Lack of competition
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund may have reached the Champions league final, but Daniel Storey argues that the Bundesliga may suffer from a lack of competition
Last Updated: 22/05/13 5:03pm
With the first ever all-German Champions League final at Wembley this Saturday, the Bundesliga has received significant praise for its current health.
In truth, it is easy to see why. Borussia Dortmund have match tickets available for as little as €11 and season ticket prices start at €190 (Liverpool's cheapest, by way of example, is £725) making the game affordable for supporters and generating both high attendances and fervent atmospheres. Football is generally played at a high tempo, with quick passing and counter-attacking moves executed perfectly by Bayern Munich and Dortmund in their Champions League semi-final victories. With a typical ownership model that allows the clubs' members to remain in control of policy and decision-making, there is much to like.
It is no coincidence, meanwhile, that all of the above are characteristics on which the Premier League has been criticised. The outcry regarding £62 tickets this season, underperformance in the Champions League and the increasing occurrence of rich owners using our clubs as playthings. Most importantly, fans feel that they are the increasingly ignored in a game that prioritises share prices over supporters. The German grass is greener, we feel.
Finally, the Bundesliga allows home-grown German talent to flourish efficiently. Of the top ten appearance makers for the top four Premier League clubs this season, only eight of the 40 were English. In Germany, the comparative number stands at 26. That's a statistic that should send alarm bells ringing.
However, one of the factors in examining the strength of a league must surely be its competitiveness? The constant criticism of countries such as Scotland is whether a league can be judged purely positively if there are only two contenders for the title every season?
Bayern Munich were crowned Bundesliga champions before their quarter-final against Juventus had even been decided. With six league games remaining (18% of their 34-game season), a record-breaking title had been won. Eventually, Bayern finished 25 points ahead of closest rivals Dortmund. Converting that to 28 points (to reflect the 38 games in a Premier League season), that would have been exactly the same gap as between Manchester United and seventh-place Liverpool this season.
Bayern were utterly dominant domestically. Alongside being the earliest champions in Bundesliga history, they also recorded the biggest lead over second place, the most wins, fewest defeats, the fewest goals conceded, most clean sheets and best goal difference. They also scored in every league match, and had more than double the points total of 60% of the Bundesliga's other 17 sides.
Whilst one season of complete supremacy is not an overwhelming concern, there looks no be no let-up on Bayern's horizon. Their signing of Mario Gotze for €37million from Dortmund sends out a clear message - new coach Pep Guardiola will be given that most treasured of footballing entities, the transfer warchest. It seems likely that Robert Lewandowski may follow Gotze, whilst rumours of a move for Luis Suarez have also surfaced. When the second-best team in the league bow down to the best, a problem must be noted.
After spending €70m on Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martínez last summer, are we about to see an era of unrivalled omnipotence from Germany's richest club? If so, this must be a criticism of the league.
Lack Of Europa Success
Even leaving concerns regarding Bayern aside, another issue arises. It may seem churlish to mention during a season in which two sides have reached the final of Europe's premier competition, but Germany's Europa League performance (a good indicator of the quality of clubs below the top two) has been unimpressive in recent times. This season, only one side reached the last-16 stage, and Stuttgart were beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Lazio. In 2011/12 no team made it past the quarter-finals, and in 2010/11 Germany again had no representative in the quarter-final stage. In fact, no German team has won the UEFA Cup since 1997, and had just two finalists in that 16-year period.
Effective competition is crucial for a league to be successful, because it creates the 'uncertainty of outcome' that keeps spectators entertained and third parties interested. Put simply, as the result of the game becomes more obvious, it undoubtedly becomes less interesting, particularly to the neutral.
As Sepp Herberger, coach of the West German 1954 World Cup winners once stated: "You know why people go to the stadium? Because they don't know how it ends." Germany's Bundesliga has plenty of attractive features and has deservedly gained many plaudits this season, but there must be concerns about Bayern's growing superpower and the performance of clubs below them.