Summer spree for the Bundesliga
With the thrilling 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ fading into history, the host nation switches its footballing focus back to domestic matters on Friday, as the passion generated by the global showcase tournament fuels expectations of an exciting 2006-7 Bundesliga campaign. The public love affair with the domestic game continues unabated: a week before the new term, fans had snapped up 356,335 season tickets, only just below the previous year's record of 372,535 but still an impressive figure given that three clubs with large-capacity stadiums were relegated last term.
The 18 clubs will also benefit from a new TV rights deal, a three-year agreement worth a total of €1.2 billion. The general managers at club level, generally responsible for transfer dealings, have seized upon this new guaranteed injection of funds to shake off a subdued period in the transfer market and engage in a flurry of activity this summer. The clubs have invested some €89 million in 142 new players, compared to a total of €71 million last season.
Champions Bayern Munich led the way as normal, backed by the league's largest professional operations budget at around €50 million. Bayern's quest to retain their domestic league and cup double and to make better progress in the UEFA Champions League than in recent seasons has prompted the Munich giants to strike the two biggest-money deals of the close season.
Germany's most successful club came off second best in the race to snap up Dutch ace Ruud van Nistelrooy, but the Bavarians have captured 1. FC Köln prodigy Lukas Podolski, named Gillette Best Young Player at the FIFA World Cup and now set to start alongside prolific marksman Roy Makaay. At the other end of the park, Bayern have signed Belgian centre-half Daniel van Buyten from rivals Hamburg. The players are reported to have cost around €10 million apiece.
On the other hand, the German champions have lost the services of a clutch of big name stars. Germany skipper Michael Ballack has switched to English champions Chelsea, while South American duo Paolo Guerrero and Zé Roberto have also left the club. Stalwarts Bixente Lizarazu and Jens Jeremies have hung up their boots, ushering in a period of transition at the nation's leading club. Both general manager Uli Hoeneß and head coach Felix Magath have predicted a tight battle for the title, choosing uncharacteristically modest language in framing their goals for the campaign.
Bayern's leading challengers will include Werder Bremen, Schalke 04 and Hamburg SV, all determined to mount a serious tilt at the title after years in Bayern's shadow. "We can't allow ourselves any other goal than aiming for the championship," Bremen Director of Sport Klaus Allofs confirmed. Last season's runners up, guaranteed a place in the Champions League group phase, entered the market with vigour in an effort to bolster their lofty goals.
In a last-minute deal, Bremen splashed out a fee in excess of €5 million to Hanover 96 for Germany centre-half Per Mertesacker, one of the revelations of the FIFA World Cup, That makes Mertesacker the joint most expensive purchase in the club's history, alongside fellow new signing and Portuguese playmaker Diego from FC Porto. Werder have also added striker Hugo Almeida (Porto), defender Pierre Womé (Internazionale), and young Bayer Leverkusen utility man Clemens Fritz. The club has recalled Egypt international Mohamed Zidan from a loan spell in Mainz, but has had to bid farewell to playmaker Johan Micoud (Girondins Bordeaux) and striker Nelson Valdez (Borussia Dortmund).
Good Kompany for Hamburg
Hamburg, narrowly beaten into third place last term, have replaced former captain Van Buyten with fellow Belgian Vincent Kompany from Brussels cracks RSC Anderlecht for a fee of around €8 million. Boubacar Sanogo, who fired ten goals for relegated Kaiserslautern last season, joins Guerrero in a new-look strike force. The pair will be asked to replace veterans Sergej Barbarez and Ailton as Hamburg seek to negotiate the Champions League qualifying round.
Gelsenkirchen giants Schalke also visited Kaiserslautern in search of new attacking impetus, signing up Turkey international Halil Altintop. The player boasts impressive credentials after a 20-goal haul last season, and returns to his home town club to play alongside twin brother Hamit. The Royal Blues have also captured Danish winger Peter Lovenkrands from Rangers, although fellow-countryman Ebbe Sand has returned home after a long and hugely successful spell in a Schalke shirt.
Borussia Dortmund awoke from their financial crisis-induced slumbers with a series of raids on the transfer market this summer. The loss of Czech stars Tomas Rosicky and Jan Koller has at least allowed an increase in the team budget, and Dortmund have not been slow to strengthen their squad with Valdez, South Africa starlet Steven Pienaar from Ajax Amsterdam, and Swiss international striker Alexander Frei from Stade Rennes.
Even in the lower reaches of the Bundesliga, a number of clubs have announced attractive new signings. 1. FC Nuremberg boast Czech Republic captain Thomas Galasek for the new term, VfB Stuttgart have picked up Mexican FIFA World Cup pair Pavel Pardo and Ricardo Osario, and Borussia Monchengladbach splashed a club record €4 million on Argentina playmaker Federico Insua from Boca Juniors. The influx of big-name talent should ensure a continuation of top-class football with an international flavour in Germany this term, but the success or otherwise of the transfer dealings will become clear on 19 May 2007 at the latest with the presentation of the championship shield.