Ahead of FC Bayern's crunch showdown at CF Valencia and the respective challenges facing Dortmund at AFC Ajax and Schalke at home to Olympiacos, we spoke with former top defender-turned-pundit Thomas Helmer about Germany's resurgence at the cutting edge of European club football.
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One of Germany's victorious team at Euro 96 in England, Helmer spent six years at Borussia Dortmund and seven at Bayern Munich, whom he joined from the Yellow-Blacks for a then-record transfer fee between German teams in 1992. No stranger to success in Europe at club level either, the central defensive specialist helped Bayern to victory in the 1996 UEFA Cup, with Girondins Bordeaux beaten home and away in the final. Three years later, Helmer was confined to the bench at the Camp Nou in Barcelona as the men from Munich were felled by two injury-time goals from Manchester United in the most dramatic of Champions League finals.
A qualified sports journalist and, as of last year, a member of the supervisory board of his first professional club, Arminia Bielefeld, Helmer reckons that things could "hardly have gone better" for the Bundesliga trio thus far on Europe's top club stage. Here's his take on...
...their chances of qualifying for the knockout phase:
First up, Schalke and Dortmund have to be congratulated, and Dortmund in particular, given that they're in the toughest group of the lot, by a long way. The way they've been playing so far, they really deserve to go through. Schalke are in a great position too, going into their home game with Olympiacos. But we shouldn't forget Mönchengladbach or Stuttgart either. They've struggled to get going in the Europa League, but both still have every chance of progressing. I really hope they do - and I think they will.
...the reasons for the good overall showing in Europe:
I think the Bundesliga produces very attractive football these days. We're catching up with other countries, and that's been evident again over the past year. Above all, the quality of the forward play now is extremely high - very impressive. The national team have given a good taster of that as well. I think we're heading in the right direction. The game, and the general mindset, used to be much more defensive, both at club and international level. The current Germany side provide the best example of how things have changed. They haven't won a major tournament yet, but the way they play football is sensational. It would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.
...the attractiveness of the Bundesliga:
The healthy financial state of the league helps, for sure, but it's not the defining issue. That said, I reckon that within the next five years the Bundesliga will have taken another step forward and be in an even stronger position than it is now... (for players:) Certainly that financial stability, and the knowledge you'll get your wages on time. But the attractiveness of the Bundesliga itself is a much bigger draw. the perfect example - he's still playing in the Bundesliga because he likes it here, and at FC Bayern. And you can bet he'll be telling other players, like in the (French) national team, how great the Bundesliga is and how enjoyable it is to play in the Bundesliga.
...Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League:
Dortmund have upped their game and they can do more than just put up a good show now. They should really have won the game that finished 2-2 at Real Madrid. You wouldn't necessarily have foreseen them doing so well in a group containing Real, Manchester City and Ajax. I really do want to see them qualify for the last 16.