England

The Disconnect Between the Fans in the Premier League and Bundesliga

The Premier League is known across the world as being the best and most competitive club league in the world.  Football fans across the world tune-in every week to watch players like Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea, but for all the superstars on the pitch and in the dugout, in terms of fan engagement the Premier League lacks massively behind it’s European counterparts.

Fans in other major European leagues are allowed to express themselves, with flares and choreographic displays common. This ultra culture has not made it across to the U.K on a major scale, and restrictive stadium rules in England severely limit what fans in England can do to show their support for their team besides chanting.

This is a huge factor behind fan disengagement in the Premier League, but other forces are also at play here. As I mentioned in my previous post  the Premier League is becoming an increasingly consumerist for fans. So let’s compare it to another significant European league, the Bundesliga, to see how they stack up in terms of fan engagement.

The Premier League has become the preeminent club league in the world thanks to it’s entertaining brand of football and host of top world players who grace it’s clubs. This has allowed them to market the league into massive TV contracts both in England and across the world. The Premier League sold it’s last domestic TV deal to broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport for 2016-2019 for a cool £5.136 billion pounds. Now the Bundesliga has just celebrated it’s biggest ever TV deal for 2017-2021 for £4.123 billion pounds.

This has a direct impact on the spending power of clubs in the two leagues. In the 2017 summer transfer window Premier League clubs spent a massive £1 billion pounds on player transfers, attracting the worlds best to England. In that same period Bundesliga clubs spent £391 million. Now granted the Bundesliga has two less teams at 18, yet this does not explain a gulf of £609 million pounds between the two leagues spending.

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Alvaro Morata shows off his Chelsea kit last summer after signing for £58 million pounds. This is despite having over 35 players on-loan last season. Photo: ChelseaFC.com.

Premier League clubs also use season ticket prices as yet another revenue stream for themselves. Bayern Munich are by far the biggest club in Germany, affectionately known as ‘FC Hollywood’ for their lavish spending, yet the cheapest season ticket they sell comes in at a measly £125 pounds. Now if we compare that to the biggest club in England, Manchester United, the sum is rather more at £532 pounds.

These figures on season ticket pricing explain why the Bundesliga regularly tops it’s rivals in terms of average attendances. For the 2017/18 season the Bundesliga averages 44,650 fans across all 18 clubs, whereas the Premier League averaged 38,300 fans across it’s 20 clubs.  The latest figures also showed than in breakdowns of specific clubs, German giants Borussia Dortmund topped Europe with an average of 80,830 fans per game. A third of all the top thirty clubs in Europe for attendance came from the Bundesliga.

Whilst the Premier League is the richest league in the world, this relative lack of financial resources in the Bundesliga has led them to take a different approach when it comes to footballing talent. The English model at the moment is largely to use their massive financial resources to sign ready made talent from the rest of the world, whereas the Bundesliga model is more conducive to developing local talent from a young age.

This also affects the respective national sides of both countries. England performed well at the most recent World Cup in Russia, reaching a semi-final when the nation was more used to disappointment and frustration in major tournaments. For Germany the 2018 World Cup was one to forget with a group stage exit, yet in recent decades their respective fortunes have been a reverse of what happened in Russia.

Italia 1990 was the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final, and Euro 96 as host nation was the last time they reached a semi-final of a European Championships. In this same period Germany has won the World Cup twice, and reached a semi-final a further three times. In the European Championships they have a further victory and three consecutive final or semi-final appearances. It’s actually the national sides poor performance at Euro 2000 which initiated what we see today in the Bundesliga.

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German players console themselves after a group stage exit at Euro 2000. This disappointment started a new youth orientated project that has seen them become one of the best nations on earth. Photo: FourFourTwo.com

After an early group stage exit, reform in German football came swiftly. Every club in the top two German leagues was required to have an academy by the 2002-03 season to obtain a professional licence to play in these leagues. Within two years the 36 clubs had spent a combined £77.5 million pounds developing their academies.

The German FA also stepped in, creating over 365 centers across the country for young kids to receive coaching from 1,300 qualified FA coaches. National U19 and U17 leagues were also created to help develop youth players. This wide scale change in direction focusing on youth development has proved massively beneficial to both Bundesliga clubs and the national side.

Premier League clubs or the English FA do not seem to have this approach, as thousands of talented young players are left by the wayside of the extravagant spending their clubs make on foreign players. The Chelsea FC example is an extreme one, but does show the overall mindset of the the people in charge of these Premier League clubs. At some stages last season the club had 38 players out on-loan, largely made up of young English players who cannot reach the Chelsea first team.

Tammy Abraham proved prolific in the Championship with 23 goals but still could only find himself a loan move to another Premier League side, Swansea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek played in the 2018 World Cup for England, yet is still forced out on-loan to get game time. Lewis Baker was voted the Chelsea young player of the year in 2013/14 season, but since then has been forced to make successive loan moves to get minutes.

These examples show how in England promising young players are having their progress stunted because of foreign superstars. Despite having 38 players on-loan last season, Chelsea still spent £235.5 million pounds during the season, signing expensive foreign players with a proven pedigree.

The attraction of the Bundesliga is clear to see, and it’s sparked an English invasion as young players are now increasingly looking at the Bundesliga as the best place to develop their game. In recent years promising young players Reece Oxford of West Ham has joined Borussia Monchengladbach and Ademola Lookman of Everton has joined R.B Leipzig on-loan. Jadon Sancho has also left reigning champions Manchester City to join renowned youth player developers Borussia Dortmund permanently.

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Jadon Sancho left Manchester City to pursue more first-team opportunities with Borussia Dortmund. Photo: Getty Images.

With the spending power of the Premier League and the youth orientated focus in the Bundesliga, it’s no surprise that the stats show a big difference in the percentage of foreign players in each league. The Premier League in 2017/18 was made up overwhelmingly of foreign players at 64.1%, whereas the Bundesliga last season was just over half at 53.9%.

Players from across the world are attracted to the Premier League thanks to it’s popularity and the financial rewards on offer. Player salaries in the Premier League far outweigh the Bundesliga, therefore it’s usually an easy decision for well-known players to move to the Premier League.

Bayern Munich are the only team that can financially compete with a top level Premier League club, with an average salary of $6.74 million dollars per year for their players. This matches the top two Premier League clubs Manchester United and Manchester City, who each spend $6.81 million dollars per year. Outside of this however the Bundesliga falls well behind it’s English rival. Borussia Dortmund are second in Germany with $3.56 million dollars per year, yet that figure would put them ninth in the Premier League spending last season.

All of this information shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young players a chance than the Premier League. It also shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young aspiring managers a chance also. Last season the average age of a Premier League manager was 49.95 years old, yet in the Bundesliga it was 44.6 years old. 45% of Premier League managers are over 50, whereas it’s 27% in the Bundesliga.

Whilst a lot of these stats show various figures, they do not explain explicitly why the Bundesliga has better fan engagement than the Premier League. They do however help explain the various factors behind the matter.  The vast wealth of the Premier League has allowed it’s clubs the financial resources to go out and spend big sums for ready made foreign players with a proven track record in prominent leagues.

Fans do not have an affinity with these players because they cannot relate to them. They earn massive sums and do not orbit the same world as the fans. These players often move for financial just as much as footballing reasons, therefore these players know little of the history of the clubs they play for or the city they live in.

Football fans feel a much closer affinity to players who have graduated from a clubs academy because they already known about the club and are more likely to be from the same area as the fans. This is much more apparent in the Bundesliga, where talented youngsters are given chances to gain experience in the first team long before most young English players.

Ticket pricing and increasing commercial aspects within football stadiums are leaving fans feeling like customers not fans, yet in the Bundesliga fans are still held up as the lifeblood of football clubs and are allowed to express the love for their team more overtly than their English counterparts.

The Premier League these days has become a very effective consumer package, where clubs increasingly use revenue streams from sponsors to help them buy the players needed to consolidate their position in the Premier League and compete with their rivals in Europe. In turn sponsors get to market their products exclusively to a large fan base which increases their sales and revenue.

The Bundesliga still feels for many football fans like how football should be. Fans are allowed to show their passion for their team, as they watch a blend of top class players and young academy graduates. Initiatives like the 50+1 rule mean fans will always be the most important thing about Bundesliga football clubs, yet that dream has long since passed in the Premier League. For all it’s wealth and world superstars, the Premier League could learn a lot from the Bundesliga.

I would like to give a massive thanks to Reddit.com, TransferMarkt.com, Statista.com, Goal.com and The Guardian for their help with the research for this article.

If you have an opinion on this topic please leave your comments below I would massively appreciate it!

By Jordan Wilkins

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Can Football Learn From the NFL?

As England still comes to terms with a crushing 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, many are reflecting on how well the team played throughout the tournament. A particular strong point for the young England side has been their prowess from set-pieces.

Kieran Trippier’s free-kick against Croatia set a World Cup record, with England scoring nine goals from set-pieces during the tournament. Russia 2018 in general has seen in a rise in set-piece goals, with a record 30% of total goals up to the quarter-finals coming from corners or free-kicks, bettering previous recent records of 23% from the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

With set-pieces becoming increasingly important to international tournament football, not much has been written about what influenced England’s set-piece excellence under Gareth Southgate. England’s attacking coach Allan Russell has been praised by Southgate and his players, whom they credit for their drastic improvement in set-pieces.

Russell has spent his entire adult life within the world of professional football, yet Southgate has looked further afield for his set-piece influences. The England manager has spent time in the U.S visiting NFL franchise the Seattle Seahawks, has visited the last two Superbowl’s and has had numerous discussions with NFL analysts and NBA coaches to find out how their players find space in tight areas.

It was frequently seen in England World Cup games, when the team was taking a corner beforehand the players would quickly huddle together, before going into a line formation. As a casual fan of both football and American football this sounds much more like an NFL play then a football set-piece.

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England players set-up for a corner against Colombia using a move known as “the love triangle”. Nine of England’s 12 World Cup goals came from set-pieces. Photo copyright: Getty Images. 

With England showing how vital set-pieces can be in major international tournaments, will world football begin to follow the England example and adopt the mindset of an NFL franchise when it comes to set-pieces.

In the simplest sense a set-piece in football can be largely similar to an NFL play, a chance to score from a dead ball.  The NFL is constantly using shifts and motions to buy players space in tight windows, something that could prove massively beneficial with set-pieces.

Teams could use cleverly designed set-pieces where players disguise and then go in motion to fool opposition defenses, much like an NFL offense does. Football has tended to view American sports with a certain level of ignorance, dismissing it as not relevant to football.

What Gareth Southgate and England have highlighted is that in a time where set-pieces are becoming increasingly important in major tournaments, there is a lot world football can learn from American sports in how to create space in tight areas of the pitch.

By Jordan Wilkins find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

Let me know your thoughts on this article in the comments section below. 

Have the F.A made the right decision?

Today is the day that the questions will begin in earnest. Should the F.A have removed Sam Allardyce? The 61 year old was a popular appointment as England manager, only 67 days ago, but the recent allegations made against him have proved too much for the F.A to handle. Where does this leave the England national side now?

Allardyce is alleged to have helped potential middle east investors circumvent third party ownership rules. These rules have been in place in England since 2008, and with FIFA since last year. Former UEFA president Michel Platini compared the practice to a form of “slavery”. These were very serious allegations made by the Telegraph in their sting operation, and now it has cost Allardyce his dream job.

Allardyce was also implicated in a 2006 BBC Panorama undercover operation, where he was accused of accepting bribes through his son from agents for signing certain players. This time around it has cost him his dream job, with Allardyce today explaining that “entrapment has won”, as he looks to rebuild his reputation.

3500Sam Allardyce proudly holding the England scarf on the day of his announcement in late July. Little did anyone know his reign as England manager would last only 67 days. Photo copyright FA.

Many will question where this leaves the England team, with Allardyce’s new era over after 67 short days. He only took charge of one game, with the team now in limbo after a hugely disappointing Euro 2016 performance. The F.A now finds itself starting again for the second time in several months, with some early candidates such as Gareth Southgate being put forward by the media.

The debate will rage on across the country in the coming days, were the F.A right to terminate the contract of Allardyce? Both sides of the argument will be well represented, but ultimately the England football team finds itself in a precarious position. After such a disappointing summer, where does it go from here as it aims to put it’s current turmoil behind them. And just who will take on the unenviable task of leading England back to the place where the nation expects them to be? All will become clear in the coming weeks and months. Whatever the outcome, the F.A will have to think long and hard about this decision, as it could have wide reaching consequences in the coming years?

What are your thoughts on the sacking of Sam Allardyce? Too soft or the right decision? Please feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

The Inquest Begins After England’s Latest Faliure

What a difference a month can make. Going into the Euro 2016 tournament last month, most England fans were quietly confident about their chances. After a perfect qualifying campaign that saw them easily finish top the group with ten wins from ten games, along with a string of friendly victories, many thought this new, young generation of players would finally match expectations in a major tournament. How naïve we all were.

After three up and down group games, the team bowed out of the tournament in humiliating fashion against a team they were expected to easily overmatch, Iceland. England showed promise in their three group games, cruelly being denied in the final minutes of a significant opening game victory against Russia, unfortunately a game that was marred by fan violence both before and after the game.

The country rejoiced with Daniel Sturridge after his vital winner in the final seconds of a closely fought fixture with local rivals Wales, which put them in the driving seat for topping the group. Even with their final group game against a good Slovakia side, many felt they were unlucky to draw 0-0 against a very defensive minded side. So why did things go so badly wrong when they faced the lowest ranked side in the tournament in the first knockout round?

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Roy Hodgson looking dejected as the realisation we are about to go out to Iceland dawns on him. Was it at this point he was considering his future? Photo credit Associated Press.

 This is a question that will have everyone in the country talking for a long time, as they struggle to find out just what is the seeming England curse with major tournament football. Early casualties were the coaching staff, with manager Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff Gary Neville and Ray Lewington all resigning minutes after the final whistle in Nice. Many have now seriously questioned the tactics of Hodgson, with many feeling he simply did not know his best team or formation all tournament. This confusion over tactics has been attributed as part of our epic downfall, with confusion reigning amongst the fans and players, which contributed to the woeful performance put in on Monday night.

The most galling thing was that this time things were expected to be different. After the previous generation bowed out in the group stage of the World Cup two years ago, better things were expected with a new, young generation of players who have thrived in the Premier League for the past few seasons. With a vibrant and exciting young squad we hoped the curse of underperformance in the England shirt would have been rectified. We clearly still have some work to do to fix this.

Whilst the manager has taken a lot of the early criticism, the players deserve their equal share also. The performance against Iceland was beyond awful, with highly paid and experienced Champions League players struggling to make the simplest of passes. The worrying statistic is that in the game Marcus Rashford completed the most successful dribbles for England, and he was only on the pitch for five minutes.

We showed ourselves up with amateur defending from a set piece, something we knew Iceland used as their main tactic of scoring thanks to their long throws. With the second goal the England defenders seemed to be standing around waiting for someone else to make a tackle, before forlornly watching the ball roll past the soft hand of keeper Joe Hart. From this point onwards England never looked like scoring, with the only brief ray of hope being provided by subs Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford. The players sunk to their knees at the final whistle, although they deservedly heard chants of “your not fit to wear the shirt”, from the tired England fans.

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The England players dejected after their shocking 2-1 defeat to Iceland on Monday night. Photo sourced from Sky Sports.

England have embarrassed themselves both on and off the pitch this tournament, and it’s safe to say that no one will be unhappy to see us now travel home with our tail between our legs. The inquest is already beginning over the debacle this tournament, and a lot will need to change if England are to do well in a major tournament. We need to find a manager who can successfully motivate the squad whilst also find the perfect formation and starting eleven for us to do well. Many have insisted it has to be an English manager, but after several tries with this method can we not simply accept that it should be the best man for the job, irrespective of whether he’s English or not?

We will need to keep faith with this young squad, as we do have some really promising players who many not recover if we heavily criticise them now. If we can get them playing in the manner they do with their clubs, we will go far. Maybe this latest disappointment will be wake up call we need to show that we have been expecting too much from the England team for numerous tournaments. It’s clear we are nowhere near as good as we expected, and maybe in future we need to temper our expectations to avoid any potential disappointment.

Where do England go from here? What are your thoughts on what went wrong in the Euro’s? Comment below and thank you for reading.