Borussia Dortmund have just set a transfer record that should last. Matt Nation, the first of our far flung correspondents to get to the postbox, explains why
Günter Netzer recently complained that the Bundesliga was lacking “personality players who command a big fee”. While the rest of the country pondered the link between Alan Shearer and the word “personality”, Borussia Dortmund snapped up the Brazilian forward Amoroso for DM 50 million (£15.7 million) from Parma.
In other countries, such an incongruous sum – it doubled the Bundesliga’s previous highest fee – might have triggered the financial mannishness that leads to wage packets piling up in the middle of card tables by seven o’clock on a Friday night. And it’s still possible that Bayern’s Uli Hoeness, in one of his Viv Nicholson moments, might table a bid for Amoroso for DM 51 million on the eve of Dortmund’s first European fixture of the season. However, it is much more likely that Amoroso’s transfer fee will, for years to come, remain the Bundesliga equivalent of Bob Beamon’s long jump.
One of the reasons for the parsimony might be the infamous Neidfaktor (jealousy factor) that looms large in German society. Ill luck is often greeted with a shrug of indifference and a reference to the affluence of the victim. After a player once got hurt in a game I was watching, an elderly spectator smirked, audibly, and said: “Them Adidas boots cost 399.90 marks, plus VAT, but they’re no good to him now, are they?” If a pair of overpriced daps are enough to make a pensioner risk a beating, it’s easy to imagine the reaction Amoroso will face if he fails to score at least every ten minutes. If he’s wise, he’ll forget all about learning German.
It would be unfair to blame the lack of big names entirely on a sceptical public, however. Despite increased television revenue, there simply doesn’t seem to be that much silly money flying around German football. The financial conservatism of the clubs can be explained partly by season-ticket prices. They’re ridiculously low. A season ticket for St Pauli, now back in the first division, costs a shade over £100 for 17 games. It’s not as if the bosses couldn’t ask for more: they could demand double and still fill the ground, probably with much the same people as well.
One reason they don’t is that stable fan bases are far from prevalent here. Club supremos know 30,000 supporters would willingly shell out for the first division, but will balk at giving the club even five minutes of their time one division lower down. The worst example of this fickleness is Hertha Berlin. When the club went up a few years ago, their first game attracted over 50,000. Yet there were a lot of people at that match sporting denim waistcoats (the sort that German fans adore) that were still deep blue, uncreased and spotless, and who had to ask which tube station to get off at. And then suddenly you recalled the games 18 months beforehand, when you’d sat with 10,000 other people in a stadium designed for 75 000.
It is the lack of passion, as well as money, that is responsible for the dearth of big stars. In short, it’s boring. Alan McInally apart, few established foreign stars want to come here. People may point to Jan Koller at Dortmund as an example of the trend being bucked, but if he were shorter and didn’t look like Nicholas Cage’s studious older brother, nobody would take a blind bit of notice of him.
Almost the only attractive thing that the Bundesliga has to offer (in an Angela Rippon sort of way) is its attention to detail. The importance afforded to diet would make even the most dedicated supermodel seem positively trencherman. The strict regulations on attending German classes mean foreign players spend more time behind a desk than most university students. And clubs bend over backwards to try to make not only the player, but also his family, feel at home (Eintracht Frankfurt even paid for driving lessons for Rolf Guié-Mien’s wife). But even this sort of mollycoddling, plus the chance to drive your car on motorways with no speed limit, probably just isn’t enough for your average superstar. A meat-and-potatoes lifestyle might win you a World Cup, but it won’t have the gourmets bang- ing on the door to get in.
From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month