Last year’s Champions League Final was supposed to be a celebration of English football. 90 years of Wembley Stadium, 150 years of the FA and jovial pats on the back all round in the motherland of football.
Then the Germans spoiled the party. As the Champions League resumes tonight, the English have a chance for revenge, with all four Bundesliga clubs coming up against Premier League opposition in the group stage.
For DFL President Reinhard Rauball, the Bundesliga is “an example to all other leagues”, while the ever bullish Premier League clings to its self styled, capitalised mantle as “The Best League In The World”. All self satisfied superlatives aside, though, how do these two leagues really compare?
While the Premier League’s most vigorous endorsers insist that any of the top six have a chance to win the league, the harsh reality is that England’s top flight is dominated by four teams alone. The Champions League representation in recent years has borne that out. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United are consistent Champions League contenders, while Manchester City have replaced Liverpool in recent years as the fourth pillar.
You could argue it is not so different in Germany. For the first time since 2001/02, four German teams will be playing in the European elite, and they are the same four teams as back then. Of Bayern, Schalke, Leverkusen and Dortmund it is arguably only BVB that have truly ever dropped out of the higher echelons of Bundesliga football since 2002, even if the stranglehold of the Bundesliga’s “Big Four” is not quite as vicious as its English equivalent.
The Premier League is at its most comfortable when a lot of money is being spent on superstars. Both Chelsea and Manchester City have long abandoned even the notion of a youth system, while at United and Arsenal, there remain the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Mesut Özil. Only FC Bayern can boast to as many superstars as a Premier League club, and even they have far too many players from their own youth system to truly fit in among England’s finest.
In Germany, the elite clubs have, in recent years, produced a whole generation of stars: Mario Götze, Julian Draxler, Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer, to name but a few. In England, the combined efforts of the top four clubs’ youth systems has come up with only one truly significant name: England Expects, Jack Wilshere
“€104?!” cried the English bloke in the pub on Baker Street. It was the day of the Champions League Final and he had just asked a Bayern fan how much he paid for a season ticket. The Englishman was a West Ham fan, and had paid a full 600 pounds for his. Add to that the fact that in Germany you can drink beer in the stands and the terraces still exist at all and some English fans are left to wonder how on Earth there can even be a discussion about the death of the fan culture in Germany.
But therein lies the biggest difference between the two fan cultures. It is not in ticket prices or availability of alcohol, but rather in the openness of the discussion. In England, “fan culture” is not even a familiar term. Since Hillsborough, terraces have been entirely out of the question, while examples of violence and fan misbehaviour are rarely reported by the press.
The Ultra scene is certainly more prominent – and by extension more problematic – in Germany, but there is also a more honest and open debate surrounding it. In England, the aim is always to be as far away as possible from the hooliganism of the 80s, and the fans obediently accept the rising ticket prices, all seater stadiums and lack of alcohol as the price for their “safety”. A word which is seen by many as a threat in Germany.
The Bundesliga is poorer than the Premier League. For this season, the Bundesliga will receive a record €560m in TV rights income, while the Premier League’s contract with Sky Sports and BT Sport will earn them 3 billion pounds over the next three seasons. Not to mention the money the league will make from international broadcasting rights.
Seven of the Premier League’s clubs made it into the top twenty of Deloitte’s “Football Money League”, with the Bundesliga having only four representatives in Bayern, BVB, Schalke and HSV.
Sponsors, too, play a far larger role in the Premier League, with most managers talking not just of “matches” but “matches in the Barclays Premier League”.
For that reason, the German league will always lose the Andre Schürrles, Mesut Özils and Lukas Podolskis to its English counterpart, even when Bundesliga clubs are more successful in the Champions League. For that reason, clubs such as Chelsea do not need a youth system. For that reason, while it can never prove itself to be the “Best League In The World”, the Premier League is certainly the richest.
That said, while the Premier League generates the most revenue, it is the Bundesliga which is the most profitable. The 50+1 Rule has worked its magic over the last decade and ensured that no German club can reach debt levels as high as those seen in the Premier League. Chelsea may well have won two European trophies in the last two years, but they also have 878m pounds worth of debt. Swings and roundabouts.
“Beckham…into Sheringham…and Solskjaer has won it!”
Clive Tyldsley’s words from 1999 are etched onto every Manchester United fan’s brain. Moments later, Sami Kuffour was on his knees, pounding the turf in disbelief and Uli Hoeneß was heading for the massage parlour.
That fateful evening in Barcelona, though, was far from the only occasion that a German club has had their hearts broken by the English in the European Cup. Bayern had also suffered defeat to Aston Villa in 1982, and were still yet to go through the nightmare of the Finale dahoam against Chelsea. Liverpool broke Gladbach hearts in 1977, and HSV were among the many victims of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1980.
Only once, in 1975, has a German club beaten an English opponent in the Final of the European Cup. And even that is a game shrowded in infamy. Leeds United fans still maintain that they were cheated of victory in that Final, and cries of “We are the Champions of Europe” still occasionally ring out at Elland Road.
On the international stage, there has always been a gulf between England and Germany. Indeed, it is one of the most one sided so called rivalries that football has ever produced. But England has its opium in club football, where more often than not, it has been possible to “write off the Germans”. Now, though, that is becoming ever more difficult.