The English Premier League claims to be the best league in the world and thus attracts a worldwide following. When it comes to television revenue the EPL is certainly unrivalled and nowhere is there a possible challenger in sight. The German Bundesliga maybe is the financially most secure league in Europe but for some it seems to lack the flair of its English counterpart. As for the football played, it surely is a very different league of its own as many players who have witnessed the best of both worlds certainly would acknowlegde. So how is it that not more German players have been making their mark in England? German football is known for its reliability and from the spot the Germans are almost unbeatable as every England fan will sadly confirm. But the other way round there are hardly any viable examples, Owen Hargreaves being the last and to many probably the only known English man playing abroad, in that case Germany.
However, the story of German players is a different one in England it appears and not every transfer turns out to be another Bert Traumann for ManCity. The blue club of Manchester appears to have a very different take on German players ever since in the late 1940s the German paratrooper was signed from St. Helens as a goalkeeper, as this article shows. Many have followed, many have left early without making a mark, others such as East German football hero Uwe Rösler have become a legend. Most recently Didi Hamann has played for the Citizens until the end of the 2008-09 season. He currently is player-coach at MK Dons. While his biggest success came as a Liverpool player, he nevertheless enjoys the status of a legend in English football, but he only came to City at the end of his playing career. Unlike Trautmann, who has made over 500 appearances in goal for City and was voted the best ever player to wear their shirt in 2007, an accolade that so far no other German player can match. The only current player, Jerome Boateng is trying to make his mark in the City squad which seems a difficult thing to do as the team is well equipped on each position and Boateng’s pre-season was hampered by injuries.
What does German players draw to City then? Is it really the überfigure of Trautmann, which still shines and seems to attract players from Germany? The answer is somewhere in between and certainly not an easy one to find. One thing appears to be clear: the relationship between City and German players seems to be in good health. However, other clubs also had Germans in their squads and some of them made their mark, just as Jürgen Klinsmann while celebrating his first goal for Spurs or Thomas Hitzlsperger whose nickname with Villa fans was the Hammer, although some might consider this more appropriate as a nickname now that he is at West Ham, where he has not got a lot of playing time under his belt this season.
Liverpool too seem to appreciate German players considering that Riedle, Babbel, Ziege ploughed their trade there. Most notably was the role Hamann played in the second half og the Champions League Final in 2005, where his inclusion is said to have kickstarted Liverpool’s surge and finally sealed the victory. While all these weren’t high profile transfers such as Michael Ballack’s move to Chelsea in the mid-noughties when the club from Stamford Brigde have been at their best for a couple of seasons. We must further not forget mad Jens Lehmann keeping goal for the gunners and Moritz Volz establishing himself as an atypical German with a sense of humour that the English had not experienced from a German.
So how come that only a few if any English players have gone the other way and played in Germany? Owen Hargreaves springs to mind immediately and the older readers might remember Tony Woodcock playing in Cologne in the 1970s and Might Mouse Kevin Keegan for Hamburg. In the current season there is not a single English player playing at any club in the first three divisions of the German football pyramid. This is astonishing. Ray Hudson played for Union Solingen in 1983-84 but did not make an impact of any sorts in his ten appearances, i.e. he didn’t score. England proved to be a stronger pulling factor for German players than was the case vice versa.
ManCity and Liverpool turn out to be the clubs most attractive to German players over the last sixty years, ManU on the other hand have not signed one single player from Germany. Is that because Uwe Rösler’s granddad indeed bombed Old Trafford as City fans claimed in the 1990s? Certainly not. However, Trautmann, although being a PoW overcame initial rejection by the people of Manchester (that is, the blue half of the city) and turned it into admiration. Certainly he paved the way for many Germans to follow, it only took a while for his successors to get the call. They won’t fill his boots which is an impossible task to fulfill successfully and the circumances of his times were a lot different. Careers tend to be longer and yet players spend less time at one club. Trautmann spent almost his entire career at City; certainly his best years. In the late 1940s the British have been suspicious towards Germans and it was not far from hostility. Nowadays those feelings have receded only to be replaced by rejudice. And we all know how hard these are to destroy. Just ask Einstein, he knew a thing or two about how easy it is to split an atom but how equally difficult it is to smash prejudice.