You may have noticed the Sport section on this blog has not been updated lately. That is because I have just returned from working in Germany on a research trip looking at German football and how it is governed. A journalist friend and I made several discoveries on the trip and here is part 1 of what we found out from our trip to top Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach.
The aim of the trip was to compare and contrast some of the aspects of German football to that of Scottish football and the results we found from our trip to North Rhine-Westphalia were both eye-opening and mind-blowing.
As a fan of the Bundesliga and a coach of kids’ football, I was very interested in the Germans’ commitment and dedication to producing young players. Also, given the financial troubles Scottish football is rife with, I was interested in why this league is the most profitable on the continent – although its revenue stream is not as big as that of the Premier League, it makes more profit, (record revenues of €1.94 billion in 2010/11 season, with profits of €52.5 million).
The first club we visited upon our trip was Borussia Monchengladbach. Here is the roundup of that fantastic visit:
The story of the Foals over the past two seasons is one of remarkable inspiration and great interest to myself. The club struggled immensely in the 2010/11 season, spending an incredible 30 weeks below 12th
place, the vast majority of that at the very bottom of the table before the resurgence under Lucien Favre after his appointment in February 2011 saw them reach the playoffs and ensure their safety in the top league.
This season, however, Gladbach, with essentially the same team, took the Bundesliga by storm and never dropped below fifth place. Favre’s squad, which has an average age of under 25-years-old, twice defeated European giants Bayern Munich as well as claiming the scalps of Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen as they climbed to an incredible fourth-place finish, ensuring a place in the Champions League qualifiers next season.
Incredibly entertaining and impressive on the field, we found Borussia Monchengladbach to be even more so off it with their magnificent stadium, wonderful identity and fantastic training facilities for the first-team and youth team.
As we arrived at Borussia Park we were greeted with smiles and handshakes and guided through the doors for a tour of the stadium. Essentially every door of the 54,000 capacity stadium was opened, we were shown where everything was and then told to go our own way around it and film whatever we wanted in the entire stadium. We were then pointed to the training facilities and told that training of the youth teams starts at 5.30pm and that we were welcome to go over, film them and interview some coaches.
Such hospitality from a club in Britain at any level is unthinkable, yet it seemed utterly pedestrian to the fourth top team in Germany.
We made our way around the stadium, through the VIP areas, to the touchline via the press box and dressing rooms. Total freedom.
There was a jovial, family atmosphere around the club which we witnessed everywhere from the fans drinking and eating at the bar inside the stadium on a Tuesday afternoon during close season to the fact that each age group (from U8 to U23) has its own dressing room which is right across from the first-team’s. Everything was built around making this club a family and inspiring the fans and future prospects to strive for the best and give Gladbach their full support. What’s more is that the price for a ticket in the standing area of the ground for a big game like Gladbach v Bayern Munich can cost as much as €10. You pay more than that to watch games in the Scottish Third Division. Think of the prices and think of the gulf in quality. Daunting, isn’t it? No wonder people in Germany support their own teams and the clubs sell-out their stadiums every second week.
We were simply awestruck by how open this club was to outsiders as well as the collective approach it instilled with those connected to it, but it was after the short walk to the training facilities that we were both completely blown away.
The Borussia Monchengladbach training ground looks like a large complex with several pitches, and situated directly beside the area on which first-team stars like Marco Reus,Marc-André ter Stegen, Patrick Herrmann, Mike Hanke and Juan Arango train every day, is the area for the youth players to hone their skills.
We approached one of the coaches who agreed to do the interview, but told us to first film the training session and facilities if we wanted and said we had complete freedom to do what we want and that we were to give him a shout when we were ready to speak to him. The fact that he said “anything is possible” for us said it all about this club.
The training session we watched and filmed was for the U8 to U12 age groups. Immediately, we were astounded by how technically adept every one of these kids were. Each one looked comfortable on the ball and showed great awareness, intelligence and speed. In each of the drills we saw the youngsters go through, from short passing drills to matches against each other, we didn’t see one punt up the park or one child give anything less than 100%. The goalkeepers were exceptional, the defenders were strong, the midfielders were great on the ball and the strikers were both clinical and quick to track back. Everything was in sync and everything was magnificent. The ball was played on the park and the players understood what was required of them. My colleague and I were tempted to ask to join in but we were both completely convinced that they would mop the floor with us. We couldn’t believe what was in front of us.
After deciding we had all the footage we needed, we shouted the coach over and he came over to speak to us. He was delighted to answer all of our questions and provided us with fantastic answers about this very impressive youth system.
*I can’t write quotes nor divulge information passed to us here because of other articles and projects based on our findings*
After the interview we packed up our kit and got the train back to Koln. The journey which lasted over an hour was one of great reflection as we simply could not get over how hospitable and welcoming the club had been, what frightened us, though, was how advanced they were in terms of commitment, building a relationship with fans and the media and investment in, and development of, youth. They are at least a decade ahead of us in Scotland, and it’s not difficult to see why.
Thanks to Philipp Schuetzendorf and Lars Tiefenhoff of Borussia Monchengladbach.
Thanks to Robert Kielty for arranging the fantastic trip to Germany and allowing Peter and I to come onboard and arrange visits to these clubs.
The entry of our trip to Schalke 04 will be uploaded in the coming hours.