German football's rise from the depths of Euro 2000 despair has been long and arduous but now they are finally getting to see the benefits and reap the rewards of their hard work
By Peter Staunton
It seems to be genuinely hard for people to shake off the idea that the best teams in the world should all play in England or occupy the top two positions in Spain. Football gives the impression that it moves in cycles and that is the reality we've dealt with in the past few years.
But this season, more than any other, has prompted a reassessment. The efforts of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League have helped football in Germany emerge from the shadows and proudly display its merits.
The eyes of the football world are now on the Bundesliga. This season, a glorious culmination of the hard work instigated following the Euro 2000 disaster, has given football in Germany its moment.
|2012-13: The Year of Germany
|DEC 7, 2012
||All seven German clubs progress through to the latter stages of both the Champions League (3) - Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke, and Europa League (4) - Gladbach, Leverkusen, Stuttgart and Hannover.|
|BAYERN ANNOUNCE GUARDIOLA
|JAN 16, 2013
||The Spaniard is revealed as the new coach to take over from Jupp Heynckes in the summer on a three-year deal. He is due to start on June 26.|
|GOTZE TRANSFER TO BAYERN
|BVB are rocked by the news that star playmaker Gotze is leaving for rivals Bayern, who trigger his €37 million release clause in his contract.|
|BUNDESLIGA DUO STUN LA LIGA GIANTS|
|MAY 1||Just a day after Dortmund saw off Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate, Bayern produce an emphatic display at Camp Nou in the other CL semi-final (7-0 on agg) to ensure an all-German final.|
|BAYERN WIN ALL-GERMAN FINAL|
|Bayern Munich seal their fifth European Cup triumph after falling at the last hurdle in two of the last three years. Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner ensures die Roten's victory.|
The script for the Champions League story was again written with Barcelona and Real Madrid as its main protagonists. For a second season in a row a Clasico final was foretold. But Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund would not be facilitators, cowed into supporting roles. And what they've done with their awe-inspiring performances is drag the perception of football in Germany up with them.
The Bundesliga has ceased to be just something in the background. Its teams have become more than decent nursery clubs for the big teams to plunder. Its time has come. In an age of hype, this has been a subtle, understated rise.
Until very late this week when the deals taking Porto's James Rodriguez to Monaco and Santos' Neymar to Barcelona were announced, the biggest transfer story of the European summer market concerned those two Champions League rivals. Mario Gotze will play for Bayern next season after his €37 million release clause was triggered. That deal is testament both to the financial might of the Bavarians and also the class of young player currently being produced systematically in Germany.
How national coach Joachim Low plans to pick a team from all of that talent for the 2014 World Cup is anyone's guess. Where rivals are struggling to fill gaps and trying to cover weak spots, Germany are blooding two or three potentially world-class players in almost every position.
He has 11 of last night's finalists at his disposal. Half the league are eligible for German teams. The average age in the Bundesliga is about 25. Football in the country is coming to maturity and the hugely entertaining Champions League final was symbolic of that.
Nonetheless, since earning a fourth Champions League qualification slot, German football has had to defend itself against accusations of inadequacy, especially after Borussia Monchengladbach frittered their chance of making the group stages away last season.
With Bayern the only side going consistently deep for a few years, there was a perception that the German Uefa co-efficient was being artificially propped up. That accusation goes now. This was certainly no APOEL; a fluke rise by an unheralded team who ultimately disappear as quickly as they came. This was deliberate, systematic.All seven German clubs competing in European competition emerged from the group stage, the first time that has happened, while Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke all topped their respective Champions League groups. It is something that has been constructed by German teams; it's not happened to them.
The total overhaul of youth football in the country initially caused teams to lose their power. But German squads and the DFB fearlessly faced those short-term deficiencies in a way that has not yet been considered in England or Italy where it, too, needs to happen. This season showed what can happen when that foresight and bravery is apparent and cohesive strategies for development implemented and delivered.
The idea of forthcoming German dominance has loomed ever since the fruits of their labour began to ripen. That threat was not always tangible while Germany made semi-finals and finals on the international stage without going the distance. It was not tangible either in club football when German teams consistently came up short.
The Bayern mainstays Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger were part of a promising team for the best part of the last five years, but were in danger of seeing their careers pass without that continental success which transforms good players to legendary ones. It's no good saying 'their time will come'. That success has to be sparked; trophies won on merit.
So while German football was lauded for its financial prudence and its production of players, there was a doubt that it could be converted to on-field triumphs. It's all well and good producing players and staying in the black, but that has got to be backed up with silverware for notice to be taken.
In that respect, the story of the 2012-13 is that of a threshold crossed. It was a season of vibrant positivity from German clubs in Europe and, who knows, a sign of things to come. Until Barcelona and Real Madrid were vanquished those same doubts lingered. German teams had lost too many finals for people to be anything other than cautiously optimistic. The idea of Germany as European football's coming power would not be acknowledged until Lahm or Roman Weidenfeller had that cup above their heads. And so it was on Saturday night.