The German Bundesliga has no shortage of fans, and because of its clubs’ relative financial stability and an ownership paradigm that requires supporters own clubs (the 50+1 rule), the league may be the most admired circuit in the world. Yet as far as the competitive qualities of its clubs, the Bundesliga has generally been thought of as trailing the English Premier League and Spain’s Primera Division, even if many feel its quality has passed Italy’s Serie A.
Over at ESPN FC, renown Bundesliga expert Uli Hesse notes this week’s showing from German clubs in Europe – a slate of results comprised by six wins and a scoreless draw – may be the first signs of a continental breakthrough:
Anyway, as you can see, this European week was anything but normal, so one hesitates to imbue this string of good results with deeper meaning or relevance. Perhaps it was just the kind of coincidence that statistically has to happen one day.
But – whisper it – maybe it’s really indicative of the long-awaited and predicted Bundesliga resurgence on the European stage. In the past ten seasons, only two German clubs have reached a European final (Bayern and Bremen) and that’s clearly unacceptable.
I have called the resurgence “long-awaited and predicted” because our clubs have been saying for many years that they will sooner or later reap their just rewards for not spending more than they have as it’s only a question of time until the ruinous system in Spain or Italy has to collapse like a house of cards.
Milan embody Italy’s problems. One of the circuit’s marquee clubs, the 2010-11 champions are mired in quicksand amid reports the club’s holding company wants the team to stand on its own two feet financially. That the team wasn’t able to reinvest all the money from their Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva sales exemplifies Italian teams “[reaping] their just rewards.”
As Hesse alludes, however, this week’s results may only be a hint of what’s needed: Progress toward actual titles. I say that as somebody that doesn’t value titles that much – if three German teams make the Champions League semis yet none win the trophy, that’d be a great show of strength for the league. But this is about others’ standards, not mine, and by those standards, German teams need to start making a bigger impact in Champions League.
As the article alludes, there’s a theory behind Germany’s lack of success in Champions League: “financial doping.” Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit St. Petersburg have bought in ways German clubs won’t, and they’re only playing catchup to the perpetual big spenders in England, Spain, and (to a diminishing extent) Italy.
As Hesse notes, money may not have been the issue. It may have been experience.
But if it isn’t a levelled playing field that has boosted the Bundesliga’s performance, what is it? Well, maybe having paid your dues. Needless to say, Dortmund’s learning curve is quite pronounced, but there are also teams like Hannover 96 and Schalke, who managed to get a considerable amount of European games under their belt last season. I’m not a big friend of the Europa League (who is?), but its bloated and drawn-out schedule at least gives you plenty of practice under floodlights.
It’s something to think about, as is the rest of Hesse’s piece. Regardless of the alchemy that’s producing it, Germany does appear to be translating it’s of-field buzz into on-field success. For now. Best to check back in March to see which of their upstarts have managed to navigate a Champions League knockout round.