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Opinion: Bundesliga teams should follow Hamburg's example with van Nistelrooy

The title race is wide open, and most German clubs are in good financial shape. But team bosses are reluctant to spend. Deutsche Welle's Jefferson Chase says it's time to end the austerity and go after some big names.

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Thank God for Hamburg. In what was the dullest winter transfer season of the Bosman era, the northern Germans decided to make some headlines by taking striker Ruud van Nistelrooy - and his 100,000-euro-plus-a-week salary - off Real Madrid's hands.

Now, no one knows whether Van the Man, as the Dutchman was nicknamed when he was winning all those titles with Manchester United, will be able to reproduce anywhere near that sort of form late in his career.

Ruud van Nistelrooy of the Netherlands celebrates

If van Nistelrooy has overcome his nagging injuries, he's sure to help Hamburg

But by signing him, Hamburg are sending the message that the time to win is now, and that the club is not afraid to spend money to better their chances of a dream season.

Before Hamburg's coup-de-grace with Ruud, the team that made the most noise on the transfer market was Schalke. Being deep in debt, the Royal Blues couldn't afford big international names, but they have reloaded with a host of solid players to add depth and plug holes in the squad.

Felix Magath is no fool. Schalke's coach is renowned for not kowtowing to overpriced prima donnas. But he also knows that to win you have to invest. He bought in the equivalent of an entire new team in his two seasons in Wolfsburg - and took the team to an unlikely first-ever league title last year.

That only begs the question: what are the other heavyweights waiting for?

Penny-wise, pound-foolish

Claudio Pzarro heads the ball

Bremen need another striker of Pizarro's caliber

Particularly puzzling is Werder Bremen. Commercial manager Klaus Allofs has the club firmly in the black, and they're guaranteed millions, if they sell youngster Mesut Oezil next season.

What's more, they have an obvious need. Bremen are only half as lethal when striker Claudio Pizarro is out injured - which he has been a lot lately. A striker in the 8-10 million euro range would not only improve Bremen's chance of getting back to the top. Such a transfer is also feasible without breaking the bank.

The names of the field players on Werder's bench in their most recent loss were Pasanen, Proedl, Husejinovic, Niemeyer and Marcelo Moreno. That's not a list that has me immediately thinking Champions League.

Bremen have a week to improve their situation. If they don't, they're forfeiting any real chance at the twenty-odd million euros teams are guaranteed by qualifying for club football's premier competition.

Sami Hyypiae from Leverkusen celebrates

A couple more Hyypias would be a signal in the right direction

Another case of unnecessary passivity is Leverkusen. Thanks to the financial might of sponsor Bayer, money is not the main issue. But depth could be.

Leverkusen has done fantastically well with a young and talented squad. But I can't think of a single team that has won a major piece of silverware without experience, and much credit for the team's rise has to go to 36-year-old defender Sami Hyypia.

Surely a couple of veterans of a similar caliber would be welcome, as Leverkusen try to break their always-the-bridesmaid jinx and win that ever-elusive first league title.

The situation is similar at Wolfsburg, who haven't used any Volkswagen funds to fix a cracked defense. And even Bayern could use some reinforcements (anyone got Ryan Babel's number?), if they want to get anywhere in the Champions League.

And the inactivity is all the more baffling because this winter Bundesliga sides have a better chance than ever to land top-grade talent.

Spending war is over

Hamburg's Rafael van der Vaart waves to fans

Van der Vaart would welcome the chance to return to Germany

No team should consistently spend beyond its means on transfer fees. Borussia Dortmund did that around the turn of the millennium, and the club almost went bankrupt.

But this winter, the European clubs that traditionally drive up the prices - Chelsea and Man U in England, and Real and Barcelona in Spain - are saving their money. Only Manchester City has been conspicuous in its willingness to overpay.

In the past, most Bundesliga clubs had no chance of competing for players who cost tens of millions of euros. Even Bayern Munich was out of the picture as soon as calls came from Stamford Bridge or Bernabeu.

That was because German football regulations prohibiting any one individual from owning a majority stake in clubs rules out the sort of rich owners enjoyed by teams like Chelsea or Man City.

Now, sanity seems to have settled in across Europe. The field is a bit more level, and players like Rafael van der Vaart are on the blocks for a reasonable price. Moreover, with the World Cup approaching, struggling stars are willing to go to smaller clubs to get playing time.

But German teams are failing to take advantage of a chance to close the gap a bit with England and Spain.

Perhaps that's because of being bombarded for over a year with reports about the global financial crisis. Or perhaps German clubs are worried about following Dortmund's negative example.

As a fan, I think that's a shame. I'm really looking forward to seeing Van Nistelrooy here, and I hope that a couple of other teams use the remaining few days of the transfer period to bring in some comparable talents.

It's time to get over the fear of becoming the next Dortmund. The men in yellow and black may have nearly ended up in the poor house, but they also won the Champions League in the process.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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