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HindustanTimes Wed,20 Aug 2014

Football

Pressing case for Gegenpressing
Dhiman Sarkar, Hindustan Times
April 28, 2013
First Published: 00:44 IST(28/4/2013)
Last Updated: 02:02 IST(28/4/2013)

At the magnificent Allianz Arena on Tuesday, Jupp Heynckes showed why he had bristled every time reporters asked whether he had phoned Pep Guardiola. The message his Bayern Munich sent out to the world was: we don't need no education. Not even from someone who spent 23 years with Barcelona.


When 24 hours later, Real Madrid trailed in Robert Lewandowski's slipstream, the focus, somewhat unexpectedly, shifted to German football clubs.

So what has Germany been doing that the world, fed on the packaged diet of Spanish and English league football, missed?

Gegenpressing is one. Loosely translated from German, it means instead of falling back and regrouping when you lose the ball, you move upfield to press and regain possession. It is something Barcelona and Spain do very well. On Tuesday, Bayern bettered the best at their own game.

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Playing a hard running game is another. If Borussia Dortmund made Real Madrid look pedestrian it was because they were as a team speedier than their more expensive opponents.

Football magazine FourFourTwo, in its March issue, calculated that coach Jurgen Klopp's team has run the equivalent of going from Dortmund to Moscow and back in the last one-and-a-half seasons.

Fighting fit

To press and run the legs off your opponents while managing a deft flick, an accurate pass or a sudden shot on target requires the kind of training regimen Germany put in place after the debacle of Euro 2000.

Because they are the richest and Germany's most popular club, Bayern have always been spending a packet on youth development (they now invest around 5 million euros annually). But the other Bundesliga clubs didn't spend as much.

That changed in 2000. Clubs were told to build state-of-the-art training centres or risk severe punishment. Even for those battling severe fund crunch, such as Dortmund, this was non-negotiable. Germany studied the player development system in France and tried to copy that, Franz Beckenbauer had told HT in 2011. Youth academies and national league for youth teams too were set up.

Both Bayern and Dortmund were fitter and stronger than their opponents and played the disciplined, direct and physical football typical of that country.

So far, so German. In an email interview with HT last October, Matthias Sammer, a Champions League and Euro 96 winner who now heads Bayern's football programme, said "directness and intransigence" sometimes compensated for a lack of quality in the German teams of his time.

Multi-cultural mix

A combination of their society becoming multi-cultural and a group of talented youngsters breaking through have added skill to that traditional German stubbornness. German teams dazzle these days just as Dortmund did through the group stage of the Champions League. Just as Bayern did all the way to a foot in the Chanpions League final.

There could be many reasons for this but a clutch of second generation immigrants adding variety to the talent pool and the emergence of a group of brilliant homegrown talents nurtured at clubs' academies are two.

Marko Reus, Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neuer and Andre Schuerrle are some of them. At the clubs these talents have been supplemented by some judicious buys such as Robert Lewandowski, Arjen Robben, Dante, Javi Martinez and Mario Mandzukic.

And all this has happened without the help of rich Arabs, American investors and oligarchs pumping in money. In Germany, clubs aren't allowed to sell more than 50 per cent of their stake.

Yet most German clubs are in the black. Bayern, who have signed Pep Guardiola to take their football project forward, have shown profits for the past 20 years.

A football team showing the world how to play isn't new. The Total Football of the Dutch, Bayern's 70s show, the Magical Magyars of the 50s, Alfredo De Stefano's Real Madrid, the Brazil team that won three World Cups between 1958 and 70 or Barcelona are some examples.

Germany's time, it seems, is now.


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