Germany Would be World Champions to be Proud of

As the FIFA World Cup 2010 nears its closing stages we’re left with one of the most underwhelming Final Fours in recent memory. The favorites Spain have seemed unusually sluggish, with their football lacking the penetration that had finally given the tika taka passing game a cutting edge. Holland have never threatened to recapture their pre-tournament form, undoubtedly hampered by the injury to key player Arjen Robben. Uruguay made it to the semi-finals only by cheating Ghana out of being the first ever African semi-finalists. Luckily there is one side that has been playing football worthy of a World Cup Semi-Finalist.

In Germany, this World Cup has its most captivating side with Joachim Low’s side being the tournament’s top scorers having put four past Australia, England and Argentina. With many top players feeling the effects of a long club season and so struggling to achieve full fitness, the youthful German players are unique in having played at a consistently fast pace throughout the tournament. This pace is at the heart of their dynamic counterattacking play, with Germany able to quickly transition the ball from defense to attack. This pace and penetration is what allowed them to devastate both England and Argentina.

Germany has not just played the best football in the tournament but also has shown other nations how to best develop a successful national side. By 2004 German football had regressed with the deliberate, methodical style that had once proved so effective looking slow and one-dimensional. With Germany hosting the World Cup, the German FA took a chance on legendary player but inexperienced coach Jurgen Klinsmann. His radical emphasis on youth, speed and offensive counter-attacking would pay dividends in the 2006 tournament as Germany surprised many with several strong performances and a semi-final finish. Joachim Low was Klinsmann assistant then and it’s the vision that the two of them had together that is now nearing realization.

But behind the scenes the German football association had been working since 2000 to arrest a decline in the quality of German footballers. Working with the Bundesliga clubs, the German FA was able to centralize the youth development system, providing direction to the club sides’ academies. Crucially, each academy intake was required to contain at least twelve German players a requirement that coupled with increased investment in the youth system led to the percentage of Bundesliga players that are German rising from 38% to 62%. The success of the academies in training 5,000 young players has also resulted in the percentage of Bundesliga players that are under-23 having more than doubled, rising from 6% to 15%.

Part of the reason the German Football Association was able to successfully reform its academy system was the close relationship it has with the German club sides. Unlike in England where most of the leading clubs are owned by foreign oligarchs, German football clubs have to be controlled by either supporters or in exceptional circumstances, long-term (twenty years) corporate sponsors. The result of this is that the club sides recognize the importance of a successful national side and are willing to fully participate in efforts to create the strongest possible foundation for its success.

It’s not just with the management of the national side that German football leads the way. With the supporters controlling the clubs, football is more responsive to the needs of the fans than it is in other countries. Ticket prices are kept low and football is freely available on network television. Despite an admirable refusal to squeeze its fans for every last spare Euro the Bundesliga is the most financially secure league in Europe, being the only European league whose clubs produced a combined operating profit in 2007-2008. The healthy financial position of German football is reflected in its refusal to engage in the fiscal recklessness that has left so many successful Spanish, Italian and English clubs operating at huge losses with the percentage of club turnover spent on player wages being significantly in Germany than other countries and the league’s combined debt being a relatively minsicule £30million (as opposed to £3.3billion for the English Premier League).

German football is a shining example to the rest of world. Its national team is producing the best football of the World Cup, its national association has successfully addressed underlying problems before they provoked a crisis and its club game is both sustainable and fair. With so many players and teams underperforming in this World Cup and so many clubs succeeding despite their recklessness, it would be a victory for football if Germany are triumphant on July 11th.

Follow Will Cooling on twitter at twitter.com/willcooling.

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