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By ESPN Staff
Sep 18, 2007

Bayern boosting Bundesliga profile

Six or seven weeks ago, I kindly asked you to support the Bundesliga - if only because we are, all things being relative, the good guys in that morality tale known as the people's game in the corporation's age.

Hoping you'll understand the difference between hubris and self-irony, I'll now add: It looks like my campaign is bearing fruit!

On Thursday, as we were driving back from our holidays in Holland (souvenir: a Willem II magnetic badge) the six o'clock news on the radio informed us that the Bundesliga was about to set a new record as regards to live coverage in foreign countries. Saturday's game between Bayern and Schalke, the newscaster informed us, would be broadcast live into 142 countries. Apparently the old record had stood at 101.

Such growing interest, I daresay, is not at all unwarranted. The past few weeks have been a lot of fun and have served to give a lot of people a good feeling about the German game. And that despite the fact everybody thinks Bayern will waltz away with the title.

But first things first. While we were in Holland, I watched both of Germany's internationals, the game in Wales and the match with Romania. It was not natural that I did so, as I normally use such trips to get away from football. Also, it was hard to put down 'Final Cut', Steven Bach's both harrowing and hilarious account of the making of the movie 'Heaven's Gate'.

Yet I was interested in how Germany's makeshift team, ravaged by injuries, would do. The two games were very different, but entertaining in their own, peculiar ways. In Cardiff, Germany played a shockingly timid Welsh side and dominated the proceedings so thoroughly that most observers criticised the team for not creating more opportunities and scoring more goals.

But I liked what I saw precisely because we were not the ruthlessly efficient, clinically precise Germany of yore. Instead, there was a great sense of un-Teutonic playfulness, epitomised by the performance of Bastian Schweinsteiger. He was mildly chided for not playing enough lethal through balls, yet I mightily enjoyed his art-for-art's-sake approach. This guy would make a great futsal player, given his tendency to gently caress the ball with the sole of his foot.

The Romania game was almost the opposite. For considerable periods it looked as if the visitors would play us off the park, as we seemed as immobile and transfixed as the Welsh had been a few days earlier. What turned the match around was in part Romanian generosity - they refused to score a second goal, then they brought on an ageing icon with a propensity for giving the ball away and finally their goalkeeper lost the plot.

But it was also down to a lot of heart and grit on the part of what amounted to a German reserve side. When Bernd Schneider scores with a header you know you're watching something out of the ordinary.

Two days later, on Friday evening, I went to see Borussia Dortmund play Werder Bremen (a match live on television in 139 countries, the radio voice had announced on Thursday). In many regards, it was just like old times again.

First, it was a floodlit match and we haven't had many of those in Dortmund since our fall from both national and European grace.

Second, the terrace was so packed that I watched the first twenty minutes standing sideways and turning my head to peek over my shoulder. Yes, this was as uncomfortable as it sounds, but a.) That's old-time football for you and b.) I had only myself to blame. I like my two beers before the game starts and usually arrive at my place on the terrace pretty late. And, well, sometimes late is too late to find a good spot to stand.

Still, despite knowing it was my own fault, I had to fight an urge to address all those teenagers next to me with a heartfelt: 'Goddamn, please move aside! I have been standing in this exact place for more than thirty years, so why don't you kiddies go and crowd some other part?' Well, then we scored three goals in ten minutes and I created some room for myself during the celebrations.

My irrational anger at the juvenile contingent on the terrace largely vanished with the goals - and evaporated for good the next morning. That's when the mailman delivered the new issue of When Saturday Comes. It carries a piece headed 'Lost Generation' that deals with the demographics of the people who watch games in England. 'A survey carried out by the Premier League last season revealed that the average age of a fan at a top-flight match is 43,' it says before adding: 'And that's old.'

Indeed. In fact, that's so old that I refused to believe this stat and consulted the internet. But guess what, it's true.

The Guardian dealt with the survey back in March, saying 'a large proportion of those who cannot afford to go to matches are young' before becoming a bit misty-eyed: 'The memory that terraces were packed with teenagers and young lads - not always, it has to be said, behaving impeccably - is supported by the limited statistics available from the time.' Well, if you need less limited statistics, guys and gals, go to Dortmund's terrace and just look around. I'm younger than 43 and am still just a boring old fart there.

A few hours after I had digested the WSC article, Bayern played Schalke. If you happen to live in one of the 142 countries that covered the game, you'll probably agree it was a good match. Not great, mind you, but pretty decent considering most hyped matches never live up to expectations. You'll also have to admit that Bayern, the club Germans love to hate, make it very hard for even their staunchest detractors to bad-mouth them.

This current Munich side is no longer the cold, efficient machinery many fans have come to dislike over the decades. I mean, we have already looked at Schweinsteiger - and at Bayern he's playing alongside Franck Ribéry, fast on his way to becoming the league's most popular footballer, dazzling people with his flicks and tricks!

The current Bayern side have a trained left-winger (Zé Roberto) playing as the holding midfielder! Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose upfront seem to have secret pact going that says they must never finish coolly if there's still a one-two possible!

Then there is Lucio. In the old days, he drove his managers nuts by habitually stomping forward and leaving gaping holes behind him. We can assume that Ottmar Hitzfeld had a talk with him before the season, saying: 'Look, Lucio, even our left back is an attacking player, not to mention all those guys in midfield. So, please, do me a favour and stay at the back.'

Lucio did as he was told. For a month. Against Schalke, he was again all over the place, not caring what happened behind him. You may call that a lack of discipline, I call that a side that is fun to watch. Even if it is representing Bayern Munich.


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