Is The Bundesliga That Good? An Objective Look At German Football

Cheap tickets, great football and the chance for a sausage and a pint are definite plus points. But a closer look at at German football reveals cracks that could be set to widen...
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Cheap tickets, great football and the chance for a sausage and a pint are definite plus points. But a closer look at at German football reveals cracks that could be set to widen...

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Ahead of today’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the media have been going positively cuckoo over the rise of German football and the state of the Premier League back home.

Whilst usually I appreciate most xenophilia, as it brings a welcome reprieve from the sloppy self-aggrandising punditry of Sky (not you Gary but if Jamie tells me “that’s why we love the Premier League” again I’m gonna flip), it has led to every man, wife and his dog proclaiming the greatness of the Bundesliga. Now I don’t doubt that the German’s have got it right this time but in the interest of objective reporting there are some issues you should know before flicking over to ESPN or whoever has the rights for next season.

1. It’s as competitive as Scotland.

I don’t mean pre-Rangers-going-down-duopoly Scotland. I mean twenty-quid-on-Celtic Scotland. Now, predictably, I can hear you point out that Dortmund have won the last two league titles but hear me out. In the last 15 seasons, Bayern have won 9 of those league titles. More importantly, not counting Dortmund, the other winners were Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg who this season finished 14th, 12th and 11th respectively. In other words these teams provide no competition to Bayern at all. As for Borussia Dortmund, barring a footballing miracle, they will also fall by the wayside and here’s why.

Firstly, Bayern are among the richest clubs in the world. This year alone they pulled in a gargantuan 368.4million Euros in revenue. A large proportion of this comes from the commercial sector with their kit deal with Adidas and stadium sponsor Allianz. Their shirt sponsor (Deutsche Telecom) alone will rake in 23.6million GBP a year. Contrast this with second place Dortmund, a large club themselves, who earn a mere 189.1million Euros in revenue. Any statistician will tell you that the saying ‘money can’t buy success’ is, in fact, a myth.

Secondly, Bayern take full advantage of their standing in the German game through their transfer policy. Unlike in England, there is only one team that is at the pinnacle of German football and that’s Bayern. This summer will see arguably Dortmund’s best player, Mario Gotze, move to Bayern in a reported 31.5million GBP deal. I say ‘arguably’ as Robert Lewandowski may run him close and if reports are to be believed, he’ll also be packing his bags for Bavaria. Bayern have adopted a policy of signing players from rival German clubs in a (successful) attempt to not only strengthen their team but simultaneously weaken their rivals. Both centre-back Dante and ‘keeper Neuer were also taken from German sides. With that financial backing, willingness to buy from rivals and this season’s 25-point gap means the Bundesliga is truly a monopoly (to further illustrate, Lewandowski is reported to earn 25,000 GBP a week at Dortmund, he could more than triple that at Bayern).

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2. Fan ownership

The rise and fall of various English sides are a product of rather liberal regulation on the part of the Premier League. However in Germany, they have the 50+1 rule (article 8(2) if you must know). This necessitates that clubs have majority fan shareholding whilst investors can only own a maximum of 49%, leaving the power with the fans. This was put in place by the DFL (German Football League) to ward off any Roman Abramovich, Shiekh Mansour type investors de-stabilising the league’s structure.

Having witnessed Pompey-esque tragedies and Liam Ridgewell wiping his arse with a fifty-pound note, the English fan would be forgiven for wanting tighter regulation on money. My rather controversial standpoint is that where would the Premier League be without these investors? No Jack Walker, no Chelsea or City challenging for honours, no potential Cardiff Dragons playing in red. The fans must be allowed to dream a dream.

However, there are exceptions to the 50+1 rule, Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg are 100% owned by pharmaceutical giants Bayer and efficient motors Volkswagen respectively as they both have been investing for over 20 years. Furthermore, Martin Kind, Hannover 96 investor has disagreed with the rule and even taken to court to question its legalities. With these exceptions in mind, how is it that the Bundesliga is a fairer playing field?

3. Stadia and fans

While we all will sit and admire Dortmund’s “Yellow wall” and reflect on the cheap ticket prices and all round great atmosphere at Bundesliga games, not all the policies regarding stadiums and fans are applicable back home.  Most, if not all clubs restrict the amount of season tickets that can be purchased. This is to give an opportunity to others in the community to get hold of tickets for games. Although a nice sounding gesture, I would rather see proper fans in the stands ahead of  ‘football tourists’ or corporate tickets that would invariably get the tickets if this were the case in England.

The famed atmosphere of German stadia is often portrayed as taking football back to the ‘good old days’ when there were standing areas and the raucous experience was unlike anything else. Although the visual effect is undoubtedly impressive, lest we forget the reason why we have all-seater stadia in English football. The Hillsborough disaster has been prominent in the news in the last year or so with the ‘Justice for the 96’ campaign and although ‘railing’ technology has come along way in the last two decades, we mustn’t dispose of what we have learnt from the past just to have the latest fad.

Further linked to the ‘good old days’ culture is hooliganism and crowd violence. It is a problem that we are quick to highlight in England given our tumultuous history with it and there has been a lot done to combat it since the eighties. Despite having continuing problems with racism and the odd scuffle here and there, our game favours in comparison to the situation in Germany. This season saw 180 arrests following violence at the Revier derby between Dortmund and Schalke. We may be famed for hooliganism but the problems we have now are much preferable to deal with than those faced over there.

There is much to admire from German football, the talent they have produced post-2000 is nothing short of remarkable. However, the way people talk about the Bundesliga strikes me as insincere admiration. It’s really a dig at the English game. It’s become fashionable to lambast the modern game and the Premier League is what embodies it. People like to deal in absolutes and it just so happens that there is the shining beacon of light of the Bundesliga. However, before we go wishing for something let’s analyse it first, then we can make an informed decision. That’s me done with playing devil’s advocate for the day. Now go and have a debate with the next guy that says the Bundesliga is what our game should be like.