German football is on the rise, both on and off the pitch, and there can be no arguing with that. After spending a few years away from the spotlight, the popularity of the Bundesliga is once more picking up rapidly. Recently it has been La Liga that has received the attention of most British fans looking for another European league to follow, but the tide is now turning, and when investigating further it is clear to see why.
Admittedly, it is Spain’s La Liga that has the more competitive title race. Last season saw Atletico Madrid break the Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly, and this season it looks like it will be a three horse race once again. Germany, on the other hand, is likely to witness yet another procession in which Bayern Munich stroll to another title.
At the beginning of the season, Borussia Dortmund looked like they may be able to rival the Bavarian giants, but their shocking early season form has helped contribute to an inevitable march towards triumph for Pep Guardiola and his men. Nevertheless, while La Liga may rightly claim to have the more competitive title race, this one facet is arguably where the league’s superiority over the Bundesliga comes to an end.
Although it may lack a competitive title race, across the rest of the German top flight, the excitement is unparalleled. As the first third of the current campaign has illustrated, Germany is a place where, Bayern aside, any team can finish in any place in the league. While in both Spain and England you can almost guarantee which teams will finish in the European spots, Germany provides fans with a complete free-for-all. It is perhaps the most competitive league in Europe, one of its many attractions to an impartial follower, looking to enjoy some quality football.
If ever evidence was needed to demonstrate such a point, then Borussia Dortmund have provided it this year. Tipped as title contenders at the beginning of the campaign, Jürgen Klopp and his players have struggled massively. Indeed, only a recent victory against Hoffenheim lifted them from the bottom of the pile – a position nobody would have predicted them to be in as the league comes towards its annual winter break. Dortmund’s dramatic plight is not alone though, with other sides also suffering issues.
Only seven years ago Stuttgart were being crowned as champions, now they find themselves just a point, and a place above Dortmund in 15th. Werder Bremen too are currently experiencing a woeful time sitting bottom of the table having been champions ten years ago. As a comparison, in the 2003-2004 season when Bremen won the league, and 2006-2007 when Stuttgart did, the champions of England and Spain were Arsenal and Manchester United, and Valencia and Real Madrid respectively. While those four sides have experienced falls from grace at some point since those triumphs, they have not been to the extent of either Bremen or Stuttgart, both of whom are now amongst those sides with a genuine fight for survival on their hands. In most other major leagues, such declines would be unimaginable, in the Bundesliga they are just part of a normal season.
It is also fair to say that the Bundesliga has not always been such a procession at the top. While Bayern may have dominated as of late, it has not always been the case. Since the league’s inception in 1963, there have been 53 different teams to have played in the German top flight. Of those 53, 12 of the sides have won the league title. This translates as just under one in every four of the 53 sides winning the league since 1963. La Liga (nine winners out of a possible 60) has a ratio of roughly one in six teams to have won the ultimate prize, in a period 34 years longer.
The historical competitiveness at the top of the Bundesliga may have since become less apparent, but this has not translated to the rest of the league. Currently just 13 points separate fourth (the final Champions League spot) and 18th (bottom of the table), while from 10th to 18th, the gap is just five points. Additionally, the league has seen 409 goals so far this season, 19 more than La Liga, a competition with two extra sides. Indeed it is rare for a matchday in the Bundesliga to pass without a number of high scoring games. On Wednesday, the tie between Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin finished 4-4, while at the weekend Werder Bremen and Hannover 96 treated fans to a 3-3 draw. Therefore, it is evident why so many fans are currently hooked to the competition.
There is a sense that the imperious Bayern aside, any side can beat another in Germany, making it a betting man’s nightmare, but a neutral’s delight. It is not as though the competitive edge is at the expense of the quality either, with games in Germany’s top flight often played at a relentless end-to-end tempo. In terms of ‘smaller’ sides being able to beat so-called ‘bigger’ outfits, the Bundesliga is somewhat akin to the Premier League, which has seen teams from the bottom beating title contenders ever since the league began. La Liga lacks such an edge, where it is a surprise to see the more talented sides come unstuck at their inferior counterparts.
That is arguably because as a league, La Liga is very consistent. But consistency does not always translate into excitement, something that German football offers on a weekly basis. Looking at the top six in Spain after fourteen games, it has an all too familiar feel about it, with Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal battling for a Champions League spot behind front-runners Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Conversely, in Germany, few if any could have predicted the early season success for teams such as Wolfsburg and Augsburg. While in Augsburg’s case such success may not last, it is good to see a team relatively new to the league so high up the table, in a similar way to the joy some have taken in seeing teams such as Southampton and West Ham in such lofty positions in the Premier League this season.
The popularity of the Bundesliga on an international level has certainly been assisted by the prominence of their sides in both European and international tournaments. In the 2012-2013 campaign, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund contested an all-German Champions League final, the result of the two swatting aside all comers in Europe that year. Incidentally on the road to the final, both eliminated Spanish giants. Bayern hammered Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate at the semi-final stage, while Dortmund saw off the challenge of Real Madrid at the same point in the tournament, defeating them 4-3 on aggregate after a 4-1 home triumph. If that was the introduction for some to the quality of the German sides, this was only further emphasised in last summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Few will ever forget the way Germany ruthlessly dispatched Brazil, sealing their place in the final with a 7-1 victory, in what is perhaps one of the greatest World Cup performances of all time.
But if these events served to hook the neutral to the German game, then the excitement and quality of the domestic league has only served to lure fans further in. There is an experience to the German game that other league’s across Europe cannot compete with. In a recent survey it was discovered that roughly 1,000 British fans descend upon Dortmund for every home game. What are they attracted by? The Bundesliga can offer match-going fans things that supporters of the English game have been seeking for a long time. Cheaper tickets is high on such a list of desires, with the Premier League’s season ticket average currently at £508, compared to the Bundesliga’s astoundingly low average of £138. On top of this a matchday ticket covers free travel for that day, and in many grounds will allow supporters to stand, something that many supporter groups in England are pushing for. Add to this alcohol being served in grounds and a raw and electric atmosphere, and the football becomes somewhat of a sideshow. It does help though this it is exciting and of a very high standard.
Popularity levels of the Bundesliga are reflected by average attendances. Last season,of the 20 highest average attendances in Europe, nine could be found in Germany, including then second division side FC Köln. Germany’s nearest rival, England, held four positions in the top 20, while La Liga could boast just three places, predictably held by Barcelona and two Madrid sides.
The masses can’t be wrong. There is plenty of attraction and excitement to be found in the Bundesliga. And so while it looks as though Bayern Munich will continue to dominate, that is not to say the Bundesliga’s appeal will diminish. Far from it. It can only continue on an upward trajectory.
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