One of the largest gripes from critics of the modern game, particularly in Spain and Britain, is that the leagues are contested between the same teams annually, with United or City, Barcelona or Madrid, and previously Celtic and Rangers being the forerunners in the quest for the title. Is the Bundesliga falling into the same hole? This season has seen Bayern Munich add new meaning to the term “front runners”, and currently lie twenty points clear of Borussia Dortmund in second place. Dortmund themselves, however, have opened a fairly sizable gap between them and their closest rivals, Bayer Leverkusen, eight points in fact. This is, by far, the largest gap between the top two in the Bundesliga since Kaiserslautern edged Munich by two points in 1998, with Leverkusen eleven points behind them in third. Is the Bundesliga turning into a two team league?
Well, let me address an issue which has come to light this week before continuing: The sale of Mario Götze to Munich. This is more than just a big-money move in Germany, it is a statement of intent from Munich. They have bought their rival’s star player, with the other, Robert Lewandowski, reportedly soon to follow. Munich have been the number one team in the Bundesliga for the last few decades, and other teams have come above them to claim glory, only to have Munich feed off it and continue to build over their remains. Examples being Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Dortmund (In 2001), and F.C Kaiserslautern. And that’s just since 1997. With the addition of these players, and manager Pep Guardiola, to an already twenty-point strong gap, the league could well be a one-horse race next season. Although, as they have proved since they won in 2001, Dortmund have the metal about them to come back from a Munich-dominant Germany, and will have to do the same next season.
The dominance of the Manchester clubs, and Barcelona and Real Mardrid, has done no damage to the Leagues as a business, however, and that’s how success is to be measured in football now, unfortunately. The Premier League accounts for almost one fifth of football television revenue in Europe, and has had a financial growth rate of 17% annually, so the growth in dominance from the top two is showing no signs of hindering the League’s growth in terms of finance. In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona receive about 60% of all income from the league, while the remaining eighteen sides are left with just over 2% each. This is a particularly damning statistic, which suggests that for a club outside the top two to make a title challenge is getting increasingly difficult.
This is something which the majority of fans of the Bundesliga would utterly despise. A lot has been made of late of Germany’s fan-friendly structure by English football fans lately, myself included, almost romantically. In reality, it is deserved. German stadia are impressive across the board, and unlike the British alternative, are owned and backed in part by local government. For that reason, fans of teams across the table attend their team’s games week in week out, with the average Bundesliga game being played in front of eleven thousand more people than the average British game, and fifteen thousand more than the average La Liga game. These fans would not stand for a league which systematically punishes the lower sides financially, while rewarding those at the top with the money taken off them.
If the Bundesliga was to fall into the the trap of focusing on pushing the brands of Bayern and Dortmund into the European market, at the expense of the huge number of quality teams below them, it could be disastrous for them. One of the main aspects Bundesliga fans love about the league is it’s equality throughout the table, where any team could push up the table with the right management and tactics, and finance isn’t a major hindrance. That’s what attracted me to become a fan of Borussia Mönchengladbach, and a friend of mine to follow Wolfsburg, and others I know to admire the way Mainz play. To see foreign fans attracted to teams in mid to bottom table seems unusual to British and Irish fans, but the Bundesliga is so equal from the European places to the relegation zone, it’s simply not the same as in Britain.
Bayern Munich have always been the huge side in Germany, and probably always will be. They were built that way, and will stay that way for a long time. But the Bundesliga is built in such a way that any team could challenge them in the near future, and suddenly the league is open again, regardless of whether or not Dortmund slip into the shadows for a few years like they did in 2001. It will always be an incredibly open league, and to call it a two horse race would be untrue, and the German FA has shown it is intelligent enough to enforce Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund as the European powerhouses in Germany, but they will continue to encourage the lower opposition to join them.