MALAYSIANS are always glued to the English Premier League. We always see fans clad in Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea jerseys watching live matches at mamak restaurants.
Once, it was rare to see football fans wearing Bundesliga club jerseys. However, in the last five years, I have witnessed people wearing Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 jerseys.
The Premier League dominance is still there but we are beginning to see leagues like the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A gaining popularity in this region.
However, the growth of Bundesliga is tremendous. Seeing teams like Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League has helped the popularity of Bundesliga.
After conquering the World Cup in 2014, it looks like the Germans are slowly taking over the world with their football.
The 2015-16 season will serve as the first full year of the Bundesliga and FOX Sports partnership, and the games will be broadcast to 83 territories around the world.
The league is certainly going big, organising promotional activities with Bundesliga legends touring regions like North America and Asia.
I had the chance to meet a living legend who played in the Bundesliga for many years.
Having won the FIFA World Cup in 1990, UEFA Euro 1980, the first World Player of the Year in 1991 and seven times Bundesliga champion, Lothar Matthaus is a household name in German and world football.
Meeting reporters at the Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, he was clad in a simple black coat and white shirt. He did not look 54 at all! He looked like he could play on for another five years.
Three reporters including me grilled him for 40 minutes but he was calm and composed and took all the questions without any of his customary aggression.
“On the field, I am a different character. I forget everything when I am on the field but later I shake hands and say sorry to everybody.
“I was not only killing the players of the other team but I was killing my colleagues too,” he joked.
He did not dwell much in his past but he was more focused on what the Bundesliga has in store for next season.
“I think this season, the championship will be more interesting. Bayern Munich won the title for three consecutive seasons. Sometimes I feel it is too easy for them.
“Clubs have invested. They look stronger and better but Bayern are still the favourites. They have bought great players to sustain in the Champions League.
“Teams won’t make it easy for Bayern. They have to fight till the last day to win the title. Bayern is looking for a fourth title in a row - it will be a record,” he said.
Matthaus said teams like VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund will give a stern fight this season but he still expects Bayern Munich to go all out for their fourth consecutive title and create history.
“In the last 10 years, Bayern have won seven titles but for sure they can’t win each title in the next 10 years. Wolfsburg are backed by Volkswagen and Dortmund, who won two titles during Bayern’s era of dominance, will surely come back stronger under their new coach.
“I see Wolfsburg doing well because they have players who can take them to a higher level, especially Kevin De Bruyne. He was the best player in the last championship. They can sell him but they don’t have to sell him.
“In the last two years, Wolfsburg have been strong. Under Sporting Director Klaus Allofs and coach Dieter Hecking, they are building a team to fight for the title.”
What makes the Bundesliga stand out from the rest? When it comes to marketing and promotion, English Premier League is still the best but why do Premier League clubs look for players from the Bundesliga?
“First, we profitted from our young players. Each team in the professional league has a academy for young players.”
No wonder talents like Marco Reus, Julian Draxler, Maximilian Arnold and Amin Younes are highly sought after by Premier League clubs for their skills and ability to change a game.
According to Matthaus, in the last 12 years, teams in Bundesliga have spent 1.2 billion euros on youth development, and this has benefited the league and country.
“This is a good investment. This is not the end. I see other young players coming soon to the national team and they come from academies, too.
“Twenty years ago, players would go to Juventus from Bayern but now players come from Juventus to Bayern. Coaches from Bundesliga would go to Spain but now coaches are coming to Germany.
“Not only German players but big names like Raul Gonzalez came to the league. Now Vidal is the best example. He could have gone to England and earned 50% more but why he came to Germany?
“I do not have to ask him because the German championship is very interesting. We have the best stadiums and amazing spectators,” he said.
Another selling point for Bundesliga is their end-to-end matches. It has kept their fans glued to the television and off their seats in stadiums.
“Last year, on the 34th game day, we had nine games but behind it, it was a lottery. Six final games that decide qualification for the Champions League, Europa League and relegation.
“Each game day feels like a final. I do not see this anywhere in Europe, not in Italy or Spain. We also have the highest average score of all leagues - 3.1 goals,” he said.
When ask if Bundesliga was capable of usurping the English Premier League as the top league in the world, he said, “We can only work for ourselves. We cannot do something against them.
“They do a good job, we do a good job.”
But he also poked fun at the Premier League, saying, “When you see the results, where do you see the English team in the last international competition, they went out of the quarter-finals. Were they in the final?
“You have the money but invest it in the right way. Our investment is better. Premier League has done a good job but they do not have the results,” he said.
Sporting wise, Matthaus said it has been proven that the Bundesliga is better than the Premier League but with regards to marketing and promotion, they have decided to spend more to compete with the top leagues especially Premier League.
“We are aware of this gap. We cannot close in one or two years. Persistent effort is needed. We need five to 10 years… We will do this.”
Matthaus said clubs must play their part in marketing and promotion and that two or three years ago, this would not be possible but now with these marketing activities, it can be achieved.
“We have new media partner in Fox. They will broadcast two matches simultaneously this weekend as well as the entertainment channels of Bundesliga in Asia.
“This is one of the steps but we still have long way to go. Bayern to China and Dortmund to Malaysia is the beginning of a relationship. It will blossom in the years to come.”
Part two of Lothar Matthaus interview will be published in next week’s column.