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Heung-min Son unveiling at Bayer Leverkusen. Image used under the Creative Commons.

FEATURE | Why the sudden increase in Asian & North American footballers in Germany?

North American and Asian players have been blessing our the Bundesliga with their talent for many years now and a few of them have even gone on to become club legends at their respective teams in the top two tiers. Players of very peculiar nationalities such as the Philippines, North Korea, Jamaica and Tajikistan have set their foot in the league we love and have all contributed to Bundesliga’s international reputation. But there has been an increased influx of late from both Asia and North America.

This piece aims to investigate whether there has been an increased incursion of players from these regions or if that is just used as an explanation for Bundesliga’s increased influence in those specific continents. We will start by first investigating how many players every current Bundesliga side has had from these areas and then compare the amount of players from these before and after 2000.

From the team with the most players to the one with the least, between 1963 and 2017.

Team Players Asia North America
1. Eintracht Frankfurt 22 13 9
2. Bayer Leverkusen 15 6 9
3. Hertha BSC 13 8 5
4. Hamburger SV 13 7 6
5. Hannover 96 12 6 6
6. Borussia Dortmund 11 6 5
7. VfB Stuttgart 11 5 6
8. 1. FC Köln 10 9 1
9. VfL Wolfsburg 10 5 5
10. Borussia Mönchengladbach 8 4 4
11. 1. FSV Mainz 05 8 6 2
12. Augsburg 7 5 2
13. SC Freiburg 7 5 2
14. Schalke 04 7 3 4
15. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 6 3 3
16. Bayern Munich 5 3 2
17. Werder Bremen 4 2 2
18. RB Leipzig 0 0 0

There we have it. Nothing out of the ordinary, except from Eintracht. As you can see, the players from these two specific regions are more or less urbanised, they often play for teams in big cities. Frankfurt, Leverkusen (Cologne), Berlin and Hamburg are all high up that list and that’s natural. It’s less probable to go to a small town club when new to the country, so that is very easy to explain.

Now, let’s take a look at the arrival of Asian and North American players from the start of Bundesliga in 1963 until 1999. If a player has played from before 2000 to after the turn of the millennium, he is counted as part of the pre-millennial influx.

Moreover in this list, we will also bring other teams into the equation. As long as the team the player joined played in the Bundesliga at that time, he is counted as a foreign player in the top flight.

Between 1963 and 1999 there were a total of 21 Asian players joining Bundesliga clubs and 19 North American players doing the very same. However, between 2000 and 2017 there were 65 (!) Asian players joining Bundesliga clubs which already proves that there has been an increased influx of players from these two regions. But let’s do North America as well, you know, Pro Forma. There were 53 players joining Bundesliga from North America between 2000 and 2017.

So as you can see, there has indeed been a huge increase in the arrival of players from these two continents. But how has this happened? And what does it mean for the future?

Having established that the influx has increased, GGFN will now try to speculate in why this increase has occurred and what it might possibly mean for the future of German football. One simple explanation can be the increase in usage of social media. When the world becomes smaller, the dreams become easier to reach and through social media and internet, agents and scouts can communicate without any boundaries.

This has of course contributed to the increased number of players. However, one shall not forget to commend Bundesliga on their marketing abilities. They have spotted two young and promising markets in Asia and North America and it’s nowadays easier to catch a game of Bundesliga on TV in America than it is in, for example, Sweden. Whether it’s due to lowered prices for the TV rights in these countries or whether it’s just due to a true increase of interest, they have succeeded big time and Bundesliga seems to be the fastest growing league of them all in parts of the world some other leagues have perhaps neglected.

We need to consider the pre-season tours a plausible factor for the increase as well. These are of course almost only down to marketing, but they also present a good test for most teams as they often face teams who are perhaps better off physically. While the Bundesliga sides more than often win these games it gives a chance for the people in these countries to enjoy watching a German team live and that might in some cases cause fandom.

When Junichi Inamoto joined Arsenal back in 2001, Japanese media swarmed Arsene Wenger’s press conferences and while the Japan midfielder did not play a minute of professional football for the Gunners, the move was hailed by most as a brilliant media coup by Arsenal to spread their name across a young and hungry market.

In Germany this example has been followed, but with a small tweak. Bundesliga clubs seem to have realised that just signing an Asian player is not enough. If he does well for the club and plays and scores, his name , in symbiosis with the club’s name will spread much more quickly. Clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln have used this tactic and these clubs are now very well known and very well-supported in Asia, as well as in America.

Sign a player from that region and the media coverage will follow, that seems to be the rule and it works wonders. The invasion of players from these areas will most certainly, if you look at the trend, create an even greater influx of players. This is certainly a good thing.

If Bundesliga is ever to reach the Premier League’s fame, they need to expand even more in these areas. Of course, South America and Africa are important as well, but it seems like Premier League has created some kind of an African fort. It will be very hard to conquer Africa and South America have their own teams and their own very well-coveted Champions League, the Copa Libertadores.

North America and Asia are the regions German teams need to be market themselves more in, if possible as that’s where the battle for viewers is to be won. Therefore, an increased influx of players from these parts is great. It’s actually an integral part of the medial work of Bundesliga.

And we should definitely not forget all the great moments players from Asia and North America have given us. For example, the South Korean legend Cha Bum-Kun, who is hailed as one of the greatest players in both Eintracht and Leverkusen’s history and who is part of the eleven ”Säulen der Eintracht” at the U-Bahnstation at Willy-Brandt-Platz in the centre of Mainhattan.

Christian Pulisic is one of the great talents of his generation while Heung-min Son’s hat-trick against Wolfsburg in that insane 4-5 game at the BayArena in 2015. Let’s be grateful for the influx of these players, for they truly bless our beloved league.

By Axel Falk.

 

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