Germany has a new top export – Bundesliga soccer players.
The country’s top-tier league neared half a billion euros for player transfers in the trading window that ended late Monday, with Britain’s Premier League – awash in cash from lucrative TV contracts – accounting for the majority of those deals.
The transfer sum, €479 million or $537 million, according to the web portal Transfermarkt.de, more than doubled a single-season league record that is almost certain to be broken again when trading resumes next season.
There’s no end in sight to the European soccer bubble that is being inflated by cash-rich English clubs.
“You have to accept there’s definitely a market but it sometimes makes you dizzy,” said Joachim Löw, the German national soccer team coach, in a TV interview on Monday after the trading window closed.
“You have to accept there’s definitely a market but it sometimes makes you dizzy.”
The Bundesliga, thanks to a powerful youth program and an excellent scouting network for spotting gifted, young players abroad, has developed into the one of world’s most fertile grounds for nurturing soccer talent.
The league’s top 10 clubs are constantly improving their level of play, from perennial champions Bayern Munich to Bayern Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, VfL Wolfsburg and even 1899 Hoffenheim, a relative newcomer.
Their perfomance is paying off. British club Manchester City forked out nearly €76 million to lure the talented Belgian playmaker Kevin de Bruyne, 24, from Volkswagen-sponsored Wolfsburg. The transaction set a Bundesliga record for a deal involving a single player.
Not even deep-pocketed Bayern Munich would have been able to prevent Mr. De Bruyne’s transfer to England, according to VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn.
“At some point, you’re powerless against such sums,” he told the German newspaper Bild this week.
Liverpool handed over €41 million to 1899 Hoffenheim for Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino, whom the German club bought for just a tenth of that amount. The club’s billionaire patron, former SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp, knows a deal when he sees one.
Altogether, British Premier League clubs invested more than €200 million in Bundesliga players in the latest round of transfers, including Bayern Munich icon Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Manchester United was willing to pay €21 million for the 31-year-old midfielder, who orchestrated Germany’s fourth World Cup victory in 2014 and was very popular among fans.
What’s more, the British clubs were able to fork out record money without the backing of deep-pocketed sheiks and Russian oligarchs or infringing on new Fair Play rules that restrict clubs from spending more than they make.
Earlier this year, the Premier League signed a television rights deal worth €7 billion. That money is fueling the U.K. shopping spree in Germany and elsewhere.
British clubs so far have spent an unprecedented €755 million on players in the two-month transfer period, which ends today for Premier League teams, according to Transfermark.de, an online portal that tracks player deals.
Liverpool, which finished seventh in the Premier League last season, invested nearly €100 million. Tottenham Hotspur, ranked fifth, splurged €30 million to pull away Heung-Min Son, a Korean forward and middlefield player, from Bayer Leverkusen.
To put this in perspective, Bayern Munich, which won the Bundesliga title last season for the 25th time, will receive about €50 million under the German league’s existing TV deal. The team that finishes last in the Premier League is guaranteed around €133 million in TV revenue.
Clubs at the lower end of the Bundesliga have even less wiggle room: Darmstadt 98, new to the Bundesliga this season, has a total budget of €15 million, with much of that money coming from TV rights.
Even Eintracht Frankfurt, an established club, has a budget of only €37 million.
The playing field between British and German talent could become slightly more level when teams sign a new deal for Bundesliga TV rights for the 2017-18 season. But few in Germany expect a quantum leap from the four-year, €2.5 billion pact to match the bigger Premier League package.
The British broadcast deal has consequences for the Bundesliga, according to Christian Seiftert, the head of the German Football League, which governs the Bundesliga’s first and second divisions.
“Money is flowing into the Bundesliga and it must be invested smartly,” he said in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt. “We can’t run blindly after the carrot England is dangling in front of us but we must also be careful that Spain and Italy don’t leave us behind again.”
Wolfsburg clearly doesn’t want to be left behind after selling Mr. De Bruyne. The club used the remaining hours of the transfer period to replace him with Julian Draxter, prying the 21-year-old striker away from Schalke 04, another German club, for €35 million.
Wolfsburg also acquired Dante, a 31-year-old Brazilian defender whose full name is Dante Bonfim Costa Santos, from Bayern Munich for a still undisclosed amount.
As for the Bavarians, they were the biggest spenders in the Bundesliga, plowing more than €80 million into players, including Chilean national player Arturo Vidal and Brazilian midfielder Douglas Costa.
Video: Arturo Vidal signs at FC Bayern.
The Bundesliga feels vulnerable, but it should feel proud.
The league remains one of the best for developing young players, as witnessed by the intense interest from British clubs. Germany’s investment in developing youth talent paid off last year in Brazil when its national team won the Soccer World Cup – for the fourth time.
The Bundesliga also packs German soccer stadiums weekend after weekend with the kind of mesmerizing atmosphere and play that made England, where the world’s most popular sport was invented, famous.
German fans are close to their clubs and are frequently acknowledged by players and coaches after each game.
Still, the Bundesliga has reason to be concerned. There’s a saying in soccer that “money buys goals.” Even if big-spending English clubs didn’t coin the expression, they certainly appear determined to prove it true.
John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition and writes about sports, technology and politics. To contact the author: email@example.com