Bundesliga – History in the making?

The German league has traditionally been reluctant to adopt new models and introduce upgraded elements from — let’s say — European football. If you have a look at the Bundesliga league table, you must realise that the top 6 clubs are led either by young, ambitious coaches with a scientific approach, or by foreign trainers mostly from Holland – the home of total football.

I believe it all started with the appointment of Rudi Völler as national coach, who practically came without any experience, and was later (to be honest as a result of a disastrous showing at Euro 2004) succeeded by Jurgen Klinsmann — another rookie.

Credit must be given to the DFB (German Football Federation) for taking an unprecedented risk, even though it was urged by international progress of football. It by far did not mean to leave the good old German virtues behind, but Klinsmann subsequently embarked on an aggressive program to revamp the management of the team.

He brought fellow German striker Oliver Bierhoff on board helped diffuse public relations duties of the previous combined post away from the actual coaching aspect of the position and also — big surprise — Jogi Löw, and they created a youth movement to breathe life into an aging squad.

Klinsmann and Löw had met at a coaching school years ago and the instant Klinsmann was appointed he called on Löw to serve with him. Klinsmann brought in a new attacking philosophy and used Löw, a far more talented tactician, to implement his ideas. The charismatic and highly influential Klinsmann and the tactically smart and also well-liked Löw formed a formidable team and their performances silenced the critics. Even Franz Beckenbauer, previously a strident critic of Klinsmann’s, declared his desire to see him continue as coach. There was also widespread public support for Klinsmann due to his team’s spirit and attacking style of play.

The experiment was seen as a clear success and Bundesliga clubs were all ready to follow. I can hardly remember top teams scoring and also conceding as many goals as these days (HSV 14:11; Hoffenheim 16:12; Stuttgart 12:8; Leverkusen 18:11; S04 11:7; BVB 13:11). Do or die.

Amazingly, head coaches have a combined eleven years of Bundesliga experience. Well, basically it is just Armin Veh (3 years), Rangnick (5) and Klopp (3), the other guys are simply virgins, however and fortunately, not too shy ones. And this is happening in a league, which always had distrust in innovations, being too obsessed with hierarchical structures and models, in a league, where even fans initiated campaigns Gegen den modernen fussball (~against the modern football), in a league, where Friedhelm Funkel, Christoph Daum or Felix Magath alone has more experience than the top six together.

The case of Ralf Rangnick (Hoffenheim) is especially interesting. Owing to an appearance on a sports show on German TV in December 1998, in which he explained the tactics of a game extensively on a blackboard, he is until today – mostly dismissively – nicknamed the ‘Football Professor’. I am curious to see, if the joke is going to be on him at the end of the season — I hardly think so.

Last year it was Toni and Ribéry, now it is Zaccardo, Andrea Barzagli, Khalid Boulahrouz, Henrique, Thiago Neves, Alex Silva — a couple of fresh recruits, who could fit into any other league, still were happy to join Bundesliga. Or the other way around, Bundesliga was happy to extend a warm welcome by overcoming its aversion towards (future) stars.

The attitude to the game is definitely changing in Germany, you surely have to give that. Management by vision is the key word here. The forerunners are doing well and as long as they continue to develop (why wouldn’t they?), hopefully they can make the breakthrough in the Bundesliga very quickly.

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  1. EPL 16 October, 2008
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