Andreas Rettig’s employers during his 21 years in the football business were clubs of modest means: Freiburg, Cologne, Augsburg, St. Pauli. It’s a list that says a lot about the 57-year-old’s outlook on the game. Rettig prefers homegrown talent to big-money signings, sustainability to profitability, responsible housekeeping to risky investments.
During his short time as CEO of the German Football League (DFL) between 2013 and 2015, Rettig was better placed than anyone to see how German football was developing. Now, he says, it’s time for a change of course.
“I think we’ve seen a development over the last twenty years which has made the financially strong clubs even stronger,” he tells DW. “We need to get back to a place where a promoted side has a chance to beat the champions. If you know before the season that Bayern Munich are going to win the title again, then it’s no fun for anyone.”
‘Which type of performance we want to reward?’
Rettig is not alone in believing that the Bundesliga would benefit from a bit more competition. With the pandemic exposing some of the financial frailties within the game, a coalition of supporters from around Germany has called for change and the DFL has launched a “Future of Professional Football” taskforce to deliberate and recommend reforms.
Foremost among the suggestions is a redistribution of broadcasting revenues and Champions League money. On paper, the current system is meritocratic and rewards good performance. In practise, critics say, it merely perpetuates the financial disparity between big and small and is, in Rettig’s words, “poisonous for domestic competition.”
“I’m a great advocate of rewarding performance, but we have to ask ourselves which type of performance we want to reward?” he says. “The ability to pump an investor’s money into a team, finish higher finish in the table and earn a return on investment? Or shouldn’t it be about rewarding the sporting achievements of the coach, the manager, the youth academy, and other aspects?”
One idea to make things fairer is to distribute television revenue according to a “price per point” system. Rettig uses the example of Berlin rivals Hertha and Union, who both finished the 19/20 season with a total of 41 points.
“Compared with Union, Hertha spent much more money in order to achieve those 41 points,” he says, referring to Hertha’s recent spending since the arrival of London-based investor Lars Windhorst. “We have to find a new currency for performance. I’d be interested in how much money each club spends in order to achieve a point in the Bundesliga.”
‘We can’t win against sovereign wealth funds’
His former club St. Pauli recently released their own package of reform suggestions in a paper entitled “Another Football is Possible”. Rettig is familiar with its arguments, concurrent with its conclusions, and supportive of its proposals; the strengthening of the DFL’s commitment to the 50+1 ownership rule, for example, or the introduction of a set of national financial fair play regulations.
He’s also critical of what the St. Pauli paper refers to as the “eternal dogma of international competitiveness” – the oft-cited argument that the financial might of the biggest German clubs is essential if the Bundesliga is to keep its seat at the table of the world’s top divisions, alongside the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga.
But Rettig isn’t concerned about trying to keep pace with the financial behemoths in England, six of whom, it was revealed last week, have been planning major restructurings of their own. He sees the Bundesliga’s priorities elsewhere.
“We have to stop chasing the Premier League and celebrating the clubs with the biggest revenues,” he says. “We can’t win in a competition against sovereign wealth funds, oligarchs or Chinese conglomerates if we also want to manage our finances sensibly.
“In German football we ought to say that we want to be the most down-to-earth, the most approachable, the most sustainable, the most socially inclusive league.”
Indeed, Germany’s football model was specifically mentioned in a counter-proposal in England led, among others, by former Manchester United star Gary Neville and British Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis. In “Saving the Beautiful Game,” the authors praise the Bundesliga’s licensing process which stipulates that clubs must meet certain financial, administrative and infrastructural standards aimed at avoiding debt.
But Rettig thinks Germany can go even further and suggests making fair trade merchandising, solar energy, rain water recycling, food waste avoidance and charging stations for electric cars part of the Bundesliga’s licensing requirements.
“What do we want in professional football?” he asks. “Do we want to give a handful of clubs the chance to improve their supposed international competitiveness, or does the professional game also have a social responsibility?”
These are the questions which the DFL taskforce will discuss over the coming months. The taskforce is made up of 35 experts from all areas of the game, from financial directors to fan representatives to current players and the media. Andreas Rettig is not involved and admits he is only “reservedly optimistic” that changes can be made.
“If the system that we’ve had for years has led us to this point, then it’s not going to be possible to correct things at the push of a button, or with a task force or a few round table talks,” he says.
“The DFL will have to be judged on actions and results. Statements of intent aren’t enough. The time has come for us to really see and feel some genuine changes.”