How English football can learn from the Bundesliga

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

premier league

The ailing financial fortunes of Portsmouth serve as a harsh reminder that Premier League clubs are not exempt from the threat of administration. The South coast club are battling to stay in existence; their worrying position in the League table merely a sub-plot.

Their morale-boosting victory over derby rivals Southampton on Saturday will have come as a timely injection of optimism in a season devoid of joy. However it will only serve as a temporary moment of respite from the club’s financial woes.

Elsewhere in Europe, Bayern Munich came from behind to canter to a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund. The German giants now look forward to their imminent clash with Fiorentina in the second round of the Champions League.

Scrutinising the success of German clubs in Europe’s premier competition, it’s clear to see that they have ground to make up on their rivals from England, Italy and Spain. Yet there is a refreshing diversity that comes from Germany’s representatives in the Champions League.

In 2001 Bayern won the competition — a feat which has not been repeated by the Bavarians. A wide variety of clubs from the Bundesliga have attempted to eclipse the achievements of Die Rotte. Since 2006, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg, Schalke 04, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg have all participated.

The list is representative of the level playing field present in the German championship.

When we look at England’s equivalents over the same period, only Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have featured in the group stages.

The sharp descent of Newcastle’s fortunes has seen continual murmurings of disapproval and discontent by the fans at the decisions of those at the helm. Mike Ashley’s shoddy running of the club has led to sustained pleas for his removal as owner.

The Toon faithful would undoubtedly love to see the implementation of the ’50+1′ rule which is currently adopted in Germany. Not only would it limit the control of Ashley at St. James’ Park, but it would also allow fans to leave a lasting imprint on their clubs.

The regulation prohibits participating clubs from selling a majority stake to potential investors. Thus a minimum 51% share of the club must remain with the members. What would be considered a footballing utopia for many English supporters has become a reality for German fans.

The remaining 49% stake can be sold to investors, either privately or floated on the stock market.

For potential investors, who would be hampered by the legislation, it may appear a repelling factor. Many would question the logic of pumping large sums of their personal fortune into a club when they are prevented from having the predominant say in its day-to-day affairs.

However, a quick glance at Hoffenheim would suggest otherwise. German software magnate Dietmar Hopp invested heavily in the club, resulting in a sharp rise up the leagues and culminating in a title challenge last season.

Hopp clearly wasn’t deterred by the ’50+1′ constraint.

One has to question whether the influx of foreign investment has really benefited English football.

The acquisition of Chelsea and Manchester City by a Russian tycoon and a cash-rich Sheikh may deride support from the respective fans of both clubs but elsewhere there is growing discontent towards these ‘saviours.’

Newcastle United plummeted down to the Championship after Ashley purchased the club. Liverpool and Manchester United have a looming charge casting a dark, debt-ridden cloud which implicates the clubs as security for the vast loans taken out by their corresponding American owners.

It was a move which antagonised the supporters, subsequently leading to protests by Liverpool and United fans urging both American owners to relinquish control of the respective clubs.

And Portsmouth are already deep into a lengthy financial battle to even stay in existence as they attempt to fight off the attentions of a winding-up petition.

Casting our attentions back to Germany, it appears an intriguing case is on the horizon which could dramatically change the format of the Bundesliga. Club ownership has become a key issue once more.

Martin Kind, the president of Hannover 96, has initiated proceedings to abolish the ’50+1′ rule, claiming that it restricts the economic development of German clubs.

This is Kind’s second attempt at removing the clause. In late 2009, he engineered a proposal to have it repealed, but his motion was overwhelmingly rejected by the other clubs. A massive 32 clubs were in favour of ’50+1′ while a mere eight voted against it.

Just under a fortnight ago, Hannover 96 formally filed an action to the Permanent Court of Arbitration calling for the removal of the rule. The League Association in Germany now has six weeks to respond.

However it would appear that support for ’50+1′ from the majority of German clubs and their fans is unrelenting.

So, as Europe prepares to return to action this week, Bayern Munich are the sole flag-bearers for Germany. Rarely joined by their compatriots in the knockout stages, football fans are right to place the Bundesliga behind the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga.

It may be lagging behind its English, Italian and Spanish counterparts in the race for success in the short term, but it is undoubtedly built on solid foundations.

The future appears bright and one can’t help but envy the functioning of the German league.


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