Bundesliga brings soccer back home | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 22.05.2013
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Bundesliga brings soccer back home

Just moments after an English Championship playoff tussle on Sunday, London’s Wembley Stadium began to prepare to host the UEFA Champions League final. Logos were changed and different corporate advertisements posted.

On Saturday evening, Wembley Stadium will be taken over by the German Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, will go toe-to-toe in one of football's most prestigious events. And that fact has got the English, who staunchly believe their Premier League is the best club league in the world, wondering how the Bundesliga did it.

It's not a difficult question for lifelong Chelsea Football Club fan Leslie Gore of Norwich. She makes the 200-kilometer trek to London for nearly every home match.

"It seems more steady perhaps in Germany," says Gore. "They deserve it. They've gone quite well."

The Germans reigned supreme over the likes of powerhouse teams Manchester United, Manchester City, and last year's Champion's League champion, Chelsea.

It's not that the Premier League is doing badly. Indeed, it's raking in the money from television revenues, high-priced ticket sales and merchandise from team jerseys to coffee mugs. Its deep-pocketed owners can afford to pay international stars to perform heroics on the pitch.

So why isn't the Premier League represented in the Champions League final (nor the semi-finals for that matter)? Why is the Bundesliga the flavor of the month or, as some say, the flavor of the next decade?

Gregory Akinyode is a Chelsea season ticket holder. "We noticed it in the Euro championships and World Cup. There's a great level of youth on their team, on the national team," he says.

Years in the making

David Moyes is the incoming manager of Premier League champions, Manchester United, and a Bundesliga fan. He told a London newspaper that the Bundesliga was now enjoying the fruit borne of its youth development system, as well as its dedication to keeping ticket prices lower, leaving the Premier League - for now - in its wake.

"Their youth teams and the way they develop players has been good," Moyes was quoted as saying. "The Germans have been really good in the way they've got their league right."

(Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

David Moyes sees higher investment in youth players as the key to future success

Perhaps most importantly Moyes points to Germany's standing in the Under-17, -19 and -21 age group levels.

It is European champion in all three.

London-based football writer Raphael Honigstein agrees with Moyes on the rise of the Bundesliga, though he's not sure it's surpassed the Premier League nor Spain's La Liga.

He says it's making up making up ground lost in past decades when the biggest European country, Germany, with the biggest economy got plain "lazy." Now it's "reasserting itself as a genuine force in Euro football."

Honigstein reports on European football for the UK's Guardian newspaper and TalkSport radio, for Sports Illustrated in the United States, and for Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung.

"The Premier League's biggest problem and biggest strength is globalization," Honigstein told DW, referring in part to the fact Premier League fans are often cheering for teams owned by foreign investors, managed by foreign coaches and populated by foreign stars. "The indigenous players (in England) haven't got support. It's much easier to go out and buy a 25-year old experienced Cameroonian than the 18-year old who'll be much more up and down."

After decades of less-than-stellar Bundesliga play, then a poor showing by the 1998 German World Cup team, Germany's football federation decided to look long-term and big-time. It made every professional club set up its own training academy, and added a few of its own. The development system has led to marked success on the European and global stages.

A well-kempt businessman wearing a white dress shirt smiles off-camera (Photo: EPA/FELIPE TRUEBA)

Globalization's face: Roman Abramovich's investment has allowed Chelsea to source worldwide talent

"As with all things that are organic, it takes a long time to grow because there are no shortcuts," says Honigstein. "If you're lucky like Chelsea, a Russian billionaire [Roman Abramovich] buys you and invests up to a billion pounds, as he did. This is nothing new here. Clubs in England were set up as companies in the 19th century because it was easier for local businessmen … to set up and invest in them."

"Rich guys don't shout that much"

The comparitive difference between the raucous crowds of the Bundesliga and those of the Premier League doesn't require a rocket scientist to explain.

It's ticket prices. Thousands are reserved at just 10 to 15 Euros for Bundesliga games. At Chelsea you'd be lucky to find any ticket for any price. But the least attractive seats are normally about 50 Euros.

"These prices just don't bring in the average person who should be enjoying the sport," agrees Thymios Kyriakopoulos, who's been coming to Chelsea games since moving to London 11 years ago. "And you are seeing a homogeneous group of people watching. The result is, you have less passion."

London journalist Barney Ronay wrote a story recently for the Observer newspaper after one of his many visits to the home of Bayern Munich. "There's a lot more of a kind of tribal familiarity in Bundesliga stadiums," Ronay told DW. "They're a place you might just 'go' to rather than for a corporate day out."

A young football player looks off-camera (Photo: imago/Michael Weber)

Mario Götze, who will trade sides from Dortmund to Bayern Munich next year, is just 20 years old

Despite its two Bundesliga participants, though, Ronay warns you shouldn't expect the Champions League final to feel like a true Bundesliga match. UEFA doesn't necessarily subscribe to the cheap-ticket theory, and "fans are really cross about it," he says.

But beyond the youth development system and the manner in which Bundesliga clubs are managed, it's the fans that have helped pushed the league to the stage of Europe's biggest spectacle. They may help do it again and again in coming years.

Germany's Bild newspaper recently published an image of a Borussia Dortmund “towel” laid over seats at Wembley, well in advance of this week's final, in the same manner Germans like to arrive early to save space at the beach by laying out a towel. Don't be surprised if you hear of at least one Bundesliga towel already laid out at Lisbon's Estádio da Luz for the 2014 Champions League final.

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