Football has its fair share of fairy tales but ones like this don't come around that often. The German village of Hoffenheim has been promoted to the country's top soccer division, the Bundesliga, in a meteoric ascent fuelled by millions of euros from billionaire patron Dietmar Hopp, who used to play for the club.
The village in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg has a population of 3,200, making it the smallest town ever to join the ranks of the Bundesliga, where it will be squaring off against giants such as Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 next season.
The team owes its success to millions of euros injected by Dietmar Hopp, the co-founder of software giant SAP, since the start of the 1990s when Hoffenheim was just an ordinary amateur club.
Hopp was born in Hoffenheim and has invested 25 million in new players in the current season, including 8 million for Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo, who looks the spitting image of Barcelona's Ronaldinho.
He is also funding construction of a 30,000 seater stadium, which is due for completion in 2009 and will replace the tiny 6,350 capacity Dietmar Hopp stadium.
Fans showered the players with beer after Sunday's 5-0 win over rivals Fürth sealed their rise from the second to the first division. In Hoffenheim, the house where Hopp was born, now a kebab shop, was draped in the club's blue and white colours.
The fans' chant: "Hurray! Hurray! The whole village is here!" will be echoing round the temples of German football from the start of the new season in August.
The chant can be taken literally given that Hoffenheim is like a ghost town on match away days when most of its inhabitants follow the team in a fleet of coaches.
Far Less Cash than England or Spain
Britain's Premier League clubs earn 1.3 billion per year through television broadcasting rights, more than three times German Bundesliga clubs' TV income of 420 million.
Club ownership rules in Britain are also more lax than in Germany, where individual investors are banned from owning a majority stake, which means Russian oligarchs such as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would find it very difficult to snap up a German Bundesliga team.
"German clubs haven't been doing so well because they don't have as much cash to buy transfer players as English or Spanish clubs," Jens Kirschneck, a writer on football at Germany's football magazine "11 Friends", told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The only club we have with enough money to attract top international talent is Bayern Munich."
English clubs are dominating European football at the moment. Chelsea and Manchester United will meet each other in the Champions League final on Wednesday while German champion Bayern Munich didn't even make it to the final of the second-tier competition, the UEFA Cup.
"Bundesliga teams were also behind in terms of football tactics and spend too long relying on traditional disciplines such as stamina," said Kirschneck. "But they have caught up in recent years."
Meanwhile Hoffenheim, trained by former Bundesliga coach Ralf Rangnick, has high hopes for next season.
Rangnick said on Monday that comparisons with Chelsea, funded by Abramovich's millions, were totally misplaced because Hoffenheim had started out in the regional leagues.
"We succeeded in forming an extremely good unit from constantly new players," Rangnick told German news agency DPA. "You can't plan success but I think you can plan performance."
Asked to assess Hoffenheim's outlook in the Bundesliga, he said: "We don't have that many players who played in the Bundesliga before, it's a different dimension. We have to keep away from the relegation positions. And we have three months time now to prepare for the Bundesliga."
Even though media commentators have been congratulating the feisty team, Hoffenheim is hated by thousands of fans from rival clubs. "Hoffenheim is drawing a lot of hatred at the moment because it was lucky enough to get cash," said Kirschneck.
"There are clubs which have far more tradition and from far bigger cities, such as Düsseldorf and Essen, that are languishing in the lower league because they don't have a patron."
But even Bruno Labbadia, coach of rival club Fürth which Hoffenheim routed on Sunday, voiced praise for Hoffenheim's achievement. "Having money is one thing. Investing it wisely is something completely different," he said.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from Germany section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2008
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH