Are there lessons to be learnt here for the Premier League?
There was something distinctly continental about Borussia Dortmund’s thrashing of Manchester City during match day two of the Champions League: one of the most one-sided draws you’ll see in a long time. It was a display forged with German efficiency, hard work and desire. It added something we’ve seen so regularly and recently from Spain, and it was so un-English that there was sure to be silent screams for something to be done.
How many times do the big guns of English football need to be overrun before we realise something is not quite right. Maybe it’s time to question the status of football in this country before dismissing everyone else’s product as second-rate. Athletic Bilbao—a team who have nothing in resources compared to the big two in Spain, although their policy is admirable—made the then Premier League champions look the second-rate team from a league that’s not all that great. Manchester United were annihilated by some of the finest footballers of this generation twice in Champions League finals, while Chelsea, the reigning European champions, were outplayed and outsmarted by an Atletico team who are so stop start in years gone by it’s unreal.
Dortmund just gave us another look at what other leagues are doing that should be adopted in England. It’s not always about spending heavily to acquire the best. How many of Dortmund’s first XI would get into the Manchester City team? Furthermore, how much does their combined transfer fee add up to?
But it’s not just about the money spent on a team and getting the best out of resources that don’t match up to powers like City, it’s about forcing a brand of football that becomes winning football for long stretches of a campaign. I mentioned recently that it’s very difficult to plan an unbeaten run in the Premier League because of it’s strength and unpredictability, but in the Bundesliga Jurgen Klopp has his players working hard for each other and producing phenomenal winning streaks that lead to titles.
They’ve beaten Bayern Munich on the field and psychologically in the last season, with the most impressive victory coming in the German Cup Final. They made the biggest team in Germany question whether they can get back on top of the mountain through their own abilities rather than the failings of Dortmund themselves. Isn’t that what we’re seeing from Manchester City now? Can Roberto Mancini’s side really be assured of three points at Signal Iduna Park in the Champions League?
What about the way fans are treated in German football compared to in England. There’s such a big divide between the players and supporters in this country that fans always question the loyalty and hurt of players when clubs experience difficult times. The ticket prices are extortionate and don’t really allow for younger generations to actively become a part of their clubs. In comparison, Bundesliga prices are not only affordable but extremely cheap. Raphael Honigstein stated recently that German league games are near impossible to get tickets for because the season is practically sold out. You can see it from the full stadiums between two of the weakest clubs in the league up to the glamour ties. It’s not that fans in England don’t want to fill their stadiums, it’s a question of whether they can afford to.
Bundesliga fans know that they can play a part in the running of the club, not allowing for foreign owners to come in and radically alter the make up of a team. How impressive were the travelling Dortmund fans when they arrived in Manchester and during the game at the Etihad? What about the crowd interaction at places like the Allianz Arena and the undeniable bond between players and fans? England doesn’t have anything like that. It seems to be a product where it’s look but don’t touch, watch but don’t do anything out of hand like, say, standing up during a game.
The Premier League recently played out the most expensive game in it’s history between Arsenal and Chelsea. For the most part it was reporting of the event and how expensive the tickets were, but I can’t recall many media outlets highlighting how embarrassing it was for the game in this country. The whole Saturday 3pm kick-off issue comes into play as well: how can English football advocate full stadiums on a Saturday afternoon when the ticket prices are comfortably over £100?
The thing is, what exactly makes the Premier League best? Why is it removed from question as the number one league in the world and why is it exempt from improving along the lines of other European products? The Premier League certainly can’t claim to hold the best players in the world; the top five at least are in Spain. What about quality of football? Surely that would be Spain, too? Excitement? Is the Premier League the most exciting to everyone who says it is because they don’t know any better? Surely there’s a lot of excitement in seeing Borussia Monchengladbach climb from the fringes of relegation all the way up to a European finish through the performances of the German Player of the Year.
I get it, England doesn’t like a title battled out between just two teams (something ironically consistent about Premier League seasons since it’s inception), otherwise why would there be so much rubbishing of La Liga? But Dortmund were playing fantastic football throughout the season, in spite of the strengths of other teams in the league. Why wouldn’t anyone want to watch a team storm past Bayern Munich for a league title? Twice.
The Bundesliga isn’t self serving and trying desperately to push it’s product through every avenue of branding and marketing: look at that game! 2-2 between two teams contesting for a Europe League spot! That right there is undeniable proof that the Premier League is the greatest product in football.
Should we really be that impressed that a team like Southampton have managed to put two past both Manchester clubs? One minute it’s the competitive nature of the league while the next it’s the weaknesses of the two bigger clubs. It’s undoubtedly the latter, as has been shown when better teams knock on the door for a kick about.
The Bundesliga may still have a long way to go to reach the reputation and revenue of the Premier League, but the game between Dortmund and Manchester City really seemed to be symbolic of the true nature of both leagues. German football feels like football, it feels like you’re watching a sport. I really admire the way American sports don’t plaster adverts all over their jerseys (although that might soon change with the NBA leading the way), but sometimes you forget that it’s just football in this country. When will we ever move away from who can buy the league title, who can outmuscle their rivals in transfer markets and with huge cash injections from outside companies who are really part of the whole takeover?
It’s supposed to be just sports. But even ahead of other leagues around Europe, you’re reminded of it more when looking closely at the Bundesliga.