the national squad, is no guarantee for success at Bayern. Just talk to Sebastian Deisler and Bastian Schweinsteiger who both frequently are used as substitutes.
"There aren’t many German players who can play at the level demanded by Bayern Munich," Bayern coach Felix Magath said recently.
The gaps are filled in by exceptional, but not necessarily exorbitantly-priced players, such as the central defenders Lucio from Brazil and Valérien Ismaël from France or Dutch striker Roy Makaay. But as if to highlight the deficits of German club soccer, none of those three play exceptional roles in their national teams.