I enjoyed watching Bayern Munich play at Arsenal. But I delighted even more in that German sense of humour. “Football’s coming home” chanted the Bayern fans as their team outclassed Wenger’s wannabees.
Who would have thought it? Germans do irony!
Was this performance evidence that I was ahead of my time? 12 months ago my money was riding on Bayern Munich winning the Champions League. That inspired bet, placed in September of 2011, was only foiled by the penalty shoot out defeat in the final against Chelsea.
I only got on Bayern to win the tournament this season the day before they played at the Emirates stadium this week. Sloppy on my part as I could probably have got better odds than the 6-1 I took had I got my act together and placed the same bet months ago. But I was not as confident they would win the Champions League this time around as I was last season.
As it turned out my timing for placing the bet was opportune. The 6-1 vanished the moment they swept Arsenal aside in the first leg. And then we saw the real shock 24 hours later when Barcelona were beaten 2-0 at AC Milan – though having watched Barça solidly for ten years, I do not rule out them overturning that deficit in the second leg at home.
But much of the attention right now is on German football.
Borussia Dortmund are a serious threat in the Champions League. Who knows? We may have an all German final.
So what happened in German football, post what John Sitton calls on this site “the 5-1 myth” that was the humiliation faced by Germany at the hands of a Sven Goran Eriksson managed England? Though it wasn’t just that one off game that prompted German football to inspect its own navel.
Those who run football in Germany knew things had to change after the national team was seen to be lacking. By a worldwide audience. The 2000 European Championships saw Germany finish bottom of their qualifying group. The unthinkable had happened. Change had to come. It was out with the old, including the likes of Michael Ballack, and in with the new.
Bayern Munich, the richest club in the country, earned £290 million (pounds) in 2010-11. But it is perhaps the supporters of German clubs who are the richest. Because they pay so little to see their teams play.
Fans in Germany can still stand to watch their teams and, at Borussia Dortmund, 25.000 of them do so. They pay the Euro equivalent of nine pounds to do so. So you don’t have to be rich to watch your team play League football in Germany.
I am not in favour of a return to standing terraces in England. Let us not forget, there are still outbreaks of football violence on the terraces at German grounds. But equally I would not force seating on German fans. Not least because that would inevitably lead to price hikes that would mean some fans could not afford a match ticket.
Only two of the clubs in the Bundesliga are owned by corporations. The remainder come under the so called 50% plus one way of operating. The members get their say and many of the members are fans. If they so wish, they can vote to remove those who run their club.
In Germany there is not one overseas owner of a German club. For me, that is a huge plus and gives German football an advantage right now. Their domestic teams are not swamped with mercenary footballers from overseas accompanied by their greedy agents.
After their failure in 2000, the style of coaching in Germany changed. 700 million Euros was spent developing youth academies and all parties were agreed on that measure. A study group was formed and they undertook a serious examination of the game in Germany and overseas. The structure of the game in Germany was put under the microscope.
German football is awash with former great players working as administrators or senior coaches in the game. I write this as the 20th anniversary of the death of Bobby Moore approaches. A man who I know was a class act both on and off the pitch. A man who captained England to World Cup glory in 1966. A man who was shamefully cast aside by the English Football Association in the 1970’s.
What could English football have learned from having Bobby Moore as an administrator in the mould of another great of that era, Franz Beckenbauer? Or the current president of Bayern Munich, Uli Hoeness, a favourite player of mine.
Jürgen Klinsmann was the national German coach in 2004 and he introduced classy players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lucas Podolski and Philip Lahm.
Today, in Bundesliga, 60% of the 525 players are German. Their average age is 24.
Compare that to only 39% of players in the English Premier League being English born.
On and off the pitch German football has learned a lesson. The fans matter. Home grown players matter. Ensuring that the players are still connected to those who pay their wages matters.
I have been around too long to get wrapped up in “the latest fashion.” It seems like only yesterday that people who don’t watch Spanish football often were saying English football had to learn from Spain. But I see plenty of Spanish football and there are plenty of poor games played each weekend. Technically the players are more accomplished than your average England player, that is true.
But take Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Real Madrid side and what have you got? Getafe!
Barcelona have been a revelation. A proper team, not a one man team. I have seen Barcelona win without Lionel Messi in the line up. But Barcelona’s problem has always been the lack of a so called ‘plan B.’ They only know one way to play. When you have watched Barcelona play as often as I have since 2003, you know there is a way to beat them. And it is not to sit back and defend for 90 minutes.
I am not about to jump on the bandwagon that says all German football is where it’s at right now. But Borussia Dortmund look good and Bayern Munich are top class right now. They are still carrying two players whose best days are behind them. Two players who don’t like each other and barely exchange a word. When Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery have hung up their boots, Bayern Munich will seamlessly introduce a couple of younger, gifted players.
My generation grew up thinking the World Cup win of 1966 would of itself inspire a nation. That England would be masters of the game for decades to come. How wrong were we?
English football has not learned from its mistakes. They had a disastrous time of things in German football when the pay TV operator, the Hirsch Group, went bust in 2002. They owned the rights to broadcasting the Bundesliga games. That was a massive economic blow to the game akin to the failure in England of the ITV Digital deal that left the lower division English clubs looking for a life raft.
German football took a long and hard look at itself. What could it afford? The game then had too many overseas players, many of whom were past their best before date.
A collective of those who run the game in Germany, and those who coach it, agreed that they needed to wake up and smell the Kaffee.
Younger players were given their chance at club and international level.
What I saw the other night, when Bayern Munich contained and controlled the huff and puff of Arsenal, told me that German football is well and truly back.
If you live long enough you see history repeat itself in this game.
Germany may not quite yet be the home of football once again. But it’s certainly knocking on the door. And this time, as opposed to when I was a teenager watching Beckenbauer, Muller and company rule supreme; I welcome them.
A Barcelona v Bayern Munich final may seem unlikely the morning after Barça lost the first leg in Milan, but the odds of 8-1 for that to be final might tempt me in with minimum stakes.
Bayern Munich are a delight to watch and, Barcelona fan though I am, I hope Bayern win the Champions League. Not least because I took those odds of 6-1 prior to the excellent display against Arsenal. The current best price on them is only 16-5.
But, as all sensible punters should do, I will now cover myself. Taking advantage of the fact that bookies have pushed out Barcelona to win the tournament to as big as 9-2 and 23-5.
Bookies think it’s all over for Barcelona. I don’t.
It is so typical of the German mentality to learn from their mistakes (no Word War II jokes please).
A country that had already experienced a unification my generation never expected to see, was equally unified when it came to changing how they ran and played the game of football.
I doubt I will live long enough to see English football do the same.