Bundesliga rise may be temporary

Ten years ago, Bayern Munich lent Borussia Dortmund 2 million euro to help the Westphalian club play its wages. Next month, the two clubs will likely meet in the first all-German European Cup Final (as I insist on calling it).

Anyone who knows me will know that I have long talked up the merits of the Bundesliga. It is the second best attended sports league in the world (behind American Football’s NFL); it remains seriously competitive (with teams challenging for Europe one season and fending off relegation the next); it contains seriously talented players (only the Premier League provided more players for the 2010 World Cup); and it is the most entertaining of the big leagues (with more goals per game as well as more regular shock results). I also like the relative honesty of the players, the relative modesty of the press coverage, and the relative craziness of the supporters (Germans can indeed be passionate… who knew?!)

Germany has also long been the master of team sports. One of the reasons its club football has remained competitive is that the very concept that a sports club should be a profit-making business is comparatively alien. Sports clubs are community, not-for-profit organisations – even Bayern Munich. They integrate with local commerce and the local community much more effectively than elsewhere. Even within education, sports clubs play a comparatively more important role (and schools a less important one) in a child’s sporting development. Furthermore, if you play for one of the lower teams or are associated with the club in any way whatsoever, you are expected to take an interest in the first team’s fortunes. Thus Germany has often failed, comparatively, to produce outstanding individual players – yet has consistently produced outstanding teams. It is, simply put, a more collective society.

It is all highly admirable – and yet here is the thing: in reality the media have, as usual, gone totally overboard about the Bundesliga’s success this season.

There is, you know, a parallel universe in which Bayern’s freaky third goal in the Round of 16 first leg bounced over the crossbar; Borussia Dortmund’s Santana was rightly flagged offside at the end of the quarterfinal; and the semifinals thus consist entirely predictably of three La Liga teams and one Premier League outfit. In so far as the Bundesliga is mentioned at all in this parallel universe, it is to note that its runaway leader now has twice as much spending power as any other team and is thus bound to dominate the league by such a distance that it will be unable to compete in Europe due to lack of internal competition…

The Bundesliga’s rise is deserved, welcome and good for football. But it may be temporary…


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