Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Bundesliga

Football has become a truly global sport. With its worldwide reach, never as prominent as in this millennium,every major European league is able to attract hidden talents from different corner of the globe. This has markedly changed player demographics in the best leagues. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Sit back, relax, and let Goalden Times take you on an incredible trip. The third instalment of this series features Bundesliga.



The Fußball-Bundesliga, literally translated as Football Federal League and commonly known as the Bundesliga, is the top tier professional association football league in Germany.Famous for its knowledgeable and ardent football fans, the league boasts the highest average stadium attendance among all global football leagues. In fact, Bundesliga’s figure of 42,609 fans per game is second only to America’s NFLin global professional sport.It is a testimony to its popularity that Bundesliga is broadcast in over 200 countries. Currently ranked third in Europe according to UEFA’s league coefficient ranking, and certainly on the ascendency, Bundesliga is one of the top most leagues in the World. Unlike other top European Leagues – all covered in this series –Bundesliga features only 18 teams instead of the common norm of 20 teams. Rest of the structure is in sync with others though – the league runs from August to May, matches are mostly played over the weekends making it more practical for fans to travel and watch the games and the bottom three teams get relegated to the lower division known as Bundesliga 2 from where three teams get promoted each year. The domestic cup competition DFB-Pokal is keenly contested and the winner locks horn with the Bundesliga winner in the DFL-Super cup, the season opener.

Bundesliga tops the chart in average attendance for 2013-14 (Source:
Bundesliga tops the chart in average attendance for 2013-14 (Source:

Bundesliga started in 1963-64 and since then a total of 53 clubs have competed for the title. FC Bayern Munich is the most decorated and successful club in the league’s history, having won the Bundesliga 23 times. Other prominent clubs are Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart.
Bundesliga clubs need to be majority-owned by German club members – with the exception of few clubs which were originally founded as factory teams – to discourage control by a single entity, and operate under tight restrictions on the use of debt for acquisitions. This has resulted in a self-sustaining revenue generation model where 11 out of 18 Bundesliga clubs have reported in green last season. This is a marked difference viz-a-viz the buy me trophies approach of other major European leagues, a trend that has seen several high profile teams coming under ownership of business tycoons and Arab sheiks, and a larger number of clubs having high levels of debt.
Good showing by German clubs over a sustained period in Europe has pushed them above Serie A in European Coefficients,allowing the fourth placed team from Germany an entry to the UEFA Champions League since 2011. However what is striking is the fact that Bundesliga has not really dominated the rest of Europe in this period. Before Bayern Munich won the Champions League in 2012 beating Borussia Dortmund in an all-German final, the last team to win the same was Bayern themselves way back in 2000-01. Last German club to win the Europa League, Europe’s second tier continental tournament, was FC Schalke 04 when they won it almost two decades back in 1996-97. It is rather the collective good showing of the Bundesliga clubs that has paved the way for more German clubs’ participation in the Champions League.
Here is another interesting piece of statistic – below we see a comparison between FIFA ranking of the top European nations and their respective domestic league’s rankings. La Liga still dominates Europe but Spain has gone off the radar in recent years which is reflected in the difference in the rankings of club and country. Germany, on the other hand, has the lowest ranking difference and that too with the best average ranking – indicative of their dominance at both Club and country level. Interestingly, only Netherlands and Belgium alongside Germany have a better national team ranking than their league ranking – no wonder these three national teams are also among the most exciting teams currently in world football.
So, let us try to find out why the top Bundesliga teams have fared so well over the last few seasons under their robust financial regulations and demonstrated a new brand of footballing philosophy for others to follow. Our sample size is five—the top five clubs since the 2009–10 season.

 Borussia Mönchengladbach

First up is Borussia Mönchengladbach, Die Borussen – The club from North Rhine-Westphalia, one of Germany’s best-known, best-supported, and most successful clubs. 1970’s was their golden decade when they won five Bundesliga titles, including a hat trick of crowns between 1975 and 1977. They encountered a dip in performance soon after owing to a financial crisis, with the ultimate low coming in the form of relegation from Bundesliga in 2006-07. But since then Mönchengladbach have been on the up – Bundesliga 2 glory and promotion to the top tier in 2007-08 has paved the way for steady success in years to come. In the last five years, they have steadily moved up the league table and now are seen as a strong contender for the Champions League play-off spot. Although they have had limited exposure to continental football – their only appearance was cut short in the Champions League qualifying match in 2012-13 – it is fair to say that they have never really longed for it. That presents a very sound picture of this club’s goal – focus on the job at hand and do not burden yourself by being overambitious.Based on lessons from their past, Borussia Mönchengladbach is run on very strict financial grounds. Their first team squad size hovers around a very acceptable figure of mid 20’s and if anything, the trend is downwards. But even then, they have an eye for class. Their foreign player ratio is in the region of 40-50% and usually they have done more than just add up the numbers. Brazilian Raffael Caetano de Araújo was the club’stop scorer in the league in 2013/14. So was Dutch Luuk de Jong (jointly) in 2012/13, a season when Venezuelan Juan Arango became the top assist provider for the club, a feat he has achieved for two consecutive seasons. So not only have Mönchengladbach been able to find quality foreign players to augment their local talent, they have also been able to find them from different parts of the globe. It has paid healthy dividends so far, but to take the next step – challenge for the title or domestic cups – they might need to break the bank and sign some marquee players in the near future. They have been raided and have lost crucial players in recent past–Marko Marin in 2009-10, Marco Reus and Dante in 2012-13, Marc-André ter Stegen last summer. They can ill afford to continue this trend if they have any higher ambitions.


FC Schalke 04

Fußball club Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 e. V., better known as FC Schalke 04 is originally from the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia and is one of the most popular teams in Germany.Die Königsblauen dominated German football for close to a decade starting from the mid 1930’s. However they had to face the stigma of Bundesliga scandal of 1971 where charges of accepting bribes to forfeit matches were proved against their key players and officials. They have, however, shown signs of improvement in the new millennium and have reached the semis of both Europa League as well as Champions League in last five years. Besides managing European expectations, FC Schalke 04 have also lifted the prestigious DFB Pokal in 2010-11. But their league performance suffered that season as they finished a lowly 14th in the table. Apart from that, Schalke have been steadily featuring in the top four in Bundesliga, rarely threatening to win it though.Their clear transfer policies have played a huge part behind their success. Schalke have always brought in quality foreign players – Dutch Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Spaniard José Manuel Jurado (both in 2010-11), Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng (in 2013-14) – to augment their local talents, even if they have had to break the bank for such transfers. FC Schalke 04 have stood strong on their own terms and except for selling Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich in 2011-12, they have never sold any of their prized assets to rival clubs. Schalke have adopted another interesting approach – over the years, they have drastically reduced both their first team squad strength and the number of foreign players in the squad. Partly, this has to do with the availability of an excellent talent pool in Germany; and partly because of FC Schalke 04’s endeavour to run a financially viable system, a system that has led them to have a valuation of $598.5 million and be on the 12th spot in the list (by Forbes) of richest football clubs The valuation marks a 16% increase from the previous year’s value.So, they have gone big when they were actually certain of their acquisitions but have mostly stayed away from average buys.While the club has done really well in terms of financial stability there is still a lot of work to be done with regards to team building, especially when it comes to facing Europe’s elite teams like Real Madrid who handed them a 9-2 thrashing in the UEFA Champions League last season.


 Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Bayer 04 Leverkusen, known as Leverkusen or simply Bayer, is another prestigious club from Germany, based in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Often mocked as Neverkusen for their failure to win any major trophy – they missed out on Bundesliga title narrowly four times between 1996-97 and 2001-02 – Bayer Leverkusen came into prominence as late as the 1990’s. 2001-02 was a memorable, yet painful year for them as they finished second in everything they competed for – the league, the domestic cup as well as the UEFA Champions League. In the process, Leverkusen became – and remain the only club till date to appear in the final of a UEFA Champions league without ever winning a domestic league title.With consistent qualification to the UEFA Champions League, Bayer Leverkusen have been really consistent in the last few years. However their failure to climb up the ladder can be termed as stagnancy as well. A squad, dominated by domestic players (~ 60%),  whose average age hovers around the mid 20’s, to finish 3rd-4th on the league table – one can predict their season at the start of it and chances are, it will be right on the money. Their lack of squad depth has been heavily exposed in the Champions League – they were humiliated by Barcelona 7-1 away from home in 2011-12 and by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 at home last season. And although these thrashings did not prevent Leverkusen from negotiating the group stages, they did not progress much beyond either. And it seems, the board is least bothered about that. Arturo Vidal of Chile in 2011-12, German André Schürrle and Spaniard Daniel Carvajal in 2013-14, and another German Emre Can in 2014-15 – these are some of the high profile names to depart from the club in recent history. Rarely have Bayer Leverkusen been able to sustain their core group and their new signing this season – Turkish attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu also is rumored to leave in the summer (possibly to Barcelona). This is precisely the reason why even after being a financially stable club, Bayer Leverkusen unfortunately has been loathed as a “plastic club”.A late achiever in the German football scene, Leverkusen suffer from a traditional or committed fan base and is perceived to be run solely on the backing of their rich pharmaceutical company sponsor.


 Borussia Dortmund

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund, better known as Borussia Dortmund, Dortmund, or BVB, is a German sports club based in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia. The football team is part of a 115,000 member strong sports club, making Dortmund the third largest sports club by membership in Germany. Dortmund has a rich footballing history but their tryst with football glory only came late in the last millennium. When everything looked set for a brighter future, Dortmund shocked the German football system by reporting a huge debt of €118.8 million in 2004. It was then revealed thatDie Borussen had gone beyond their limits in search of silverwares. They had invested heavily to recruit foreign players but failure to advance to the main stages of the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League meant that the club had to withstand huge financial losses. Loans from rival clubs like Bayern Munich, sale of stadium naming rights, getting almost bankrupt – Dortmund have seen it all and fortunately, come out stronger and wiser. One of the forces behind their turn around was their loyal fans – Borussia Dortmund recorded an average of 80,297 fans for all the home matches in the 2013-14 season, the highest in Europe. Also, the club shifted its focus to young home-grown players. In the last five years, the presence of local players in Dortmund’s squad has gone up from 52% to 61.54%. At the same time, the squad strength has remained practically constant – 25, 23, 23, 23 and 26. The quality of these players and the results are there for everyone to see – consistent top two finishes in the league with couple of titles, one cup (DFB-Pokal) crown with another final appearance, and a UEFA Champions League final after 17 years. Borussia Dortmund are certainly on the right track.Though local talent has had a huge role to play in their revival,  it is not that Dortmund had turned a blind eye towards foreign players.In last couple of years they have broken the bank to bring in quality players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan(Armenia), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Socratis Papasthopoulos(Greece), Kevin Kampl (Slovenia), Adrián Ramos (Colombia), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Ciro Immobile (Italy) to build up a team as diverse as one can imagine. But they have all augmented an already strong squad. In our analysis period (last five seasons), thrice the top goal scorer and four times the top assist provider has been a German. True, they are having a miserable season this time round but that has been already dealt in detail here.


FC Bayern Munich

Fußball-Club Bayern Münchene.V., globally famous as FC Bayern München, FCB,Bayern Munich, or FC Bayern, is the most successful German football club. Based in Munich, Bavaria, Bayern havewon a record 24 national titles, 17 national cups and also five (a German record) UEFA Champions League crowns. On top of that, Bayern are an exemplary club in professional football having reported profits in nine of the last ten seasons. More often than not, they have topped their previous year’s record earnings. This is achieved in spite of the fact that Bayern earn only 22% of their revenues through broadcasting rights (for other big clubs, this figure is as high as 35%) under the supervision of Deutsche Fußball Liga. One of the strong fundamentals behind Bayern Munich’s amazing financing is that they always use their current assets, not loans, to fund recruitment of players. And that too when each year they have had big ticket signings for the last five seasons. Except for the 2014-15 season they have had huge transfer spending. But even if Bayern have spent big, they have spent wise too. And this has paid handsome dividends – three Bundesliga, three DFB-Pokal and one Champions League titles. Bayern’s showing in the continental front was spectacular to say the least – they featured in two more finals and one more semifinal between 2009-10 till date. Only season they made a premature exit was in  2010-11, and that too on the basis of away goals.  Their standards have been so high that their lowly third finish was called a “blip”. Other than that success and Bayern have been pronounced in the same breath. Like any big club, Bayern have huge expectations to fulfill in each transfer window and they have not disappointed their fans and stakeholders with quality signings like Mario Gómez, Arjen Robben, Luiz Gustavo, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Javi Martínez, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Götze, Thiago Alcántara, Mehdi Benatia, Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski. The list features four Germans, one Dutch, two Brazilians, two Spaniards, one Croat, one Swiss, one Moroccan and one Polish player – and all of them flourished in the German giant’s first XI during the last five seasons. And it is not always that Bayern have gone after the flavor of the season – some of their most notable recruits had been perceived as past their prime (Alonso), failures (Robben) or yet unproven (Alcántara) in other big leagues. Stability is what they thrive on and that is evident from their foreign player recruitment policy also. Bayern have maintained a stable 50% participation of domestic players in their first team squad. This figure is actually quite low compared to its closest rivals but one can’t really complain when the results have been so spectacular.



Bundesliga is well known for running a profitable business model.Among Europe’s five major leagues, they have the highest average attendance, lowest ticket prices, and lowest pay out (less than 50%) on footballers’ wages. That allowed the German clubs to collectively book profit even during the peak of recession time during the 2009–10 season.
Much before the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations came into picture in September 2009, Bundesliga was running a self-imposed strictly regulated financial model. Every club has to pass through the scrutiny process of the German Football Federation (DFB) at the beginning of each season where their transfer documents and accounts are inspected before they are granted the approval for participation in the league that season. The DFB have a system of fines and points deductions for clubs who flout rules and those who go into the red can only buy a player after selling one for at least the same amount.
Surely Bundesliga is not as popular as, say, the English Premier League worldwide – English Premier League enjoys higher revenue growth thanks to a larger global fanbase and skyrocketing television income (as the English have a less competitive pay-TV market).But then the English clubs do spend an absurd amount of their income on players’wages. Bundesliga clubs, instead,generally enter into partnership with local firms, several of whom eventually go on to become big global companies. That is why Bayern Munich received 55% of its income from company sponsorship deals, while their English counterpart, Manchester United received a mere 37%.
The inflection point in recent German football evolution came in 2000 – the year that saw them crashing out of European Championships at the group stages with one draw and two defeats.To address the dearth of talent at a national level, the German Football Association and the Bundesliga instructed all the clubs to run a youth academy to boost the stream of local talent. A decade later, the top tiers of German football was seen spending an average of €75m annually on these youth academies – training 5,000 players in the age group of 12–18, increasing the under-23-year-olds in the Bundesliga from 6% to 15% in a 10-year span. This is money well spent – nurturing home grown talent instead of splashing out cash on (sometimes average) foreign players and falling in the spiral of billions of debt.


With everyone going gaga over the success of German national team and clubs, it is widely accepted that Bundesliga is ruled by the German players. Well, time for the myth to be busted. As shown above, Bayern Munich, leader of the pack, has a pretty high share of foreign players in its first team squad. That high number has also practically remained constant throughout the recent years (low fluctuation, Std. Deviation). But there is another facet to these high numbers – they are well augmented by their German counterparts. That is why almost every top club is less dependent on their foreign imports for their season’s outcome (low correlation between no of Foreign players in the squad and eventual final standing), at least for the clubs at the top of the table. As we move lower down the table, and as the local talent pool is closer to exhaustion, clubs become more and more dependent on foreign signings. And quality recruitment in Bundesliga has not been an issue thanks to its strong financial base. Only aberration in the above figures is FC Schalke 04 (correlation of -55.71%), but that is mainly due to the 2010-11 season when their league campaign was hampered (or strategically sacrificed) by deep cup runs – they eventually managed to win the DFB-Pokal and reached the last four of Champions League. If we ignore that season, their correlation value comes out to be 13.95%, perfectly in line with our analysis.

That was it for the superpowers of Bundesliga. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.