Looking back at Germany's World Cup triumph in 2014 - A win 16 years in the making
Analysing the changes in Germany's youth development methods and the club ownership structure that helped promote great talent and financial growth regulated by proper norms.
When Oliver Bierhoff scored the golden goal against Czechoslovakia in Wembley in the final of the 1996 UEFA European Football Championship giving Germany their 3rd European Championship title, he probably had no inkling that his country would not win any more major tournaments for the next 18 years.
A slow and aging team huffed and puffed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1998 before they were knocked out by Croatia. The warning signs were already there for the Die Nationalmannschaft (The German national football team) when they crashed out of the Euro 2000 tournament with a single point from the group stages. The average age of this team was 30.
Investment in youth
German football had reached a nadir and wholescale changes were called for. Perhaps the German authorities had foreseen this decline in the national team’s fortunes and launched a “Talent Promotion Programme” in May 1999.
Although this programme was not very successful, it did lay down the rule that every club in the top two divisions of the Bundesliga had to build its own academy. Additionally, 120 Talent Centers were set up to help young footballers with the technical side of their game. In what a moment of triumph for the German system, it was a youth product of the Borussia Dortmund academy, Mario Gotze, who scored the winning goal in the final of the World Cup in 2014.
The biggest developments in this whole saga came in 2002. The Kirch TV conglomerate which held the TV rights for the Bundesliga went bankrupt leaving a lot of clubs in financial turmoil. This was however, a blessing in disguise as far as the national team was concerned.
Clubs who were unable to pay the wages and transfer fees of foreign players had to let them go and started utilizing players from their own academies in league games. The sudden dearth of talent caused by the departure of foreign players meant that the development of youth had suddenly become highly significant.
The second initiative for youth development, “DFB Extended Talent Promotion Programme” was launched in 2002. Today, a total of 22099 boys and girls are being trained at 387 talent centres by a total of 1167 coaches.
In the DFB report, ’10 years of academies,’ published in 2011, Dr. Reinhard Rauball, President of the League Association, says, “The German youth policy is internationally recognised as the model to be aspired to, and has even been most recently cited by UEFA as the best in Europe. The times in which we had to look appreciatively to France, Spain or the Netherlands have passed.”
“The provisos laid down in the licensing from the sporting, medical and pedagogical fields, combined with a unique philosophy for every academy, guarantee an integral education of young players – and ensure that these youngsters also have a future outside of football.”
A very important point to remember is that trainees at these academies are not limited to merely the children of German citizens, but also the children of immigrants and foreigners. Under such circumstances, these academies serve as important centers of integration amongst footballers and footballing families hailing from diverse cultural backgrounds.
In addition to the footballing and academic aspect of the academies, another interesting aspect is the scientific one. Clubs and coaches can use standardized physical fitness tests devised by the Deutsche Sporthochschule (German Sports University).
Structural Overview of the DFB
While the DFB should be commended for providing world-class infrastructure for youth development, the decision making process and the decision makers at DFB deserve a lot of credit too.
While some of the largest and most important sports bodies in the world face a lot of flak for corruption, money laundering, ethical conduct, and not working for the advancement of sport, what is it that makes the DFB such a smoothly-oiled machine? The answer lies in their uncomplicated, yet efficient structure.
The DFB consists of 5 regional associations under which there are 21 state associations. There are more than 22,000 member clubs incorporated as an “Eingetragener Verein” (e.V.) (Registered Association).
The 27th and the last member of the DFB is the Liga Fusballverband e.V (the league association). The League association consists of all 36 professional clubs in the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga.
What this means is that all 27 members have equal voting rights in all matters. As a result, all decisions are not taken merely in favour of the top clubs, but with an intention of improving the entire system and as a consequence, the national team.
The League association demands that each one of its 36 members maintain a certain standard in terms of financial control and regulations. Each member needs to apply for a license, which needs to be renewed every year. The granting of the license depends upon clubs meeting certain requirements laid out in the DFB’s licensing procedure.
Unlike some English clubs which frequently change hands under billionaire owners in order to become transfer market bullies or go into administration or insolvency after extended periods of gross mismanagement, German clubs are recognized as models for good governance. One of the primary reasons for this is the ‘50+1’ rule.
The ‘50+1’ rule was born in October 1998 when the DFB’s Supreme Committee decided to allow football clubs to be turned into corporate enterprises. This meant that companies could buy into the league system provided that they met certain conditions.
The catch here was that the DFB only accepted companies that were owned by parent clubs. This meant that while clubs could create their own Private Limited Companies (PLC’s) and issue shares of the newly-formed PLC, 50% of the voting shares plus one voting share had to remain with the parent club which had originally formed the company.
This meant while companies could invest in the remaining shares, the chances of them orchestrating hostile takeovers or saddling the clubs with their existing debts was non-existent.
However there were companies like Bayer and Volkswagen which had owned or in Bayer’s case, started a Bundesliga club almost a century ago. To allow such companies to acquire a controlling interest in the PLC, the DFB introduced a loophole known as ‘Lex Bayer’.
This loophole stated that companies which had been continuously running the parent club for 20 years prior to January 1, 1999, and in a manner supportive of football development, could formally apply for a majority voting share in the PLC.
One of the major impacts of the ‘50+1’ rule is its role in maintaining a balance in the league. Whereas countries like Spain which have a ‘Big 2’ (clubs in terms of their revenues and spending power), this rule ensures that there is not a huge disparity between the teams at the top and at the bottom of the league tables. It is also a way to ensure that teams that are locally rooted and community driven stay true to their core values.
The ‘50+1’ rule has had its fair share of detractors who argue that this rule has stopped German clubs from competing with other European footballing superpowers in terms of generating revenue. This has however not slowed down the performances of German clubs at continental tournaments, with the 2013 UEFA Champions League final being an all-German affair.
The German Bundesliga is the most exciting league in the world as far as both statistics and footballing beauty go. For now, Bundesliga clubs continue to run smoothly without any fear of insolvency. The existing model may have left billionaire investors disappointed, but have ensured the long-term futures of the clubs involved, for the sake of their players, the coaches, the staff, and their loyal local fan base.
There is room to debate whether the money being pumped into a club can transform itself into on-field success. For now, the experiment seems to be paying off.