Guardiola, Youth Development and More: 10 Reasons the Bundesliga Is Improving

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2013

Guardiola, Youth Development and More: 10 Reasons the Bundesliga Is Improving

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    German football has taken Europe by storm this season. Bundesliga sides Bayern Munich and Dortmund have played attractive football and have been rewarded in terms of results, with both advancing to the Champions League semifinals.

    The 2012-13 season marks the first time in history that two Bundesliga sides progressed to the last four of Europe's elite club competition. But German football is thriving not only at the top.

    The Bundesliga's popularity overall is thriving both in Germany and abroad, and latest reports see revenue at an all-time high of over €2 billion. The league's academies have produced some of the world's greatest players, and continue to nurture top talents.

    The aforementioned are just some of the many reasons to believe the Bundesliga is on the up-and-up. Click "Begin Slideshow" for a rundown of the top 10 reasons the German top flight is improving.

Champions League Results

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    The 2012-13 season has marked a milestone for Bundesliga teams in the Champions League. Although Gladbach failed to advance to the group stage, Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke all won their respective groups. And now, for the first time in the tournament's modern history, two German teams—Bayern and Dortmund—are in the semifinals.

    In each of the last four years the Bundesliga has been represented by at least one club in the semifinals, and this year could mark the third in four seasons that a German side made it to the finals.

    Critics will note that it's been 12 years since a Bundesliga club won the Champions League, but the German top flight's steadily-improving results cannot be denied. From 2010-2012, two German teams advanced to the knockout rounds; now it's three. Over that same span of time, the Bundesliga was always represented by one team in the semifinals; now it's two.

    Heading into the semifinals, Dortmund have the best record of all teams in terms of wins and draws, and are the only undefeated side. Bayern, meanwhile, look as strong as any side in Europe and have experience on their side in the form of two Champions League finals appearances in three years.

Financial Fair Play

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    Until now, Europe's financial crisis has had minimal effect on football. That all will change once Financial Fair Play takes effect.

    For years, clubs outside Germany have amassed mountains of debt. Last March, Gazzetta dello Sport reported a €2.6 billion debt in Serie A. Spanish clubs are even more in the red, at a whopping combined debt of over €3.5 billion. Last spring, Deloitte assessed Premier League debt at £2.4 billion (currently €2.8 billion).

    Bundesliga clubs are not universally exemplary and many are still recovering from the league's overall slump in the 2000s. Still, the most up-to-date reporting indicates the league's collective debt is just €623.8 million, and only four out of the 18 Bundesliga clubs last season suffered net losses. Overall league profit was €55 million after taxes, and revenue rose to €2.08 billion.

    While Financial Fair Play has hardly had an effect on Bundesliga clubs, it's already impacting teams abroad. Malaga and several other clubs have been banned from the Champions League for failure to pay wages, and teams like Inter and Milan have had to undergo major squad overhauls to cut what has been massive deficit spending. Over the last three years alone, the two Milan clubs and Juventus have amassed a combined €565.5 million in debt

    Clubs like PSG and Manchester City seem to have ignored UEFA's warnings that they cannot escape Financial Fair Play judgment. The English side, for example, recently signed Yaya Toure to a new four-year deal that will see him earn £11 million per season until he turns 34, long after his prime. They lost £97.7 million in 2011-12. PSG's official €5.5 million loss is much less, but their finances will almost certainly be investigated—especially following their €144.25 million net spending last summer.

    While many of Europe's powers abroad have relied on revenue from the Champions League, German teams are modeled differently. Prize money is more of a bonus than a necessity, and thus Bundesliga sides are much more stable and less endangered by Financial Fair Play than those from Italy, Spain and England.

The World's Best Academy System

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    The Bundesliga's strict financial requirements for its participants have long made it difficult for clubs to pay transfer fees for and salaries to Europe's elite players. The league had a solution, however: to make its own stars rather than importing them.

    In 2001, the German Football League (DFL) implemented legislation that required every 1. and 2. Bundesliga club to have a youth academy. These rules were very specific, including even a minimum for the number of floodlights clubs must have illuminating their training grounds.

    As more and more world stars have emerged from German academies, clubs have embraced the culture of developing young players. Now, most exceed the league's minimum requirements by far. This includes not just the bigger teams, like Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke, but even smaller clubs like Nurnberg and Stuttgart.

    The structure of developing youth as well as the league's culture means that talents are developed not just at a few good academies, but all over the country. Click here for more on what makes Germany's academy system the best in the world.

The Kids Are Growing Up

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    One problem from which many Bundesliga teams have suffered in recent years is naivety in international competition. Bremen played with a laughably high offside trap in 2010, which was mercilessly exposed against then-European Champions Inter.

    Months later, Schalke advanced to the semifinals, but with a squad consisting of several teenagers, were found woefully lacking as they lost 6-1 on aggregate to Manchester United.

    When Schalke were humiliated by Manchester United, Julian Draxler was 17 and Joel Matip and Kyriakos Papadopoulos were 19. Benedikt Howedes and Atsuto Uchida were barely 23.

    This season, the Ruhr side played with confidence that reflected their maturity. Draxler was individually brilliant in spurts, and Matip played with newfound composure. And although it was in part naivety that saw them eliminated by Galatasaray in the Round of 16, this season's experiences will only make them stronger in 2013-14.

    Similar assessments can be made of players like Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller. After coming close but failing in the telling moments in 2011-12, the BVB man has been brilliant in the Champions League. The latter is in the midst of his most prolific season in Europe's elite club tournament, having scored five goals.

    All around the Bundesliga, players once described as "promising young talents" are transforming into established stars. Muller isn't exactly young anymore, he'll be 24 in September. He's no longer a prospect, but a well-established and experienced star.

    As the Bundesliga's youngsters mature, they will not only refine their skills, but will play more predictably and comfortably at a high level. This will bring more consistency, making the league overall a better and more enjoyable spectacle.

Consistency in Teams Finishing in Champions League Spots

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    Experience and familiarity are extremely important in football. A young or new team might struggle in the Champions League—just as Dortmund did last season and Manchester City have for two consecutive years.

    By contrast, those sides that are consistently found deep in the tournament play with much more composure and are more effective relative to talent in their squads than they would be otherwise.

    The Bundesliga has sent a revolving door of teams to the Champions League in recent years. Bayern aside, the other positions have been occupied by Dortmund, Schalke, Leverkusen, Bremen, Wolfsburg, and Stuttgart in recent years. And each team has had teething problems.

    Finally, there is becoming some semblance of consistency among Bundesliga teams in Europe. Bayern are a lock as league winners, and Dortmund are close to clinching an automatic Champions League berth for a third consecutive season. Leverkusen appear on their way to a second Champions League appearance in three years, sitting four points clear of fourth and seven ahead of the fifth spot.

    Fourth-place Schalke are three points clear of Frankfurt and Freiburg. If S04 hold on, they stand to compete in the Champions League for a second consecutive season, and for the third time in four years.

    There is something to be said for unpredictability in a league, but at the same time, consistency in top-four finishers means more strong clubs. Dortmund have quite clearly emerged as a power of European football this season, and Schalke at least have the tools to follow in some capacity. In the coming years, it's entirely foreseeable that the Bundesliga will have not just one, but three or four top teams competing in the Champions League.

Emergence of a Second Power

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    For decades, Bayern Munich have held the standard high for the Bundesliga in the Champions League. Only intermittently have other clubs, like Gladbach and Hamburg in the 1970s and 1980s, and Dortmund in the late 1990s, proven worthy alternatives.

    Having just one strong team does not speak well for a league. But Dortmund's progress to the Champions League semifinals this season has given hope that there is a second German power emerging.

    Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller is the only BVB starter over the age 27, and the club managed to extend the contracts of all its stars—Robert Lewandowski aside—past 2014. Ilkay Gundogan is the only key player with a deal set to expire in 2015, and he recently expressed that he is open to signing an extension.

    One thing is clear: this Dortmund team is not going away anytime soon. Their greatest stars, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels, have long been known by Europe's top clubs, but BVB have resisted all approaches and instead extended contracts with both.

    And while Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa (who were both entering the last year of their respective contracts) were sold, the club found more-than-capable replacements in the form of Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus, respectively. If Lewandowski leaves this summer or the next, expect a very formidable signing to replace him.

    BVB are on the right track in terms of squad development and maintenance. The players are young and the majority have long-term contracts. The club will invest significantly in the summer, according to CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, and the addition of depth will be a big bonus to their Bundesliga aspirations.

    In terms of sporting results, the domestic title may be lost, but a probable second-placed finish is not a disaster, especially given that it comes with at least a semifinals position in the Champions League.

    In terms of finances, things have never been better for BVB, who earned a net profit of €14.2 million and record revenue of €124.1 million over the second half of 2012. Equal success in the first half of 2013 would put BVB's total revenue for the season slightly short of Milan's 2011-12 tally of €256.9 million.

    The Rossoneri were Europe's eighth-wealthiest club last year in terms of sales. However, BVB's profit is second only to Arsenal among Champions League clubs.

    Dortmund aren't just the flavor of the week, they're here to stay. Their squad is young and hasn't been picked apart by bigger clubs, and there is no reason to believe it will be in the future—especially as the club's international profile grows. Financially, they are on a steep upward trajectory, and in terms of sporting success, they're one of the top four clubs in Europe. Everything about Dortmund is healthy: they're here to stay.

Bundesliga Clubs Are Increasingly Attractive to Top Players

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    Success breeds success, and the Bundesliga's resurgence in recent years is a perfect example. In the mid-2000s, only Bayern could sign foreign talents. But even then, the best players had better options and only used the club as a stepping stone—Michael Ballack, for example—or turned down moves to Bavaria altogether.

    Bayern's run to the 2010 Champions League final changed everything, however. Franck Ribery extended his contract until 2015, and ever since then, no Bayern star has even spoken of a possible exit. Instead, stars like Manuel Neuer and Javi Martinez have signed. And the summer arrival of Pep Guardiola will only make not only the Bavarians, but rival clubs, attractive for talented players.

    Looking around the league, some big stars have left. But the profile of the departing players is decreasing. In 2011, the league's best player, Nuri Sahin, joined Real Madrid. Last year, however, German player of the year Marco Reus decided to stay within the Bundesliga and signed a long-term deal with Dortmund.

    BVB may have lost Sahin and Shinji Kagawa in consecutive years, and stand to lose Robert Lewandowski either this summer or the next, but they have fended off the vast majority of foreign interest in their players. Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic and more have penned long-term extensions in spite of interest from abroad.

    Not only Bayern and Dortmund, but even Schalke have had some success in retaining their players. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Benedikt Howedes recently penned extensions, and coveted stars Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Julian Draxler are both under contract until 2016.

    Some, like Kagawa, Lukas Podolski, Marko Marin and Lewis Holtby, have left the Bundesliga over the last 12 months. But the league's greatest stars, generally, have remained as others have matured to replace those who have gone.

The Strong German Economy

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    Part of the reason for the massive debts among Serie A and La Liga clubs is the dire economic climate in Italy and Spain. Financial crisis in Europe has hit many countries, but Germany has by comparison been minimally affected.

    Aside from a number of deals that have seen the German public bail out the governments of other European countries, Germany has navigated through the last few years with minimal trouble.

    The state of the German economy has greatly helped Bundesliga teams in recent years. In 2009, Audi purchased a 9.1 percent stake in Bayern for €90 million. Other German businesses, including Deutsche Telekom, Adidas, Paulaner, Lufthansa and more have lucrative sponsorship deals with the club.

    The 2013 Deloitte Football Money League report revealed that at €201.6 million, Bayern's commercial revenue is greater than those of any other club in Europe. Dortmund's (€97.3 million) stands at seventh, while Schalke's (€93.4 million) is ninth. Hamburg's (€58.1 million) stands at a distant 13th.

    In terms of total revenue, Bayern are fourth, Dortmund 11th, Schalke 14th and Hamburg 18th. But other components of revenue, broadcast rights in particular, will continue to rise as the league becomes more and more popular abroad.

New TV Deal Will Massively Increase Broadcast Revenue

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    Last April, the German Football League (DFL) reached a deal with Sky that will see Bundesliga broadcast revenue massively increase.

    Each season from 2013-14 through 2016-17, the media giant will pay €628 million to broadcast 1. and 2. Bundesliga games. This figure is 52 percent greater than the current value of €412 million.

    The offer Sky made was 20 percent greater than any of their competitors, but it reflects the league's growing popularity and profitability. And it of course will also bring a great deal of cash to the bottom line of each club.

Pep Guardiola Chose Bayern

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    Many Bayern fans will mourn the loss of head coach Jupp Heynckes and some have already asked questions of his successor, Pep Guardiola. The former Spain international enjoyed tremendous success during his four-year stay at Barcelona, but is unfamiliar with the Bundesliga and indeed with coaching any team other than the Catalan giants.

    Still, whether Guardiola is or is not successful at Bayern does not negate the significance of his decision to sign with the German champions. He was easily the most coveted trainer in all of professional football, and could have gone anywhere. Many English sources swore he was destined to move to Chelsea or Manchester City, and the list of his possible suitors goes on and on.

    But Guardiola turned down what might have been a blank check from Roman Abramovich and/or Sheikh Mansour, and penned a three-year deal with Bayern Munich. The coach's decision was almost comparable in significance to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo choosing to move to Munich on a Bosman. And although the future remains a mystery, it's becoming less and less of a stretch to imagine Bayern landing a Ballon d'Or candidate in the coming years.


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