Once considered a secondary league, the Bundesliga has now become sexy. It was in the early 2000s that the changeover took place, the German championship having decided to turn to attacking, open football and above all built around youth. What allows today a massive exodus of young French nuggets on the other side of the Rhine.
May 25, 2013 at Wembley. More than 86,000 people gathered to watch the Champions League final between Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich and Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. After a disputed game, the Bavarians end up winning 2-1 thanks in particular to a slalom that has become legendary by Arjen Robben. “This game? It is the fruit of what has been prepared for two decades in Germany” , assures Alexandre Gontran, a former player agent who has become a consultant to clubs. To understand why and how German football has come back in force in recent years, we must indeed go back to the end of the last century.
“In the 1990s, Germany also faced empty stadiums and a phenomenon of hooliganism. Everyone sits around a table saying that the current project is going to the wall and that everything has to be rebuilt. » patrick guillou
At this period, the Mannschaftalthough European champion in 1996, remains on bitter failures in international competitions (quarter-finalist of the 1998 World Cup, then good last of her group at Euro 2000) and all the authorities of the country decide to take the bull by the horns to restore their image. “In the 1990s, Germany also faced empty stadiums and a phenomenon of hooliganism. The objective is to plan for the 2006 World Cup, which will bring about a veritable cultural revolution throughout the country. The federations, the TVs, the clubs, the regions… Everyone sits around a table saying to themselves that the current project is going to the wall and that everything must be rebuilt. , explains Patrick Guillou, a former player who passed through Friborg and Bochum and became a German football consultant on beIN Sports. This revolution will go through several fundamental ideas: refurbishing some old and dilapidated enclosures, rethinking a game model to make it more attractive and expanding the resources devoted to recruitment abroad, especially among young people.
The Bundesliga, this tricolor El Dorado
This change of mentality allowed many French players to cross the border in the 2000s, then to a whole current colony from France to appear today in the Bundesliga (36 play in the German championship, i.e. the biggest foreign contingent). Johan Micoud, Valérien Ismaël, Willy Sagnol, Bixente Lizarazu and obviously Franck Ribéry indirectly opened the door to Kingsley Coman, Dayot Upamecano, Amine Adli or Dan-Axel Zagadou, to name a few. A question naturally arises: why are French players so interested in German clubs, and this, from an early age? First element of response given by Alexandre Gontran: “One day, I was watching a Germany-France U19 with Matthias Sammer (Ballon d’or 1996, later became leader of the German federation, editor’s note) and he told me that he found something different in French players. This difference is that we have players who come from the street, who have a creativity and an instinct that the German does not have, since he only plays football in an academic setting. When the Germans understood that, they started bringing in foreign players, which pushed the locals to adapt and evolve differently. » In other words: a German player will be more in the repetition of fundamentals, polish himself rigorously and often be assimilated particularly to a game system. Again, this differs with what a Frenchman can learn in a training center. “The tactical culture of young French people compared to that of Germans at the same age is undoubtedly more completebelieves Patrick Guillou. This is why their scouts have started to look in competitions such as the Montaigu tournament, international competitions from U15 to U19, but also in Ligue 2, one of the best examples of which is Ibrahima Konaté, who passed from Sochaux in Leipzig. » Today in Liverpool, the central defender is the perfect example to show that the Bundesliga can also become a springboard for the greatest potential.
“The first destination for American players is Germany. This is exactly the stage they need to be able to flourish. » Alexandre Gontran
Place for young people
Potential? Georginio Rutter does not lack it. Having left Stade Rennes more than a year ago, the young striker (19) is now shining at TSG Hoffenheim, on track to grab a European spot at the end of the season. However, when making a crucial choice for his future, the Frenchman had offers from more upscale clubs on the table and could have yielded to other sirens. “It is especially the speech of the leaders that I liked. They explained to me that I would spend time with the U23s, but also with the pros, without promising me anything. In another club, I would surely have been 100% with the U23s, and that was not what I was looking for at the moment T” admits the one who extended his lease with the Blue and White until 2026 and who “did not think he would be so decisive for his first season” . And it is probably no coincidence that the native of Plescop is already very important in the system concocted by Sebastian Hoeness, as Hoffenheim has imposed itself on the other side of the Rhine as a reference in the development of its young players. Evidenced by this anecdote of Alexandre Gontran, at the time agent of Demba Ba: “After a stint in Belgium, we were contacted by Spain, France and a single German club: Hoffenheim, which had just moved up to D2 at that time. Obviously, on paper, the Spanish offer, which was a first division club, seemed the most interesting. But we went to Germany anyway, and that’s where we met Ralf Rangnick. Honestly, it totally changed our plans, we completely fell in love. He had a very specific plan of how he wanted him to play, he had planned everything for his post-training, that was exactly what he was missing. » And the rest of the story is fabulous: the Senegalese really exploded in the eyes of the general public during his time at the TSG between 2007 and 2011, by registering 40 achievements in 106 matches, which will also allow him to make his debut with his national team at this time.
Another home ground for many young players: Bayer Leverkusen. The training of Gerardo Seoane is also well launched to go to the European Cup and the performances of its two French players (Moussa Diaby and Amine Adli) are no strangers to the good season of Bayer. The first experienced his baptism in the French team in September 2021, while the second is gradually making his mark in a championship which seems cut out for his abilities. “We were looking for the right stage, Germany was of great interest to Amine, because it’s a championship that is open, focused on the attack. For an offensive player, it’s very interesting. The results of his first months at Leverkusen are positive, he has playing time, that’s the most important thing.” think Jérémy Hazan, one of the representatives of the former Toulousain, joined in Germany by other talents from Téfécé. “Alexis Tibidi, in Toulouse, they hesitated for a long time to offer him a first professional contract. He is going to Germany (in Stuttgart, Editor’s note), he signs pro and he plays. Kouadio Koné did not play much in Ligue 2 last season. Today he is one of Gladbach’s best players.” , believes Hazan. This youth-oriented mentality also appeals across the Atlantic, where more and more talent is coming from. “Having been in the United States for a long time, the first destination for American players is Germany. We can take the example of Giovanni Reyna who arrived very early in Dortmund (16 years old, editor’s note). This is exactly the step they need to be able to flourish, and I think German clubs have specialized in that.” , confirms Gontran. According to a study conducted last January by CIES, the Bundesliga is the second league with the lowest average age (26.5 years), just behind Ligue 1 (26.3 years), out of a panel comprising around fifteen major international championships.
“At Bayern, even when you are 3-0 up, you don’t stop playing. We want to score as many goals as possible and we don’t take anyone lightly. » Benjamin Pavard
Where the difference is created between the Bundesliga and the other championships about the policy carried out around young people, it is on the follow-up of the player. “In Germany, a player arrives at the training center in the morning and leaves in the evening. He’s not going to practice in the morning and golf in the afternoon.” , says Gontran. This culture of work and rigor is perfectly illustrated at the weekend, in matches, where the German teams are very playful and insatiable offensively. “People say it’s not picked up or not disputed, but it’s not.assures Benjamin Pavard, at Bayern since 2019. It’s just a story of mentality: at Bayern, even when you are leading 3-0, you don’t stop playing. We want to score as many goals as possible and we don’t take anyone lightly. » It is therefore anything but a surprise that the Bundesliga has risen three times over the last four years to the top of the rankings for the average number of goals scored per game with 3.03 goals per game. “With a game model that has become very attacking, the stadiums which are always full and singing, the Bundesliga is inevitably attracting more and more viewers. It’s a virtuous circle.” , thinks Patrick Guillou, privileged partner since 2017 of Jean-Charles Sabattier on the Qatari channel. Let the fans of river scores be reassured: the German championship will continue to make its way on our televisions, since beIN Sports has already acquired the rights until 2025.
By Alexandre Lejeune
All comments collected by AL, except those of Benjamin Pavard, from an interview with SoFoot.