Bayern v Barcelona: The 10-Year-Plan That Made German Teams Great Again...
The first test of the Germany-Spain series has been won devastatingly by Bayern Munich, who ratcheted up the goals like a Chris Gayle ton.
Adrian Chiles’ triumphant proclamation that the result spells the end for ‘tika-taka’ football is misguided – Barcelona are 13 points clear at the top of La Liga and will not abandon the philosophy that has created one of the greatest teams in history, despite Chiles’ insight. However, such a dominant European display from Bayern Munich has been coming and as Borussia Dortmund prepare to face Real Madrid tonight in the other semi-final, it is the English Premier League that is really losing.
The Premiership may not be in decline but it is competing with clubs and leagues on the rise. Clubs like Malaga and Paris Saint-Germain have been fast-tracked by foreign billions, while Italian football has made a near-full recovery from its dark days. However, it is the more organic rise of the Bundesliga brand that is hurting our beloved Premiership most.
In the golden period from 2004 to 2009 – from Jose Mourinho’s arrival to Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure – there were eleven English semi-finalists over five Champions League seasons. In those years not once did a Bundesliga club reach the final four.
But whilst we revelled in our short-term boom, the Bundesliga and German FA were putting in place long-term plans for the radical development of their game with their own appointment of a special one.
In that same summer of 2004, Jurgen Klinsmann was named German national coach. A master of scoring and diving before Luis Suarez had bitten baby food, Klinsmann was determined to develop technical excellence within the next generation of German players.
The German FA built more than 100 national talent centres across the country, each employing two full-time coaches that focussed on youngsters learning skill and technique ahead of the stereotypical strength and power that had defined German football’s recent history. Crucially, he forged a fruitful relationship with the Bundesliga, who helped implement the vital change in culture: all 36 professional clubs in the top two leagues now have youth academies.
It is this relationship that has failed to prosper between the English FA and Premier League chiefs. There is no long-term shared vision, just short-term quick fixes – this month they joined together to save money in a deal on goal-line technology, like two awkward work colleagues car-pooling.
Germany’s revolution had a natural impact on the national team: Klinsmann used the fresh technical talent to push an ethos of fluent attacking and high pressing that has made the German team so good to watch and so hard to play against, work continued by his right-hand-man and then successor, Joachim Lowe. The legacy of hosting the 2006 World Cup can only have helped as the youth teams began to flourish: by 2009, Germany held the U17, U19 and U21 European Championship titles.
International prosperity has had a profound effect on the Bundesliga, and the inexplicable talent of Thomas Muller (he’s good, but no one’s sure why) is just one consequence of the new generation. The 23 year-old delivered a defining contribution with two goals to beat Barca. Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund have also exploited the boom, epitomised in their quarter final second leg when two of Germany’s brightest young prospects combined, Mario Gotze’s pass beautifully back-heeled by Marco Reus to create Dortmund’s first goal.
The Premiership brand has been vastly improved by brilliant foreign imports over many years, but given UEFA’s new financial fair-play rules, this is not sustainable. The most effective way to invest in a playing squad is now through long-term youth development, and the Bundesliga is setting the standard. In the subsequent four seasons since that Permiership glory era, there have been just two English semi-finalists – the Bundesliga has produced five.
Symptomatic and symbolic of it all is Pep Guardiola’s decision to manage Bayern Munich when he had the pick of Premiership clubs. The move shocked English fans but is a wake-up call that has been coming.
In truth, Guardiola’s arrival is a natural step for German football. He has a track record of developing and encouraging young talent through his work at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, and at the same time his profile will help attract the world’s best players to the Bundesliga, adding further fuel to the fastest growing league product around. Key Premier League assets like Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez have another route out if La Liga doesn’t suit. While the Premiership takes stock, the Bundesliga is coming and soon we will need more than ITV4′s Monday night highlights to enjoy it.