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Strong youth and sound finances drive Bundesliga's success in Europe

The consistently strong performances of Bundesliga clubs in Europe is likely to pay off with Germany getting another Champions League place - thanks to the league's finances, youth program and ability to keep its stars.

Schalke's Benedikt Howedes, Raul Gonzalez, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, and Jose Manuel Jurado, from left, celebrate after scoring their second goal against Benfica during their Champions League group B soccer match Tuesday, Dec. 7 2010, at Benfica's Luz stadium in Lisbon.

Schalke 04 is not alone in excelling in Europe this season

A glance at the pairings in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League and Europa League make for some satisfied reading for fans of the Bundesliga.

Bayern Munich dominated Group E in the Champions League, losing just once in six games to qualify with a game to spare. Schalke 04, who have endured some tough times domestically this season, also topped their group ahead of more fancied teams such as Benfica and Lyon.

"Bayern Munich and Schalke have played a lot better in the Champions League this season than they have in the Bundesliga," freelance soccer writer and sometime Sportschau.de correspondent Marcus Bark told Deutsche Welle. "Schalke coach Felix Magath has even gone as far as to say that his team takes the Champions League more seriously, although it's hard to believe that this is true."

Out of the three German teams who qualified for this season's Champions League, only Werder Bremen failed to make it out of the group stage.

"For the past few seasons, two out of the three German teams have gone relatively far in the Champions League," Bark said. "Even Wolfsburg who dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage last year, went on to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League."

In this season's Europa League, Bayer Leverkusen and VfB Stuttgart have mirrored the success of Bayern and Schalke by qualifying as the winners of their groups, with only Borussia Dortmund - somewhat surprisingly considering their domestic form - failing to reach the last 32.

Close followers of the Bundesliga may not be that surprised to see such a strong German showing. This season is hardly a one-off.

Consistency breeds consistency for Germans in Europe

Bayern Munich Ivica Olic, center, celebrates with Thomas Muller, second left, Diego Contento, left, and Arjen Robben, right, after he scored a goal against Lyon during their Champions League semi final, second leg soccer match at Gerland stadium, in Lyon, central France, Tuesday, April 27, 2010.

Bayern romped to last year's final before losing to Inter



Both Bayern and Stuttgart made it into the knock-out rounds of the Champions League last season - with the Bavarian giants, who also made it to the quarter-finals the year before, romping all the way to the final.

The 2009 Europa League finalists Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Hamburg all made it to the quarter-finals of the Europa League last season with Hamburg progressing to the semi-finals - as they did the year before - before defeat to Fulham ended their dream of competing for the title in their own stadium.

German teams have been putting in consistently strong performances in European competition for over a decade now, with at least one of the Bundesliga's six allotted representatives progressing to the quarter-finals or further in both the Champions and Europa Leagues over the past five years.

Exposure to foreign opposition honing German skills

Marcus Bark believes that the German national team’s long history of success helps to breed players ready for the styles and challenges of foreign opponents, and that this season's Champions League is a case in point.

Holger Badstuber, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos

Young but experienced: Kroos, Mueller and Badstuber



"I think German teams have done so well in Europe this season because a lot of the young German stars in these teams performed very well at the World Cup," he said. "If you look at Bayern's team with Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Mueller and Badstuber, they all have international experience and confidence at that level."

Joerg Jakob, deputy editor-in-chief at kicker magazine, agrees that foreign experience helps when attempting to win European trophies but believes that the Bundesliga's recent success is based more on the rise of its young stars.

"Of course you learn from playing at the World Cup or by facing European competition but this is not new for German players and teams," Jakob told Deutsche Welle.

One of the reasons German teams are doing so well in Europe, says Jakob, is because of the youth development.

“Bundesliga clubs have to have education and training facilities for young people under DFB rules they introduced in 2000, so now we have better and more talented youngsters who play a more modern style. We also have young, modern coaches to guide them."

Cash flow essential to maintaining Bundesliga's success

According to Marcus Bark, the Bundesliga's comparatively stable financial situation - in relation to other debt-ridden leagues - is also aiding German teams.

"In other leagues, the best players are sold off, making only a few clubs capable of fielding good teams in Europe," he said. "In Germany, the clubs pay well and on time. They're very well run and the money is used to develop talent and to hold onto players - again, look at Lahm and Schweinstieger at Bayern; they’ve been approached by Europe's biggest clubs but have chosen to stay."

If money helps Bundesliga teams produce European stars of the future and keep at least some of them from the clutches of the leading clubs in the continent’s other leagues, then the Bundesliga will need a steady stream of revenue if Germany's record in Europe is to continue to improve.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reacts at the end of the Champions League, group A, soccer match between Juventus and Bayern Munich at the Olympic Stadium, in Turin, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2009. Juventus lost 4-1.

Italy's loss could be Germany's Champions League gain

Marcus Bark and Joerg Jakob don't see this as being a problem, even less so in the coming years as the Bundesliga looks ready to usurp the underperforming Italian league to snatch a fourth Champions League place under UEFA's coefficient system which takes into account the results of a particular nation's clubs in European competitions over the preceding five years.

"The Bundesliga attracts money, it generates money, and it keeps money," Bark said. "Buying in stars like Robben, Ribery, Raul and Huntelaar, the league has become more attractive which brings in bigger crowds. The reasonable ticket prices also help; a ticket on average for a Bundesliga game is around 20 euros ($26) where as in England you can pay up to 120 euros at some clubs. Most clubs have little or no debt so they're making profits for reinvestment."

"If you’re a player on the transfer market, you want to be playing for a Champions League team," said Jakob. "If Germany has an extra team in the competition then this means someone else will be able to attract players, agents and sponsors. Of course money’s involved, but it’s the glamour and prestige of the Champions League which will help you keep your youngsters and your stars, meaning you'll remain competitive."

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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