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.

Mönchengladbach Rediscovers its Wings

We all love a good underdog story. Dipankar Saha recounts one that is unfurling right before our eyes – the story of a club that flirts with relegation but has now become a contender for Bundesliga

Jawirschwören Stein und Bein,

auf die Elf vom Niederrhein,

Borussiaunser Dream-Team,

denn Du bistunser Verein!

{Yes we swear to the stone and bone, Eleven of the Lower Rhine, Borussia our dream team, for you are our club}

The glorious game is said to be full of uncertainties. There is always some surprise in store for you and that’s the beauty of the game. The rise and fall of a great club and then the rise again are most poignant. It is a story of a team which fights for relegation battle till the last day of the season and eventually, saves its face, via relegation play-off only to become one of the strongest contenders for the title, the very next season, without any significant change in the squad.

Borussia Mönchengladbach is the sixthbiggest club in Germany in terms of membership and has a rich history but most of the richness was spread over the 1960’s and 70’s. Apart from winning the German championship fivetimes in that period they also won the UEFA Cup twice, German Cup thrice and German Super Cup once. But since then, it has been an everlasting trough. The Die Fohlen, who used to fight neck-to-neck with Bayern Munich in that era, slowly took the backseat after the 70’s decade. The last time they won anything was the German Cup in 1995, over Wolfsburg.

The decline in performance of the 80’s was significant and financial difficulties forced them to sell many of their better players which kicked off the major downfall in their performance. Year 1999 was the worst and they got relegated to Bundesliga2 that season. They brought in managers of the ilk of Dick Advocaat and Jupp Heynckes but to no avail.  Eventually they got relegated again in 2006/07 season. The dismal show continued and last year 2010-11 season they once again found themselves fighting for their existence.

In the current millennium, they have been relegated once (though they rebounded back up the next year), the best position they have ever managed in the 18-team Bundesliga is tenthin 2005-06 with 42 points, which was also their joint highest points tally (also 02-03 season when they were twelfth). They only staved off the relegation in the 2010-11 season, though after a relegation playoff. A club which used to be a giant threedecades back went virtually into coma in the last decade.

Although the 2010-11 season ultimately ended with a relegation play-off, Mönchengladbach had started it brightly.They crashed  heavyweight  Bayer Leverkusen 6-3 at the start of the season which gave an impression that a different Gladbach is probably there in Bundesliga this time round. However, things started slipping downwards quickly and their horrible defensive show brought them only 10 points after the first half of the season. With the team in the last spot of the league with only 16 points after twenty-tworounds, the management brought in a little known Swiss manager, Lucien Favre, who was without a job for twoyears and whose greatest footballing accomplishment was that he had scored a goal on his debut for the Swiss against the Dutch, who were also handing debuts to twoyoung players by the name of Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. Favre, who took over on 14th Feb 2011, rose up as a true valentine to Gladbach.

Favre though turned the season around grabbing 26 points from the second half of the league. The club thus moved up from last to 16th and earned a relegation play-off which they won against Bochum. Favre had saved the club’s position and kept it alive to fight another season. He didn’t work as a hard taskmaster which is common for a manager in a club under red eye of relegation. Rather his appointment in the club brought fresh air in the dressing room and players started talking more freely, which started reflecting their on-field performance.

Gladbach had a quiet summer transfer in 2011 and nobody did pay any attention to a club which somehow saved relegation last season. Their opening match of this season was against record German champions and fourtimes Champions League winner, Bayern Munich. Everybody was expecting a breezing start for the Bavarians. However, Bayern was shot down by Favre’s team 0-1 at Bayern’s own den. It was probably a signal to the other teams in Bundesliga that this year Gladbach is going to be something special. However, one match wonder doesn’t prove anything (last year’s win of 6-3 against Leverkusen was proof of that) and football fraternity thought probably this is just another accident and Gladbach will struggle as usual and return to their usual poor way.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen like that and people started getting surprised by each Gladbach match. After the fifthround,Gladbach was thirdin the table with 10 points. They kept stunning everyone and after the fifteenthround they were still in thirdspot with 30 points, just a point behind the first place. By the time this article is being written, they are comfortably sitting at thirdplace in the table after twenty-fiverounds with 48 points, 8 points behind league leaders Dortmund with tenmatches to spare. A championship bid may be fantastic, but with four Champions League slots available, Gladbach would surely play in next season’s Champions League, unless their season implodes spectacularly. They have collected 29 points from thirteenmatches at home and 19 points from twelveaway matches. Through the course of the season, they not only have beaten the weaker sides but thumped the biggies too. They have done a double against Bayern Munich, beaten Schalke convincingly 3-0 at home and thrashed Werder Bremen 5-0 away.

Gladbach have carried this form in the domestic cup competition too. They have qualified for the semi-finals where they meet Bayern Munich in thirdweek of March. Having done the double in the league over the German super power, Lucien Favre’s team can certainly dream about knocking Bayern Munich out of the competition.

So how can these dramatic turnarounds be explained? What’s the secret behind it? Well, the credit must always go to the players first as they have to perform on the pitch. But it is almost the same set of players who were pathetic last season. A deeper look and you will find it’s the coach, Lucien Favre who is the main man behind this. He is the man who brought unprecedented upswing in the performance from the same set of players. He established the proven fact once again that football is a game where quality of the coach really matters. Probably Jurgen Klopp of Dortmund can be compared with him, as per coaches’ contribution is concerned in Bundesliga, in recent years, or he might have even outshone Klopp to some extent. Since his arrival,Gladbach has conceded a total of 22 goals and only 14 goals so far this season which is best defensive record in Bundesliga for the ongoing season. Never in a match Gladbach has conceded more than twogoals and we all know if a team stops conceding goals then the probability of losing the match reduces and that’s the first thing Favre has done.

Marc-Andre TerStegen,Gladbach’s 19-year old goalkeeper has been outstanding under the bar and the kind of maturity he has shown belies his age. He is being considered as the best goalkeeping talent in Germany and probably a successor tocurrent national team goalkeeper, Manuel Neuar.

The backline has been in superb form as they have conceded the lowest numberof goals so far in the league. Widely manned by captain FilipDaems(Belgium), DanteBonfim da Costa (Brazil), Martin Stranzl (Austria) andRoelBrouwers(Holland),it forms a multinational defence line. But they provide just the right amount of solidity which has allowed Ter Stegen to have a record 12 clean sheets. The twoholding medios,HavardNordtveit andRoman Neustädter have been rock solid and these two guys are probably the unsung heroes of Gladbach’s excellent defensive record.

On the attacking front, Marco Reus has been having a breakout season. Often considered the best player of Bundesliga this season, he is almost toying with opponent defence and has thirteengoals in 23 starts. Reus though has already signed a deal with champions Dortmund and would join them in the end of the season this year. But Mönchengladbach may have another rising star in Patrick Herrmann, who is providing Reus great support from the right wing. Hermann has sixgoals in 19 appearances. Veteran Venezuelan wing wizard Juan Arango too has complemented Hermann and Reus, controlling the left wing. His nineassists are only second to Franc Ribery’stwelveafter the 25th round.

So can the other clubs take any lessons from the Gladbach story, which is still unfolding? Probably, yes. Find the right coach, give him time and responsibilities and he will bring the best out of the players. This has been the story at Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp and the same story is getting repeated at Gladbach.

Whether Gladbach will ultimately become Bundesligachampions or not, after 1977, or reach the Champions League for the first time in their history or whether they can win the prestigious DFB Cup after 17 years, only time will tell. But it can surely be said they will fight neck-to-neck with Dortmund, Bayern and Schalke till the last round of the season. But what’s in the future? Is this just a one year show or can they perform like this consistently? Is their golden era truly back? They are not a rich club. Already the jewel in their crown, Marco Reus has signed a deal with Dortmund. Will more such exodus follow?These are questions that the Borussiafaithfuls are wondering.

But for the time being, they are being taken on a ride by Favre’s merry men and the fans are singing. Let the miracle continue.