Germany remain undefeated in qualifying for Russia 2018
Mats Hummels headed home in the closing minutes against the Czech Republic this week to seal Germany’s 7th straight World Cup qualifier victory.
Hummels’ winner came at the service end of a flawless free-kick from Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos. The lone opposition tally was scored on a genius strike from Hertha Berlin’s Vladimír Darida. Three days later the entire team celebrated an early Oktoberfest in Stuttgart, taking down Norway, 6-0. Bundesliga players from RB Leipzig, VfL Wolfsburg, and Schalke 04 accounted for the lion’s share of that scoreline.
Germany—now 8-0-0 in qualifying for next summer’s World Cup—need only draw Northern Ireland in the first of their final 2 WCQ’s in October to book their spot at Russia 2018. On top of that Joachim Löw’s men are already defending World Cup champions and were semi-finalists at Euro 2016. Yet the Bundesliga has not benefitted from all of the national team’s recent success.
PL and LL rule, Bundesliga drools
Okay, that headline doesn’t actually rhyme, but it does make the point. Bundesliga are not the most popular domestic league in the world. England’s Premier League would certainly have to take that title. At least that is assuredly the case in the English-speaking world. Opinions might differ in those places where Spanish is the first language.
Part of that difference is attributable to the great success of Spain’s National Men’s team in the first decade of this new century. International football was down to Spain and Brazil for much of the early 2000’s. Okay, maybe a bit of Argentina as well. In contrast to Germany’s rising fortunes in the years since, however, Spain’s La Liga flourished as well. Indeed, as UEFA’s Champions League has come to obscure domestic titles of late, the Spanish top flight has perhaps even eclipsed the PL in popularity on occasion. So why is the Bundesliga not on fire right now?
You can’t follow the game without a (cable TV) program
Language is certainly a big part of the explanation. Not much of the world—beyond the nations of Europe which do so—speaks German. People all over the world, however, speak English at least as second to their own native tongue. Germans themselves, in fact, often times speak English better than the English or their cousins in the USA, Australia, or South Africa.
Football—like all professional sport—is mostly about marketing. When Rupert Murdoch’s Fox broadcasting and cable-television enterprises needed content in the early 1990s, they helped to repackage the top teams of the FA into the PL. The league then followed the cable which followed the language. Later, the league followed the internet which has mainly been in English for much of its history.
By the time the rest of Europe’s FAs realized what had happened football was growing like an enraged Incredible Hulk. And the (then Barclays) Premier League was at the very forefront of it.
Still at the starting gate
The top flights in Italy, France, and Germany have lagged. There is no way to sugarcoat that fact. While language is part of the reason, it must also be acknowledged that this “new” style of marketing domestic leagues has reshaped the leagues and the clubs themselves as well. An entity like the PL changes everything. Some of that change is very positive. More players from many disparate parts of the world now feature their great talents on more screens more often than ever before. What true fan would not want to witness the brilliance of Lukaku, Sané, or Touré on a nearly-nonstop basis?
The price that is paid, however, is the loss of local control. A global club needs global financing. That is, such a team is impossible to put together and maintain based on gate receipts and “pasty” sales alone. The top flights in countries like Italy and Germany have been left at the gate with regard to this kind of development. That, in turn, is mainly because the clubs and fan-bases do not seem ready to embrace everything required to step up to the next level. The reaction to the very concept of internationalizing Germany’s clubs, much less the entire Bundesliga, was readily witnessed last year as RB Leipzig took center stage. So don’t expect such broad change anytime soon. Still…
These days Volkswagens are no longer built exclusively (or even mainly) in Wolfsburg. And Fiat now own Chrysler and operate it out of Detroit, Michigan, USA. So the larger world is changing. Does that mean that Hertha Berlin will one day have as many fans worldwide as United and City? Only time will tell, of course, but if HB want to send me a kit I’ll happily wear it in the meanwhile.