German domestic football is flourishing as the country refuses to pursue the financially-precarious route taken by England and Spain.
By Nick Bidwell
Never one to prioritise a few bland words ahead of a sizzling diatribe, Schalke’s Germany midfielder Jermaine Jones is again making headlines, this time over his decision to quit the Nationalmannschaft and instead make himself available for the United States.
Jones, the Frankfurt-born son of an American GI father and German mother, intends to be the first to take advantage of a recently-passed FIFA edict which gives players over the age of 21 the right to change flag as long as they have not featured in a competitive international fixture. Since Jones has appeared in only three friendlies for Germany, the last of which came in the 2-1 defeat to England in Berlin last November, he has his cue to learn the Star Spangled Banner.
At first glance, Jones’ decision seemed an exclusively sporting one. Currently out of favour with Bundstrainer Joachim Low – whose preferred central midfielders are Michael Ballack, Torsten Frings, Simon Rolfes and Thomas Hitzlsperger – he made the calculation that he would have a far better chance of playing in a World Cup as part of Team America. But trust Jones to muddy the waters with claims in the New York Times that his lack of caps for Germany could be put down to racial considerations. (“Maybe it’s because I don’t have blond hair and blue eyes.“)
He later issued a denial that he made the comments, not the first footballer to use the lost in translation get-out clause. And what choice did he have but to back track? While no national team coach expects to be patted on the back by de-selected players, accusations of an Aryan agenda were plainly ridiculous. With men of Turkish Polish, Brazilian and Spanish roots in his squad, Low’s group is the most cosmopolitan Nationalmannschaft ever.
From the offices of the German League (DFL), chief executive Christian Gentner has been firing off several verbal rounds in the direction of the high-rollers at Real Madrid and the Premier League, describing their almost infinite lines of credit for superstar signings as “financial doping”, a state of affairs which was “distorting and endangering” European club competition.
For Gentner, the business models in England and Spain are simply unsustainable and he argues that the Bundesliga economic code of conduct – each year pro clubs must give guarantees of their liquidity through to the end of the season or lose their operating license – is the only viable course in the long-term. Indeed, says Gentner, he would happily go without Champions League glory, if it meant not building up millions of debt.
Obviously the flip side to the prudent husbandry coin is a German top-flight increasingly shorn of its star turns. The likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Owen Hargreaves, Tomas Rosicky and Rafael Van der Vaart have all left the Bundesliga in the past three years, brilliant Brazilian playmaker Diego has already swopped Werder Bremen for Juventus this summer and it can only be a matter of time before Bayern’s Franck Ribery and Wolfsburg marksman Edin Dzeko follow his lead.
Former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, for one, fears for the attractiveness of the League if the tenors are not adequately replaced and his concerns are legitimate. All will hinge on the quality of the scouting, the ability of clubs to locate those stars of tomorrow today.
In terms of goals and crowds the Bundesliga is in full boom; a total of 894 goals last season was the best for five years, while for the first time in the League’s history, crowds smashed through the 12 million barrier (average gate: 43,809). But if the clubs here want to keep the fans flocking in, they will have a fine line to tread. Prudence – yes. Cheap and unspectacular signings – definitely not.