Bundesliga CEO sees bright future

AP, Thursday 3 Mar 2011

The return of German clubs to the highest tier of European football is the result of a decade of hard work, according to the league's top official



Chief Executive Christian Seifert told the Associated Press that overtaking Italy to join England and Spain as UEFA's top-ranked leagues is just the start for a youthful generation playing in packed stadiums for well-run clubs.

"German football should have some successful years in front of us," Seifert said in interview this week.

"You will see more to come, for instance at Borussia Dortmund." The buoyant Bundesliga's rise was typified by runaway leader Dortmund's thrilling 3-1 win at defending champions Bayern Munich on Saturday.

The match was reportedly watched in 198 countries, at the end of a week in which good results in the Champions League — for Bayern and Schalke — and the Europa League stretched Germany's lead over fourth-place Italy in UEFA rankings that grade clubs' performance over five seasons.

Only the top three nations get four entries into the lucrative Champions League, and after the season UEFA will confirm the power shift taking effect in 2012.

"With the results of the last round, we think the gap between Italy and Germany is right now too much; that Italy can't come back," Seifert said.

It's been 11 years since Germany last ranked in the elite, even falling to fifth for a four-season spell.

Seifert highlighted two watershed events that brought German football down, yet ultimately forced a successful change in strategy. The "horrible result" of the winless national team at the 2000 European Championship, and the 2001 collapse of the Bundesliga's pay-TV broadcast partner during a four-year rights deal.

Denied promised TV money, clubs were obliged to invest in youth academies — $700 million combined, Seifert estimates — and promote homegrown players rather than import expensive talent. "Some decisions were made and right now it starts to pay back," he said.

More money was spent on revenue-generating stadiums, including some that were upgraded to host 2006 World Cup matches.

Out of adversity, Seifert said, Bundesliga clubs reduced wage bills to below 50 per cent of turnover, and German players now total 57 per cent of top-tier rosters. "It encourages them because they see that young players are getting a chance," he said.

It helped that players came through the system in quality as well as quantity, winning European championships at each age level.

An under-21 title-winning team in 2009 included goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, plus midfielders Sami Khedira and Mesut Oezil, who one year later starred at the World Cup in South Africa.

Though Khedira and Oezil were quickly bought by big-spending Real Madrid, new stars such as Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz and Mats Hummels have emerged to keep fans "fascinated," in Seifert's words.

"We keep the focus on having an exciting and unpredictable competition," he said, with Dortmund poised to become the fourth different Bundesliga champion in five seasons.

Seifert does not criticise, or even name, the Bundesliga's illustrious counterparts whose clubs have global glamour, wealthy owners, mammoth TV deals to lure international stars, and often the debts to show for it. Yet the Premier League has been won only by Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea since 1995; either Barcelona or Real Madrid is sure to win La Liga for a seventh straight year; and Inter Milan has won the past five Serie A titles.

Those three leagues also have swept the past six Champions League titles, last won by Bayern in 2001.

Seifert prefers to concentrate on foundations for future success in UEFA's cost-controlled "financial fair play" era. "It's important we focus on the fact we have 42,000 people attending the average Bundesliga match," he said.

"When the fans are fascinated everything follows — the media spending, the sponsor spending. They come because people love the competition. They don't come just because we're the Bundesliga." 

Seifert also stressed his league's humble self-image by pointing out that Germany's UEFA ranking was boosted by clubs not shirking their Europa League duties, which has been true in other countries. "We waited 11 years to be back in the top three. We worked hard for it," he said. "This is the real remarkable thing. You can invest in youth academies, you can invest in stadium infrastructure, and bring a pretty good performance on the pitch."

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