German Soccer Teams Face Off For League Championship

Robert Siegel speaks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about soccer news and Saturday's unlikely Champions League final between two German teams — Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium in London.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The biggest soccer game of the year takes place tomorrow at Wembley Stadium, in London. It's the final of the European Champions League. The game will match two teams from Germany - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. And joining us now to talk about German soccer hegemony - and other matters - is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, give us a primer on the champion's league, and its appeal.

FATSIS: Well, tomorrow's game is the culmination of an almost yearlong competition. Among about 80 teams from 53 federations in Europe, it's the most prestigious club soccer event in the world. And the final will be one of the most watched sports events of the year. Last year's final in which Bayern Munich lost to the English club Chelsea, drew a television audience of 167 million. That's 55 percent more than the 108 million that watched this year's Super Bowl.

SIEGEL: Well, with two German clubs in the final - not an English team, not a Barcelona club - are the Germans doing something different?

FATSIS: Yeah, before we get to that, let's be clear. English teams have done well in this tournament. Spanish teams have done well in this tournament. All of these teams are a star-studded mix of nationalities. But the Germans, over the last decade, have rebuilt their soccer program. And this started in 2000, after Germany's national team finished at the bottom of its group in the European Championship Tournament.

The German Soccer Federation fanned out. They looked at best practices for coaching and training. They created youth academies affiliated with every team in its top two divisions. Germany now has more than 10 times as many high-level, licensed coaches as England does, and it's established a uniform system for player development. All of this has worked. A bunch of players who came up through this new youth system are going to be on the field for Munich and Dortmund at Wembley.

SIEGEL: Now, early this week, we learned that one of England's top teams, Manchester City, is investing in soccer here, in the U.S. Tell us about the deal.

FATSIS: Well, it's a pairing of sports icons. Manchester City is teaming with baseball's New York Yankees, to own a franchise in Major League Soccer. Like other top European clubs, Man City wants to expand its global footprint. The Yankees are going to be minority owners here. They're going to provide local expertise; run the concessions business. This is very big for Major League Soccer. It gets the deep pockets, the prestige of a world power.

We should mention that Man City is owned by an investment group led by the royal family of Abu Dhabi. The team is going to be called New York City FC - the FC is for Football Club - and it's to begin play in 2015. All it needs is a stadium. They're going to try to build one near Shea Stadium, in Queens.

SIEGEL: And sticking with English soccer, you've been taken with the hard-luck story of a women's team, the Doncaster Belles. Tell us about the Belles.

FATSIS: Well, the Belles were founded in 1969, by a group of ticket sellers for the men's team in this small city in north central England. They're the only club to have played every season in the top level of semipro women's soccer, in England. But as women's soccer has gained popularity, the FA recently decided to reorganize the sport. And it demoted the Donny Belles to a second division, in favor of those deep pockets from Manchester City whose women's team has never played in the top division and isn't very good.

So this is about money. The Belles are appealing. There's an online petition. And this week, Doncaster's mayor and town crier - whose name is Henry Crier(ph), Robert - joined a protest in town. One banner read, "Keep Calm And Ring A Bell."

SIEGEL: Stefan, have a great weekend.

FATSIS: You, too, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays, to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate magazine's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen.

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