This week's soccer headlines in Germany have been dominated by the southwestern village of Hoffenheim (population: 3,200), bankrolled by its hometown billionaire Dietmar Hopp, and newly promoted to the Bundesliga after a 5-0 home win over Greuther Fuerth on the last day of the season. Heading the other way are Heath Pearce's Hansa Rostock, the Bavarian giant FC Nuremberg and Duisburg.
In some ways, Hoffenheim's rise reflects the paucity of German club soccer in Europe, writes David Crossland. While the former amateur team has enjoyed a huge cash injection from software giant SAP's co-founder Hopp, Germany's bigger teams have languished in the Champions League, mainly because the sale of the Bundesliga's TV rights cannot attract the kind of cash the Premier League and La Liga's giants rake in both at home and around the world. Also, ownership rules in Germany prevent a single investor from taking a majority holding in a team.
Hoffenheim's promotion is a remarkable story, nonetheless. Already hated by traditional fans around Germany for buying it way to success (the team spent about $40 million on players this past season), the village is planning a 30,000-capacity stadium that will be ready by 2009, to replace the current venue, which seats just 6,350. And Coach Ralf Rangnick rejects comparisons with Chelsea because, he says, his team started out in the regional leagues and played its way up the structure. As one opposition coach noted, "Having money is one thing. Investing it wisely is something completely different."