Can Dortmund signal a new era for the Bundesliga? [no - Ed]
The spinning meat top farce is not limited to England, they also play football in Germany. Here’s something on that.
As the Bundesliga season reaches its climax, Germany is preparing for one of the biggest matches in years. Bayern Munich travel to Borussia Dortmund tomorrow evening in search of a victory that will see them draw level on points with four games to play. Victory for Dortmund will all but secure back to back Championships for Jurgen Klopp’s popular side. Basically, it’s the match Sky were hoping they had with United travelling to City, one they could hype into orbit.
Sky’s counterparts in Germany will surely hope for a Bayern victory, setting up a sprint finish that also features another clash between the two clubs in the final of the DFB Pokal (the main German cup competition). Great excitement, but while whoever comes out on top will determine the team of the moment, there is potentially a bigger question emerging as to whether Dortmund can maintain their status as a championship contender in the long term.
A brief glance at the history of the Bundesliga reveals only one club has been able to sustain their position at the top: Bayern Munich. Bayern have been there since their great side of the 1970’s established the Bavarian club as a giant of European football. In the mean time, many other clubs have emerged as challengers to their dominance, but they have always faded, and Bayern have always remained.
It is a scenario that appears unique to German football when comparing it with Europe’s other major leagues. In Spain there is a historic duopoly; in Italy a triumvirate; and in England, the eras of Liverpool and Manchester define success. But, in Germany, so many clubs have had their moment. Schalke, one of the most popular sides, can command attendances of sixty thousand, but their glory days were in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. They haven’t won the league championship since 1958. In the 1970’s it was Borussia Mönchengladbach; in the 1980’s Hamburg had a go; and, the 1990’s witnessed the unlikely challenge of Werder Bremen. All of them took titles from Bayern, but none could sustain their challenge. When they ran out of steam, Bayern swiftly returned the trophy to Munich. Bayern have won the title 22 times, and all but one of those was claimed from 1968 onwards. No other German side is anywhere near them in the post-war era.
Trying to keeping up with Bayern can be bad for your financial health, as Dortmund have found out before. Having been practically bankrupted by their reckless overspending in the previous decade, this Dortmund side has been carefully assembled without significant outlay. The fees paid for many players in their title winning side would be well within the reach of most Premier League clubs, but they bought well, and mixed them with sensational home grown talents like Mario Götze. However, having built a title winning side on the cheap, this summer will see Dortmund throwing off the shackles to sign highly rated attacking midfielder Marco Reus from Gladbach. The fee is estimated to be around £14m. While it is clear that investment is needed to sustain a challenge to Bayern’s dominance, there is more than just the pressure of the fee riding on this move. Reus turned down Bayern in favour of the move to Dortmund.
Assuming that Reus is a success, and there is no reason to think he will not be, Dortmund look set to continue their rivalry with Bayern in the short-term. Their phenomenal support and prolific academy are widely known, but what will tell for Dortmund over a longer period is whether they can once again establish a foothold in Europe.
It’s a familiar subject of debate on German football, but there will always be a question about the overall quality of the Bundesliga if its champions fail to perform in the Champions League. A couple of years ago, Wolfsburg left no impression on the big stage. This season, Dortmund fell at the first hurdle. It is only Bayern that have proved capable of consistently performing at this level, even when they are not officially the best side in Germany. This is both a benefit and curse to Germany. On the one hand, Bayern’s ability to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League means more UEFA coefficient points, which benefits the whole league. On the other, it reinforces Bayern’s status as the only German club with pedigree at this level, and gives them almost exclusive access to the commercial opportunities associated with UEFA’s cash generator.
It’s interesting to imagine what impact it would have on the appeal of the Bundesliga to have a second side established at this level. Would it drive up quality over all, drawing more of the world’s best players to the Bundesliga? Perhaps, but it would surely chip away at the unpredictable nature of domestic football in Germany.
The Premier League has had four winners since it began in 1992. During the same period the Bundesliga has crowned six different sides. But even that only tells part of the story. Not included in the winners column are the perennial nearly teams, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. Both clubs have dominated second spot during the past couple of decades without ever going one better and winning it. So, while it’s true Bayern are the clear kings of the Bundesliga, the glory has been spread across a larger number of clubs in Germany than in many other leagues; it would be a shame if it was gradually concentrated into fewer clubs.
And, while Champions League performances are widely assumed to the barometer of excellence in modern club football, it brings a discipline and cynicism that is less prevalent in Germany’s domestic completion. The style of football in the Bundesliga is ridiculously open. Many sides play as though defensive organisation is an afterthought, something to be improvised during the match. As a result you regularly see sides hurling themselves at each other, leaving vast open spaces behind them, and counter attacking goals are frequent. This might be considered tactical naivety, but it makes for good entertainment, and that’s one thing the Bundesliga has not struggled to deliver.
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