For all its star-studded razzmatazz and week-in, week-out drama, the English Premier League is missing one vital ingredient: Germans! Since its inception in 1992, a total of only 30 have played in it and today there are only three active German players in the English top flight: Michael Ballack (Chelsea), Robert Huth (Stoke) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth). To put that into perspective, the French for example have contributed 144 players to Premier League history, with 31 involved currently.
Having made Berlin home for six weeks, I think it’s fair to say the two cultures are fairly similar, the weather is largely the same (crap), and that the quality of football in the Premier League is good enough to be appealing to an ambitious player, without being so good it is inaccessible. Judging by the amount of Germans who have helped me out in English when I have become tongue-tied, even the language barrier wouldn’t be too significant for any would-be migrants. Why then have so few made the leap?
One who did do so successfully, was Moritz Volz, who enjoyed a fruitful top-flight career with Arsenal and Fulham (he is currently searching for a new club). Here’s what he had to say on the topic.
Are you surprised that so few Germans move to the Premier League?
I was always crying out for more Germans in the league and in the clubs that I’ve been at and I’ve thought about why there aren’t more. The players that I do know who did come to England all thoroughly enjoyed their time here and look back at it as a really enjoyable period of their career. I think it would be good to have more German players here, because it’s a fascinating league. In terms of culture it fits very nicely. There is obviously banter between the two countries and some history, but I can only speak for myself and say I’ve had ten great years here and I’ve enjoyed playing over in this country and I’ve seen most other German players here have a good experience, too.
You moved at a young age – how did that affect your development? Looking back, do you think you made the right choice?
I moved here when I was 16. I think what it did for me was integrate me more into British society and more into the whole culture and life at a football club here. If you come here in your mid or late-twenties you might be so set in your ways that you are less open to new ways and a new culture. The advantage that I had when I was 16 was that I was still forming a picture of life – it made me a very open and tolerant guy, open to all sorts of new influences and not very judgemental, just seeing differences without always thinking ‘these are good or bad’.
So it was good for you as a person, not just a player?
Definitely. I’ve benefited from it so much as a person – maybe even more as a person than as a player. At 16, I was still in my education – even more so characteristically – I’ve never regretted coming here. I don’t know where my next move is, but I would be totally at ease with staying in this country.
Is there a big difference between the Premier League and the Bundesliga?
I’ve never played in the Bundesliga so I don’t really want to make a judgement, but I believe it’s more attacking in England and there’s more risk involved. In Germany it’s more controlled and a slightly slower tempo. But technically both leagues are at a high level. Maybe in England there’s more sheer individual class.
What advice would you give a German player thinking about moving to England?
I think it totally depends on each individual. I was ready for it and I’d like to think that I made a lot of this opportunity. I certainly don’t regret it as I said, but I also think that there are some young players that are not ready yet, who might have the option to go. For those who are making the step I would say, be open to things, and don’t be embarrassed to ask questions. It’s the best way to settle into not just the football club but the whole culture and life here.
One player we might soon see in the Premier League is Mesut Özil – would he be a good fit for your old club Arsenal?
I think he would fit very well, but that’s all speculation. Arsenal scout a whole lot of players every weekend and I’m sure that through his good performances and the talent he’s shown they will be aware of him and he will be on their radar. He is the kind of player that would fit the criteria for an Arsenal player, but at the moment it is speculation and I’m sure there will be a lot written about him and a potential move to any of the big clubs if he keeps performing the way he is. His only worry should be to keep his performances up and then whatever happens will be good for him.
Could German managers benefit from trying their luck in the Premier League, too?
Oh yeah, why not? I’d say whenever you make a move abroad in all walks of life, it’s an eye-opener. And if you go with the right attitude, more likely than not it will be a success story and you will come out of it richer as person. I don’t see why managers shouldn’t make that move – but whether they have the opportunities or not depends. There’s been a lot of foreign managers in the Premier League, some very, very successful ones, and I don’t see why a German manager shouldn’t go to England, try his luck, and be successful there.
Is there anything you would change about England if you could?
I’d love to change traffic in London, that’s for sure. But there’s nothing I want to change in England – only the same things that upset me in Germany: I would like to bring the communities closer together, to encourage people not to point fingers and blame each other, instead of asking themselves how they can help others and asking what their role is in society. Apart from that I would change the ingredients in German sausages. Also I struggled a little bit with the food here in the beginning, but now I’m a big fan of a lot of British things like marmalade, scones and even mushy peas! I struggled a bit with baked beans but through thousands of pre-match meals I can manage to eat them now.