I read a story a few months ago. It was about a boy named Kuba. Kuba was born in the small village of Truskolasy in southern Poland in the mid-1980s to Father, Zygmunt, and Mother, Anna. A keen footballer, he and his older brother Dawid would kick a ball around at any given opportunity. At the age of 8 he and his brother were invited to train with Raków Częstochowa, a professional club based in Częstochowa, the nearest city to their home village. Inspired by his uncle and Polish national team captain, Jerzy Brzeczek, Kuba showed great promise and continued to train with the club up until a personal tragedy caused him to quit football. At the age of 11, Kuba watched as his own Father stabbed his Mother to death.
“Why are you telling me this story?” you may well be thinking. I’m telling you this because on 25th May, Kuba will be playing in the biggest match on the club footballing calendar, the Champions League Final, and everyone just loves reading about footballers, right?
‘Kuba’ is the nickname of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Borussia Dortmund winger and Poland national team captain. After his Mother’s death he was raised by his grandmother and uncle who encouraged him to get back in to playing football just 3 months after the tragedy he had witnessed. He says everything he achieves in his life is dedicated to the memory of his Mother, and those achievements are plenty. Shortly before Euro 2012 his Father died and Kuba took leave from Poland’s training camp to attend the funeral despite not seeing his father since those fateful days of his childhood. A few weeks later he scored one of the goals of the tournament in a 1 – 1 draw with Russia and in an emotional celebration where he was mobbed by his team-mates he pointed to the skies above his home country in honour of his Mother. Jakub Błaszczykowski is in incredible man, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Błaszczykowski signed for Dortmund from Wisła Kraków in 2007, just 2 years after Dortmund were on the brink of bankruptcy and had to enforce a 20% pay-cut on all their players’ wages. Previous to this, Dortmund were loaned €2,000,000 by none other than fellow 2013 Champions League finalists and Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich just so they could pay their players on time. The loan was paid off and Dortmund & Bayern have continued their great rivalry, both earning two Bundesliga titles each in the last four seasons. On the 25th of May these two great clubs will go to battle at Wembley, the home of English football.
Can you imagine Manchester United bailing-out a struggling Leeds United when they were hemorrhaging money from a Peter Ridsdale-sized wound during their hilarious flirtations with the abyss? Or how about Portsmouth receiving a 7-figure cheque and a smile from Arsenal, who seem to have more money than sense? And can you imagine reading in your tabloid rag-of-choice an inspiring story about a footballer who has gone from the extremes of childhood suicide to the pinnacle of world football, as opposed to reading that he’s been shagging is brother’s wife for years? No, no and probably not.
The Bundesliga is the best football league in the world. It’s littered with proper clubs, proper players and proper fans.
We recently saw its two top teams teach La Liga’s top two a lesson in how to play football properly, with aggression, team work, technical ability and ruthless efficiency. Neither German team made concessions for their oppositions’ predictable tactics. ‘Tiki-taka’ was redundant against Bayern’s sheer enthusiasm, pressing of the ball and want for possession and when they did get the ball they were more interested in sticking it in the net than racking-up their ‘Passes Completed’ statistics. Real’s counter attack was ineffective against Dortmund’s enormous, aggressive defense and, certainly in the first game, Lewandowski’s devastating and wholly natural goal-scoring ability must’ve made even the most ardent Spaniard question if the “false 9” is really the right way to go. Bundesliga 11 – 3 La Liga was the final score and possible implications for world football could follow such is the magnitude of those results.
The top Bundesliga teams are full of proper, world-class German players too. You can pick two German teams worthy of the international stage from just the top 4 clubs. In England we’ve exhausted the “big four” before we have enough arses to warm the bench. Players like Neuer, Reus, Götze, Gündoğan, Muller, Kroos, Hummels and Lahm will be the future of the German national side for years to come. At least soon we can stop asking if Gerrard and Lampard can actually play together when they retire from international football and leave a void the size of Jack Wilshere’s medical bills.
It’s not just German players either. Shalke 04 have players that all English clubs would envy in Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar, Ibrahim Affelay (on loan from Barca) and Jefferson Farfán. Former Premier League favourites and Dutchmen Rafael Van Der Vaart and Arjen Robben are both effectively plying their trade in the Bundesliga. The league has also seen a recent influx of quality South Americans, specifically defensive-minded Brazilians, and Juan Arango is a name well worth putting in to YouTube. It makes for a diverse and eclectic league where the sub-divisions are fewer and much tighter than La Liga or the Premier League, where a team can score 55 goals and still finish bottom of the pile.
As for the fans, well, it depends on how you feel about Germans. There are a lot of them though. The Bundesliga sports the highest average attendance of any football league and during the 2011–12 season had the second highest average attendance of any sports league in the world. Any football fan who saw the Dortmund celebrations after the semi-final second leg against Real will have been impressed and incredibly jealous of the bond shown between players and fans. The chasm between fans and clubs seems to be increasing over time but to see that sort of solidarity between multi-millionaires and ultra-passionate fans was quite beautiful. The atmosphere generated at games is also incredible, aided by the impressive stadia in which most teams play. I also had a beer with a VfB Stuttgart fan once, he seemed like a nice bloke.
With the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola at Bayern and sporting both Champions League finalists, maybe we’ll see more players attracted to the Bundesliga. Maybe more UK media attraction too. It would certainly help if Sky covered the league in a similar way to their La Liga shows. It would certainly be a damn-sight more interesting than some of the games those shows serve up when Barca don’t happen to be playing Real on that particular weekend.
After we witnessed the greatest league season in football history last year, we’ve suffered one hell of a hangover this season. I sincerely implore any football fan to give German football a try, be it keeping up with it online or the odd game on ESPN. And even though Bayern have ran away with the German title this year, I’m already excited for the next Bundesliga season. Maybe it’s because I’m moving to Berlin and Hertha have just secured promotion back to the German top-flight. Yeah, that’s probably it.
Jamie Hunter is 26 year old ginger person from Hull. He’s a graphic designer and likes his job because he gets to sit down all day. When not sat down at work he likes to sit down in other places, like pubs and at home. He can be found on http://twitter.com/at_least_calais and also on Google Street View, walking down Chants Ave with a 4-pack of bog roll in his hand.