Clash of cultures

There are real differences between German and Spanish football, above all when it comes to finance and development, writes David Shonfield

Efficiency against flair, team against individual, strength against joy, craft against cunning, north against south...

In fact both Germany and Spain have reached the semi-final thanks to good teamwork, quick passing, and excellent technique. The Spanish play as a unit much more than they used to and Germany’s attacking style is a lot more than efficient.

Even when it comes to the geography Barcelona is only about 500 miles south of Munich.

Both countries have produced a group of exciting young players. Yet while the clichés are false, there are real differences between Spanish and German football at both club and national level, above all when it comes to finance and player development.

Spain’s football boom has been bankrolled by TV revenues that are distributed extremely unequally. Contracts are negotiated at club level rather than collectively as in the other major leagues, which means more than half the money goes to Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Madrid’s TV revenues alone would put them among the top 10 clubs in Europe.

With the help of unrivalled marketing machines that has enabled the two leading Spanish clubs to buy who they want and in effect establish a two-club competition at the top of La Liga.

Last season’s third-placed club Valencia finished 25 points behind Madrid. For the sake of financial survival they have just had to sell their two top players, David Villa going to Barcelona and David Silva to Manchester City.

Many Spanish clubs are now in severe difficulties – even the main contenders such as Valencia, Sevilla or Atletico Madrid are struggling. Elsewhere transfer budgets have been almost eliminated.

The question is how long this inequality can be sustained. The poorer clubs have banded together to petition the league authorities to step in, but so far without effect. The current contracts run till 2013, so their struggle will continue for at least another three years.

Inequality has had a beneficial side-effect however.

Most clubs have not been able to import players on inflated salaries, even with the tax breaks to foreigners provided by the government under the so-called Beckham Law. So they have looked to local resources.

In some cases that was by choice – Athletic Bilbao have always insisted on only employing players with a Basque connection, for political reasons. But on average Spanish clubs now use more local players than elsewhere, both in terms of the numbers on the books and in the number of games they play, according to statistics compiled by the Italian football federation.

Many of these players have passed through the Barcelona and Real Madrid football nurseries and junior teams. Most of these juniors can progress as far as the B team and no further – because for some years now squads have been restricted to 25 players under Liga regulations

The result is that Barcelona and Madrid have two of the most productive football nurseries in Europe, but their investment often benefits other clubs.

By contrast with Spain, German football revenues went into meltdown eight years ago with the collapse of the Kirch TV conglomerate. Unprecedented wealth had enabled smaller clubs to spend a fortune on players. The proportion of foreigners at Bundesliga clubs doubled in five years – from 17% in 1992 to 34% in 1997. It rose to 60% before the crunch.

By Spanish standards it’s still relatively high – but the crisis forced clubs to dispense with many of the average players they had imported and replace them with cheaper youngsters from their academies.

That process was greatly helped by a training programme initiated by the German FA.

Concerned at the lack of young players coming through, they launched a development plan providing funding for 121 “national talent centres” across the country, each with two full-time coaches. At the same time a new regulation required all clubs in the top two divisions to set up academies.

When the crunch came clubs such as Stuttgart were forced to impose a freeze on recruitment for up to two years, and as a result a new generation of young players came through much more quickly than would have been expected.

German clubs recovered financially thanks to good housekeeping, but also thanks to the stadium renewal for the last World Cup. Cheaper ticket prices pulled in more fans – but also the fact that there were more local youngsters coming through and playing.

The development programme has been sustained.

Last season the 36 Bundesliga clubs spent over €70million on youth development, a larger proportion of income than any other major league. Germany has also benefited from investment in coaching. Thanks to the national development programme there are many more qualified coaches coming through, and there is a new emphasis on developing technical ability as well as energy and stamina.

The jury is still out on whether the Spanish approach or the German system has been more effective.

Both countries have limited squad sizes – as the Premier League is doing next season. Spanish rules effectively mean that the B teams of the top two clubs provide a conveyor belt of talent for their poorer rivals. In Germany there is now a requirement that Bundesliga squads include a minimum four players from their own academies and four from the national programme.

Spain has more players to choose from – 369 players compared to 215 for Germany, according to those Italian statisticians. But when it comes to the youngsters the two countries are now almost neck and neck.

As for England – maybe it’s time the Premier League had a financial crisis.


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