There is a serious crisis afoot in Germany and it has been worrying the nation for many years, and this week raised it’s ugly head once more in the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv as the "The Mannschaft" readied to face the old enemy, Holland.
Even in the deepest Ukraine the German football team would have been aware that 1996 was the last time the national team held the European Championship trophy, and 1990 since last seizing the World Cup title. So the two nil defeat from the Netherlands was efficient and effective, done with flair and no little skill, and followed by the minimum of celebrations as nothing has yet been won to solve the crisis.
With a team averaging 23 years of age the German Football Federation DFB is now looking to reap the rewards on July 1st in Kiev for some of their long term planning. For them it is no surprise that four of the current team played in the EURO 2008 final, with a number of the others on the subs bench.
But for Germans the crisis arose not after that loss in Vienna, but many years before when the game was actually on a high in 1997 with Borussia Dortmund winning the Champions League and Schalke 04 becoming UEFA Cup champions. Just a year after the win at Wembley in EURO 1996 final against the Czech Republic. The crisis identified at the time, was a lack of quality players in the Bundesliga.
Part of the problem being that the ready supply of former east German professionals – arriving since unification in 1989 – and products of those specialised sports schools which they joined at a young age in the old German Democratic Republic were no longer in existence. To compound the problem Bundesliga clubs were busy with the newly discovered TV money and were spending their budgets on big name players from abroad – a number that grew from 17 percent in 1992 to 34 percent five years later. Then reaching 50% by the year 2000.
All leading to a crisis for the national manager Berti Vogts who was faced with a serious lack of German strikers in the Bundesliga to select for major tournaments.
Consequently the Deutsche Fussball Bund [DFB] went through an emergency phase of chasing anyone with a vague German background, offering citizenship to South African Sean Dundee playing for Karlsruher, and then Brazilian Paulo Rink of Leverkusen. Neither of whom proved a long term solution forcing the DFB in 1999 - under their vice president of day - Franz Beckenbauer to seek a better alternative. For that purpose he collected the input from a number of key football people in Germany. The result of which were two key initiatives.
The first was to create 121 national talent centres to help 10 to 17 year-olds with technique, and a requirement for all 36 professional clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 to build youth academies. Fortunately their initiative also coincided also with the liberalisation of the citizenship laws and a willingness by the DFB to actively integrate young footballers from the new immigrant groups. In 2000 when Germany were named hosts of 2006 World Cup it accelerated that vision as the country came together to boost the national footballing effort.
But perhaps the biggest happenstance in the domestic game – which at first appeared a major crisis – was the collapse in 2002 of Kirch TV, the company that been funding the Bundesliga for over a decade. Not unlike the ITV Digital’s collapse in 2002 in the UK, it left many clubs with over-geared budgets, huge wage bills that would have only been possible through TV money - and could not be honoured anymore. As result many players were then released.
In Germany the Kirch collapse meant that the imported players, all attracted to the Bundesliga by the generous pay scales, were on their way out. The result being that it then propelled the unknown younger local talent into the first team of many Bundesliga clubs - by default. Ironically it has been onward and upward in German football ever since.
In Spain the history is probably slightly different, but in the same vein, as the academies of Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Real Madrid are producing talents such Ces Fabregas, Xavi, Lionel Messi, Raul, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres, all learning to play a system at Barcelona for instance, which was a legacy of Johan Cruyff's affinity with the club since 1973.
The result of which has been La Liga teams dominant in the European Cup competitions, including this year as the Europa League final was played between Valencia and Atletico de Madrid, with Athletic Bilbao eliminated in the semi-final. Which in away addresses the misnomer that Spanish football is just about the two top clubs – Real and Barca.
Let us not forget either the French successes in the 1998 World Cup and the EURO 2000 were a product of the French Football Federation [FFF] blueprint at Clairefontaine which cultivated players of the calibre of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, David Trezeguet, and so on. With a number of high profile coaches like Gerard Houllier also establishing reputations all over Europe.
All long term development and a story often told by former Republic of Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, given that he came across many of those names during his time at under age tournaments he attended all over the world for the Football Association of Ireland. The amazing thing being that most of them made it through to the national team, as the new players continue to do for France to this day.
All of which some how will lead us back to the undoubted recriminations for the Republic of Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland and manager Giovanni Trapattoni, after the team became the first side to be eliminated from EURO 2012 after the 4 – 0 rout by world champions Spain in Gdansk.
More worryingly however for Irish football, is what good is the Premier League in England as ot offers little of the learning apparent in the German Bundesliga. In fact it is is evidenced every time an England manager gets injuries in his squad ahead of a major tournament as there seems little strength in depth.
For all the good Peter Scudamore CEO of the Premier League might claim for the domestic game the facts do not bear that benefit out in real terms as young English players are failing to get into their club sides given the competition from the increasing number of overseas players. Which is not a jingoistic observation, but a factual one as at least 65% of the players in English game are now foreigners.
The top source for players being France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and in that order.
When it comes to the English national team and injuries occur to players like Frank Lampard or Gareth Barry, there always appears to be no replacements at hand or even being blooded. Yet an English team has either won or appeared in the Champions League every other year since 2005 – the top club competition in Europe – too often three quarters overseas players.
But if all the young talent from the club academies was blooded correctly then it would not be an issue for the national team. This proclivity highlighted even more when clubs announce their transfers in the close season, as the chances are few players are being chased. Unlike the days of the record breaking signings of Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker and Roy Keane.
Soon it will; be difficult to justify the costly club academies when agents keep providing cheaper overseas options, and clubs are unable recoup their investment with regular transfer fees of the players they have developed since 15 or 16 years of age. Also, domestic players appear to be more costly – given the valuation of Andy Carroll at £35m last season as an index.
No doubt some day there will be a Kirch type moment when fans, sponsors or pay-tv subscribers find the Premier League no longer attractive. Or value for money and the income slows down.
At least one of the highest earners in the world Wayne Rooney is eligible for England and his salary of £17.6m will see some return as long as Manchester United remain a top Champions League club. The striker also scores for the national team regular. However the salaries for Sergio Aguero at Manchester City of £14.7m and Yaya Toure on £13.9m or indeed, Fernando Torres at Chelsea are costly to the game as it’s currently structured and that income that is leaving the English game.
In Germany, Philip Lahm is the highest paid player on £11.9M, and in fairness it’s a right earned after a nearly a decade playing for his national team – and his German club Bayern Munich.
With the new BSkyB and British Telecom deal worth £3.018 billion to the Premier League - a substantial increase on the current £1.178 billion three-year UK deal that runs until the end of the 2012-13 season - it would be naive to believe that this increased money will not be spent by club’s to increase wages for some players. Or allow clubs chase some up to now unobtainable targets on the continent. Which all only adds to the long term problem
In the more modest Irish case, the cost of Trapattoni and his backroom team, does not come cheap either - albeit it is subsidised between the FAI and a leading businessman.
With qualification for Poland and Ukraine accruing significant prizemoney from UEFA - of about €8m - the costs of that are covered in many ways. However the poor results on Thursday and Sunday show that the same money could be used for a longer term strategy, as at the age of 73 Giovanni Trapattoni is hardly the future for the next batch of Irish players for the Brazil 2014 world cup campaign.
Unless, Marco Tardelli is the automatic replacement and the continuity – in the German style of Klinsmann and his assistant Joachim Loew - by the Football Association of Ireland. Otherwise we just repeat the problems that have beset the FA in England over the years with managers and other countries
In the meantime the short term chasing qualification for tournaments with no real longer term, strategy seems wasteful - and Gdansk proved that point beyond doubt. Indeed, even if Pep Guardiola was managing Republic of Ireland there is only so far guile, guts and gusto can get a team at this level.
The absence of a serious domestic league – as exists in every other country in Europe – truncates the development of Irish players into the hands of clubs in Scotland, England and Wales. With all the quirks that managerial changes at any given club can have on a player's long term career.
Which in effect will always dictate the Republic of Ireland’s future and always be the limitation on the ability to improve much beyond 18th place in the current world rankings.
In the short term though, and like the Dutch FA, Irish football needs to accept a series of strategic objectives as the DFB started in 1997, if the fans are to travel to far flung destinations of Poznan, Suwon, New York and Stuttgart. Just carrying the torch of hope for moral support is no longer a "plan". Or indeed blueprint for anything other than nights singing Ole Ole Ole.
As part of Irelands’ strategic goal there must be real targets in place and the involvement of former players - like Roy Keane – who should be asked to help on some key deliverables from English clubs where they have influence. As former managers too they could work for the long term gain of Irish football and in return ensure a minimum target is met of qualification every two years to the major football tournaments. After all, the next EURO will have 24 teams qualifying and the world cup is already extended to an inordinate number of teams, which makes it unfeasible on both counts for any Republic of Ireland manager as it is
What the EURO 2012 has shown that an absence of ten years since the last time Ireland qualified for Korea and Japan, a generation of fans missed out on Germany 2006, Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010. Meaning the expectation for fans this time around in Poland was based on the folklore handed down by those who had actually been in Stuttgart, Genoa or New York. All grossly exaggerated and bearing no reality to the real task at hand in a tough 16 team tournament where the opponents in Group C were Croatia, Italy and Spain.
Which barring an upset offered little chance for Ireland to further progress.
Sadly the BSkyB deal maybe the death knell for development of future Irish talent and will mean that the days of seeing the likes of Liam Brady, Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan, Paul McGrath – in large numbers - at major clubs may never be repeated in our lifetime. The national team will be the loser of that experience and reliant on players battling it out in the championship Or at best the struggling Premier League teams.
All very unlike the EURO 1988 squad where the Irish players were stars at major clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Aston Villa, or Celtic - and to boot were all winners in their own right of League titles, FA or League Cups. But those days too seem of a bygone era.
And the Germans think they have a crisis?
Republic of Ireland, EURO 1988 team
Packie Bonner: Celtic
Scottish League: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, Scottish Cup: 1980, 1988; Scottish League Cup: 1983
Chris Morris, Celtic
Scottish League: 1988, Scottish Cup: 1988;
Chris Hughton; Tottenham Hotspur
FA Cup: Winner 1981 & 1982), UEFA Cup 1984; FA Charity Shield: Winner (1981), runner up (1982).
Mick McCarthy; Celtic
Scottish Premier League 1988; Scottish Cup 1988
Kevin Moran; Manchester United
Dublin GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (2): 1976, 1977; Leinster Senior Football Championship (3): 1975, 1976, 1977; Manchester United FA Cup 1982–83, 1984–85; FA Charity Shield 1983
Ronnie Whelan; Liverpool
League Championship 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988; FA Cup 1986; League Cup 1982, 1983, 1984; Charity Shield; 1982, 1986, 1988; European Cup 1984 Super Cup 1986
Paul McGrath, Manchester United
FA Cup: 1985
Ray Houghton; Liverpool
League Championship 1988; League Cup 1986;
John Aldridge; Liverpool
Newport County Welsh Cup 1980; Oxford United, 3rd Division Winners 1984; 2nd Division, Winner 1985; Football League Cup 1986; League Championship 1988; Charity Shield 1988;
Frank Stapleton; Manchester United
Arsenal FA Cup 1979; Manchester United Charity Shield 1983; FA Cup
Tony Galvin; Tottenham Hotspur
FA Cup winner 1981; FA Cup winner 1982; UEFA Cup winner 1984
First publshed June 15th 2012