Lighthouses and Football ⋆ An Old International

Lighthouses and Football

The function of a lighthouse is to guide ships safely through the night. Football clubs could fulfil a similar task, metaphorically.
According to Wikipedia, a lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and used as a navigational aid for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways. As such lighthouses tend to stand out of their immediate environment so that their light is seen miles away. Lighthouses are also places of romanticism and also contain the sense of adventure. They tend to be very lonely spots, mostly on the coast or some miles off it, making them ideal spots for introspection and reflection. During storms, lighthouses could be uneasy buildings to inhabit as the waves crash against the bottom of the rock or coast with no one being able to access the building.
Football is also a romantic place or at least that’s what we are being made belief. Football also needs lighthouses, though naturally they would fulfil different purposes. The metaphorical lighthouse that is being written about here needs some further explanation.

After the fall of the Wall in November 1989 and unification a year later, the Kohl government initiated several programmes to revive and strengthen the East German economy. That this largely consistedof the complete dismantling of the VEBs is an different matter.The intent to reduce an inflated industrial sector was certainly necessary and thus justified, yet the re-structuring was executed badly, to say the least. The eastern industry was largely destroyed leaving barren landscapes with a minimum number of employees and fragile companies. The bigger ones who survived did so because they were taken over by Western enterprises.

However, soon industry retreated to a few centres overlooking deserted landscapes; landscapes that were promised to be blossoming soon, according to Helmut Kohl. Those cities were Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt, Jena, Magdeburg, Rostock, It was thought that those cities’ growth would inspire local and regional industrial expansion that those barren landscapes of East Germany would blossom again. It worked, though only partially and the seeds sown were fragile and always depended on Western alimentation. Of course, this was natural considering how grave the structural change was and the competition faced by East German companies.

A similar development took place in football. The exception is though, that no club of the Oberliga is dependent on their Western counterparts; this is a good thing. The other side though is, that no Eastern club has stable finances and almost all work within a tight financial budget. Even RB Leipzig. The difference is, that their coffers are much deeper than those of all Oberliga clubs put together. In football terms they are thus a lighthouse. Besides the Berlin clubs, Union and Hertha and RB Leipzig, no other club has the potential or the capacity to function as a lighhouse. In the East, only RB Leipzig could do that.

Would a coach of the calibre of Ralf Rangnick voluntarily come to the East to work at, say, Hansa Rostock or Dynamo Dresden? Surely not. His talent and his track record speak for themselves. And yet, only RB are in a position to secure his services. At Hertha and Union he would not have found the freedom necessary to build a legacy; and indirectly helping the East.

Would a coach like Jens Härtel, who has worked successfully with the under-19s of RB L, be tempted away by FC Magdeburg to work with the first team of the Blue and Whites? Doubtful. It is of course a promising sign that Magdeburg could lure Härtel away from his home turf. A job at Magdeburg includes the risk of being fired when results don’t go the expected way. Things did not work out but the club remained calm and showed patience of an unprecedented scale and kept Härtel. And it seems this was the wisest decision made by the club officials in recent history.

Besides this example, there are more players, former players and coaches that would not have made the way to Leipzig without the engagement of Matteschitz’ bubbly empire. Peter Pacult, formerly of TSV 1860 Munich is a big name in Austrian and German football. He played for both big Vienna clubs, Rapid and Austria, before coming to Germany where he ended his career and took up coaching. Besides Rangnick and Pacult there have been no other big names signed for the club. Quite the opposite in fact. Unlike other clubs who have found a sugar daddy, RB Leipzig have steadily built their squad with young talent that either were brought in cheaply or graduated from the youth academy.

For decades, most of the clubs of former East Germany have done nothing but feeding youngsters in the hope to sell them on or to gain promotion. This is nothing new. Yet, Leipzig’s money changes the game. Not just for the city but for the region. Their pulling power will draw the most talented kids to the club where they will be coached under very good conditions. Of course, not all can progress to the first team. Those will however move to other clubs and continue to play and thus could help the footballing progress of the region. Simply through their talent and the fact that they are well trained will aide them in their further career and possibly make better coaches, if they happen to stay long enough in the game and find coaching a viable career option.

Admittedly, this is a very thin line of argument. Though, there is something about it that appears plausible. A club as well financed as RB L with designated personnel like Ralf Rangnick who clearly has developed a strategy, automatically will perform as a lighthouse in the East. Especially in Leipzig, where football for a long time seemed to be ruled by politics and not by capability. This effect could be extended to other clubs whose overall regional performances in the league structure of the DFB will improve in the long term.

The club, RB L have attracted a lot of publicity, most of it for the wrong reasons. The structure of the club remains indeed doubtful but at the end of the day is not illegal. It is just different. Those calling for a ban of the club have understood next to nothing. It proves that football is deeply rooted in the past where such ideas of tradition carry more value with them then the development of new ideas.

The city of Leipzig, possibly Germany’s biggest football experimental laboratory since 1990 is now harbouring a lighthouse for the football of the region. It will provide orientation and help and thus lead to improvement.

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