The German national team is renowned for its ruthless efficiency, resilience and flawless organisation – characteristics England has been on the receiving end of too many times.
It now seems the German’s have further developed a footballing platform that works at a club level, something that the rest of the world can only admire – for the time being at least. Maybe it’s an equivalent of the old ‘Total football’ born by the Dutch.
Back to the drawing board
What you’ve witnessed in the Champions League over the past few months hasn’t occurred out of chance, the German FA have completely overhauled an already successful footballing system and gambled with something unique. Back at the 2002 World Cup, Germany was playing effective yet simple football, conceding just once en-route to the final. However, Brazil completely surpassed the German’s with a 2-0 victory.
Both finalists were complete polar opposites; as mentioned, Germany a well-organised unit, relying on formation and tactics. Compared to Brazil; boasting individual talent right through their squad with players capable of turning the game on its head in a second – a stereotypical Brazilian trait nonetheless.
During that time, Germany relied on poor performances by their opposition, lucky breaks and dominance from set pieces. All negative factors that contributed to their defeat against Brazil. Luckily for Germany though, the DFB (German FA) had already initiated the development of entirely new footballing blueprint and it was only a matter of time before it flourished. As a footballer you admire this because they acted against an already proven philosophy, a philosophy that required just a few minor tweaks to perfect. However, instead of those minor tweaks, the German’s reconstructed their entire footballing platform.
A zero tolerance for failure
It began back in 2000 when Germany embarrassingly exited the European Championships picking up just one point – one of the very few tournaments England can actually claim victory over Germany in recent years. The DFB acted instantaneously, creating the DFL (German Football League) to manage the 1 and 2 Bundesliga. The DFL were dogged and never wanted a repeat of Euro 2000. All teams in the top two tiers were required for their academies to have a certain number of indoor training facilities, a certain number of pitches, massage rooms and physiotherapists. Note the German’s zero tolerance for failure, and ultimately their keenness to change, to move forwards. As a fan, I’m envious. As an English player I’m embarrassed.
It was within these academies that saw the most significant change: at least 12 players within the academy must be eligible to play for Germany. A method guaranteed to help nurture the success of the national team too, a subject the English FA still appears stuck at.
A Guardian article from 2010 read: Christian Seifert, the Bundesliga’s chief executive said that the national team’s stark improvement was a direct result of the overhaul of Germany’s academy system, with all 36 clubs in the two Bundesliga divisions now obliged to operate centrally regulated academies before being given a licence to play in the league. Of the 23-man national squad now in South Africa, 19 came from Bundesliga academies, with the other four from Bundesliga 2 academies.
The 50+1 rule – a secret for scalable success?
Implemented to promote competition within the league, to create sustainable excellence, the 50+1 rule requires that members must own at least 51% of the club, removing the possibility of an Abramovich or Sheikh takeover. Thus helping nurture new talent, as the funds and mindset of those businessmen are eradicated, diminishing the chances of a multimillion-pound transfer deal. In the years that followed this new ruling, the Bundesliga struggled, as academies were still developing and spending was out synced, in comparison to the rest of Europe. A necessary short-term medicine, it would appear.
Seifert went on to say, “This way you don’t have a foreign owner who doesn’t really care for the national teams,” said Seifert. “The clubs have a very strong relationship with the FA: we are all engaged in discussions [about youth development].”
With Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich dominating the Champions League this time around, it’s little surprise that they captured first and second spot retrospectively in the Bundlesliga. The academy implementation was all too evident in their rise to victory this season – Dortmund containing the likes of: Reus, Gotze, Hummels and Schmelzer all players that surged through the academy ranks. I was intrigued into the performances of Dortmund and Bayern throughout their domestic and European campaign, so I spoke to some friends over at Prozone Sports analysis who provided me with the following data for the domestic performances:
In almost perfect tandem form, with the exception of Dortmund’s forward pass %, ball retention and final third entry success %, Bayern were the highest ranked team for all categories – coinciding with their top spot finish. Subsequently Dortmund ranked second for all those categories, excluding those mentioned, matching their second place finish.
European Dominance: A story of possession
Dortmund and Bayern are not only playing a catch-me-if-you-can game in their domestic league, but it seems their European dominance this season will become the envy of the rest of Europe too. I also obtained some data (I love Prozone!) from both semi-finals of the Champions League:
The rank in the table below indicates where the club lies among the 32 Champions League teams this season.
In the Champions League, the German clubs’ have been less dominant at retaining the ball. Instead, their overall usage of possession – turning it into meaningful attacks – has been above average; matching or bettering the Spanish clubs on the whole.
Prozone told me…
- Over the two legs, Bayern attempted 43.0% of their passes forward, compared to Barcelona’s 35.8% – a clear indication that Bayern changed from their possession-based game to a more direct, counter-attacking approach.
- Dortmund took a similar approach; 52% of their passes were forward over the two legs against Real Madrid, whereas their opponents attempted 48% of their passes forward.
- Both German teams adapted their games to beat their Spanish opponents but still outshot their opponents in the first legs 25-12 in total (17-9 for shots inside the box) to take a combined 7-goal lead into the second legs.
Although a little premature, just like Bayern, only last season Barcelona was playing the same cat and mouse game with the rest of Europe. Now it seems the roles have reversed.
Copycats to follow
Barca’s European dominance over the past five years is one of the most entertaining styles of play ever witnessed. Now it seems the German’s have raised the bar and the rest of Europe find themselves rerouting their style of play yet again.
And just like those teams who chased Barca for so many years found – attempting to imitate a team who’ve instigated an innovative blueprint are unlikely to be out-maneuvered, simply because they’re already five steps ahead of everyone else.
Another key factor to the success of Dortmund and Bayern is their solidarity, playing as a team, fighting for one another. I watched Dortmund last weekend with a supposed weakened team and, despite that being the case, their solid core of a team was apparent – they ultimately won. But you compare this to likes of Real and Barcelona, and this begins to highlight the major differences. Once you begin to remove the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta the style of football their team’s built around begins to suffer. There’s an over-reliance on individuals as oppose to building a platform and selecting players accordingly. And this has been evident in Barca’s cup run this season – Messi continually kept their Champions League run alive.
Many clubs like AC Milan and Manchester United have decreased spending for a fear of sanctions against Uefa’s Financial Fair Play introduction next season. Already, it seems the German teams have little to worry about from a business perspective; expenditure is low, and considering their starting XI costs just €40.6, it would appear they’ve created the perfect footballing platform to help cultivate fresh talent, all a while developing a national team and best of all, there’s no foreign majority owner.
Whilst many claim the Premier League is the best the league worldwide – from an entertainment perspective I’d agree – yet in comparison to the Bundesliga it remains unsustainable and that’s a worry – you only have to look at Portsmouth to see this.
It now seems the Premier League has reached a cross roads; it can continue to overspend, causing loses and run the risk of sanctioning from Uefa over the next few years, or it can cut back, develop a stringent academy system, building English football back to the dominant force it once was. It’ll take many years and just as the German’s experienced, a dip in national and domestic form is likely.
Speaking as an England fan, I’d welcome change to help develop the national side for a successful future. But as a devotee to the Premier League, I expect those years spent building a rigorous platform would possibly hamper the Premier League’s reputation as one of the World’s most exciting leagues, albeit for a few years.
Would you welcome a new football philosophy? As ever, let me know your thoughts below and I’ll do my best to reply.