FREIBURG, Germany – Financially disadvantaged, Freiburg deploys an array of coping strategies to stay in Germany's top division. Here, at a glance, is how one of the Bundesliga's most modest clubs makes ends meet:
BUILD, NOT BUY: Because Freiburg cannot afford to buy many players, it "builds" them instead. The club pours about 6 million euros (US$7.5 million) per year — roughly 10 percent of its annual revenues — into its academy that hot-houses young footballers. Freiburg opened the school in 2001, investing big in youth training just as German football authorities were making such academies obligatory for Bundesliga clubs. The academy recruits young teens from the Freiburg area and others — 22 of them this year — from further afield who live either at the school or with host families in the Black Forest city. The best graduates move up to Freiburg's Bundesliga squad. Freiburg uses more home-grown players than nearly all other clubs in Europe's top five leagues. Only Barcelona, Bilbao and Real Sociedad in Spain and Lyon in France outdid Freiburg's average of fielding 5.3 club-trained players per game last season, according to the CIES Football Observatory in Switzerland.
SELL HIGH, BUY LOW: Once its best home-grown players make names for themselves, inflating their market value, Freiburg cashes in, selling them to other clubs. Matthias Ginter joined the academy at age 11 and scored the winning goal on his professional debut for the club at age 18. With his star rising rapidly (Ginter was part of Germany's 2014 World Cup-winning squad but did not actually play in Brazil), Freiburg sold the defender this July to five-time champion Dortmund. Freiburg won't say how much it pocketed. But club chairman Fritz Keller told the AP that player sales and 5.1 million euros ($6.5 million) from UEFA for playing in its Europa League last season helped boost Freiburg's revenues to 70 million euros ($89 million) this year, from 50 million ($64 million) last year. Player-valuation web site Transfermarkt estimates Dortmund paid 10 million euros ($12 million) for Ginter. Keller said Freiburg, as policy, wouldn't spend that much itself for a player and that the club's spending limit is about 4 million euros ($5 million) — which it paid for its Swiss forward Admir Mehmedi.
NO FRILLS: Homely and low key, Freiburg feels a world away from glitzier football giants like Qatar-financed Paris Saint-Germain. Like many commuters in the environmentally friendly city, Freiburg head coach Christian Streich cycles to work at the club. At the club academy, trainees are all paid the same — just 250 euros ($320) per month — regardless of age or talent, until they make Freiburg's first team or B team. The youngsters also must do their own laundry. The club is frugal in big ways and small. Freiburg's chairman said only about 40 percent of club revenues are spent on player wages, significantly less than at many other European clubs. At both its Black Forest Stadium and its academy, the club uses solar power to heat water and produce electricity.