As one of the many millions of football fans who call England home, I consider myself to be spoilt by my country’s top domestic league. Every year sees no fewer than three major broadcasters compete with intensifying fervour for the rights to televise the league’s biggest games, meaning that no blockbusters go unwatched, and with an abundance of local derbies, pitting together giants from cities with fine footballing histories, such as London, Manchester, and Liverpool, on a near-weekly basis, Premier League football has top-class entertainment and stellar broadcasting at the very heart of its operation.
What’s more, with commentators frequently exclaiming that “anybody can beat anybody in this league” a fierce level of competitiveness from all 20 clubs, commonly displaying an eclectic assortment of footballing philosophies and differing playing styles, means that the pull of the Premier League goes even further than just the billions of pounds worth of players littered throughout England’s Champions League representatives. The league itself is regularly referred to in almost biblical terms, without hyperbole, by pundits as “the Promised Land” when referencing the teams aiming to reach its dizzy heights from the leagues below, which goes some of the way to describing just what kind of league encourages the wizardry of the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp to thrive in.
These qualities may not be totally unique to the Premier League, but these are aspects of the beautiful game that its originators have come to expect every week from their showpiece league. Still, despite all this, like something of a footballing bigamist, I find myself being increasingly drawn in by the allure of the attack-loving, youth-entrusting, fan-cherishing Bundesliga.
It is widely believed that German league has been on a steady incline for some years, and the figures support this claim. Match day attendances in Germany are consistently the highest or among the highest in the world, for their country’s population, and global viewing figures are also on the up, particularly in Germany’s favourite rival country, England. A fine example of this meteoric rise in popularity came to the fore in 2012 when the UK’s oldest commercial television network, ITV, made history in becoming the first free-to-air TV station to broadcast German football (with the aptly titled Bundesliga Football Highlights on ITV4 providing an hour-long display of the week’s goals and talking points) greatly increasing the German league’s ability to attract foreign fans. With average viewing figures of around 100,000 people per episode, despite being aired at the thankless time of 10pm on a Monday night, this show gained the following its league deserves.
Although, perhaps more importantly, to many fans, it is the quality of German football itself, which has mimicked the remarkable rise of its worldwide attraction – even without including my Champions League winning exploits with Schalke 04 on FIFA 14 – with the league’s two (current) burliest heavyweights experiencing incredible success on the biggest stage in club football. While also maintaining a thrilling fight for the domestic title, Borussia Dortmund forced their way into Europe’s elite two seasons back, comfortably vanquishing Real Madrid in both the group stage and the knockout round of the 2013 Champions League, only for Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich to go one step further, defeating their compatriots in the final, dethroning Chelsea (who had felled Bayern in the previous year’s final) on their way to completing a clean sweep of the trophies on offer to them, in turn dislodging the tiki-taka masters of Barcelona as Europe’s finest.
It should also be noted though, that, to many, these club-level accolades pale into insignificance when compared with the German national team’s recent achievements; remaining unbeaten at the 2014 World Cup, conquering all (including Ronaldo’s Portugal and Messi’s Argentina) along the way to winning the tournament, and even accomplishing an almost implausible 7-1 destruction of hosts and tournament favourites Brazil, all with 16 (of their 24 squad players) Bundesliga regulars. These astonishing successes are widely believed to be the much deserved rewards for the German FA’s many years of tutoring and funding of grassroot level football, aiming, in the long-term, for exactly these kinds of remunerations.
But to speak only of on-field achievements and television viewing figures would be to discredit the philosophies of German football, as these results represent the fruits of dedicated German labour, not the great lengths to which the Bundesliga go to make the German football experience one that deserves writing about. Though individual articles could be written about each of these matters, the subject of terrifically low (season) ticket prices compared to the Bundesliga’s European contemporaries and the unparalleled numbers of home-grown players utilised by their clubs represent yet more reasons why some foreign fans view the Bundesliga as something of a utopian reimagining of a football league, a textbook execution, that their own country’s football associations should be aiming to emulate at almost every level.
One could argue that, as the planet’s most popular sport, football need not be played well to be watched, or need to be played in an aesthetically pleasing style to win games. You could say that ticket prices are high in many leagues because they can be, or that young players will play if they’re good enough regardless of how many expensive foreigners may rival them for playing time. That alternatives to these issues are merely luxuries. But it is principles such as these that have become cornerstones of German football, allowing them to develop an iteration of the beautiful game that has rightly become the envy of fans all over the globe.
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