We English language speaking fans of the Bundesliga are fortunate in that we have several podcasts on our favorite league in our language to keep us in the loop with great commentary and opinion. These include The Talking Fussball pod, the Yellow Wall Pod (BvB), Vollraute Abroad (Gladbach) and the Neverkusen Podcast (Leverkusen), the Radio Free Weser pod (Werder Brenen) and the Challengers Bundesliga Podcast. These podcasts vary, some concentrating on the league and tournaments, the other focused on individual clubs, and the latter three are based in the United States. All have been around for quite a while, are high quality and I personally enjoy each and have the pleasure of knowing some of the folks involved. If you’ve ever attempted to create a podcast, it’s generally a LOT of work, including getting the podcast team together to actually record, which is difficult when you are oceans apart.
The Challengers Bundesliga Podcast doesn’t face that problem unless there is a guest involved. Brothers Patrick and Will are half a continent apart, but that only involves one time zone. But they don’t take it easy…they generally come out with a Bundesliga, EPL and La Liga podcast EVERY Thursday. It amazes me that they have the expertise and time to follow three leagues and speak with knowledge, statistical facts (and humor) about what is going on each matchday — I have trouble keeping up to date with one domestic league. (I watch others, especially Liga MX, but don’t have any real expertise on Mexican soccer, just enjoy the competition). We talked to Patrick and Will about how they do it, and their thoughts on various Bundesliga topics. Enjoy !!! and make sure to tune in to the Challengers (latest podcast here) and the other pods listed, and find your expertise and enjoyment of German football increase even more…..
Fanatic:How did you guys meet, and what was the inspiration for starting the Challengers Podcasts?
Patrick Onofre: So Will and I are brothers, and I always tell the anecdote about how, when he was around four years old, we bought him a sports almanac that he read like a book. That’s what he is: extremely knowledgable about sports. He and I have a running dialogue about every sport imaginable—basketball, American football, baseball, and of course, soccer. We had been having so many discussions about soccer at the time that I was itching to bring our discussions to the public so people could witness just how intelligent he is. He’s the Lou Costello to my Bud Abbott. The Penn to my Teller. The Jack Black to my Kyle Gass.
Will Clarke: We also started the podcast to keep my phone from crashing, because it literally started lagging every time I would try to text him, or it would only send messages below a certain length. And, being able to talk about soccer weekly just meant we could discuss it more in-depth, as well as being able to teach ourselves a lot about the sport and the leagues we set out to cover. That’s part of the fun of it, is that it’s a constant learning experience for us as we not only try to get better with our analysis, but also be better than most pundits out there. Which is a low bar to clear, arguably, but still.
Fanatic:How do you have the time and energy to have expertise of THREE leagues—the BuLi, EPL and La Liga?
Will: For one thing, having two people covering three leagues is pretty fantastic; it means we can split workload if need be, and being able to bounce ideas and observations off each other is helpful for both of us to make sure we’re not missing anything important. Really though, it just comes down to passion for the sport. It’s just such a great game to watch, especially when we have three different styles to watch, and if nothing else we treat it like an excuse to watch and chat about it on a weekly basis. The introduction of La Liga this season also gave us a bit of a jumpstart in our third season of coverage. Part of the appeal from the get-go was really doing a deep dive into the Bundesliga, a league we hadn’t had much experience with, so between becoming experts with that and now doing the same with La Liga (plus the obvious familiarity of the EPL), we have a lot of diversity to keep things fresh.
Patrick: Plus, the fact that every match is ~90 minutes helps a lot. That, and a ton of coffee, for me.
To Will’s point, the passion definitely keeps us going. Having so many intriguing storylines, between three leagues, makes every weekend enjoyable to watch and worth getting up early in the morning. As far as I’m concerned, I still have so much to learn about the culture of the Bundesliga and La Liga that immersing myself into it every week is exciting. All three leagues have something unique about them—throw in 58 different playing styles and it’s a unique experience every match.
Fanatic: Do you have favorite clubs that you root for as individuals? Favorite players?
Patrick: Our clear favorite player of all-time is Raphael Wolf, the mascot for our program (and the inspiration behind our crest, if you’re into Easter eggs). Kidding aside (though not about the Wolf-crest relation), Will is a huge Bayer Leverkusen fan, and he has been following them long before we began discussing the Bundesliga on our show. I was a free agent when we began, but fell for Borussia Mönchengladbach by season’s end—there was something I romanticized about supporting a team with a ridiculously long name. Funnily enough, however, we genuinely support all the teams because we want to see the Bundesliga’s success, particularly on the European stage.
Will: Yeah, I mean, even though we may sometimes clown teams (I’ve had a mercurial relationship with Werder Bremen, and the recent rise of Leipzig has been intriguing to say the least), we chose a fantastic time to really get into the league, like when you start listening to a band just a year before they blow up and start selling out amphitheatres nationwide. It’s just such a fun league to watch overall, with the tactics and the pace-and-space (to borrow basketball terminology), that there really aren’t many duds. And as for favorite players, I’m a huge fan of Julian Brandt (and will continue to be as long as he gets bought by Liverpool), as well as Chicharito (mainly at Patrick’s expense), Ousmane Dembele, and Vicenzo Grifo. And I can’t speak for Patrick too much, but Raffael has to be high on his list given some of his clutch performances for Gladbach.
Patrick: I was really hoping Chicharito would not be making an appearance in this interview. But yes, Raffael has certainly won me over, and it’s been fun joking about the “Kevin Volland Comeback Tour”, seeing how he always goes missing for long spells and routinely has to prove why he should stay on a team’s roster.
Fanatic: Your Bundesliga podcast has a solid statistical feel….What sources do you use for statistics?
Patrick: We mainly use the Expected Goals of Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) and the passing maps provided by @11tegen11 for the statistical element. Beyond that, we watch every match and break down our observations. For me, personally, I spend every Saturday and Sunday watching matches, and the ones I miss, I will go back and watch Sunday night/Monday/Tuesday before we record. Ideally, I like to mix numbers with strategic and tactical analysis. We try to leave as much of the discussion on specific topics for recording day so that it’s spontaneous and we honestly don’t know how the other is going to respond.
Will: We also use WhoScored a lot for the more basic statistics, and in the past we’ve used sources such as Thom Lawrence’s DeepXG. But Patrick brings up a fantastic point: a lot of what we do on the show is very organic discussion. We started out quite scripted, but over time found that just having our notes in front of us worked way better and made for a more open conversation between us two. And it’s especially fun because we seem to disagree as often as we agree as often as we agree but for totally different reasons. So no matter what, I feel like we get a very productive conversation on whatever topic we have to discuss, given that we focus in on different statistics, different aspects of the tactics, etc.
Fanatic: Have you seen interest in the Bundesliga grow in the past few years? What anecdotes or numbers support your thoughts on this matter.
Will:The obvious thing to point out, at least for us Americans, is the Fox TV deal the league struck a couple of years ago, and the hundreds of thousands of viewers these matches subsequently got stateside. It does feel like a case of a rising tide lifting all boats to me, and as much as Bayern and Dortmund are global brands by this point, the other teams have made waves in their own right. Look at Leverkusen’s treks (and travails) in Champions League, or Schalke currently in the quarterfinals of Europa League, or the attention Leipzig got in the first half of the season with their blitzkrieg on the league norm. Add in all the talent and tactical prowess that’s come from the Bundesliga and thrived even further on the world stage (i.e. De Bruyne, Kroos, Guardiola, Klopp, etc.), and to me this is a league that’s really starting to get its due on the world stage.
Patrick: Seeing so many Bundesliga teams in European competitions certainly helps as well, especially since those European competitions are also shown on FOX here. And as Will pointed out, so much talent has been lifted by the Premier League from Bundesliga teams, and I think people are curious how German football has become a breeding ground for talented footballers to hone their skills and develop. Similarly, a lot of American players like Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood play in the Bundesliga, and when they play well, it gets shown on networks that don’t even show Bundesliga soccer.
Fanatic: What briefly are the strengths and weaknesses of the three leagues you cover…is there one you consider best?
Patrick: We just began deep diving into La Liga, but already, I am genuinely surprised with just how competitive the teams are beyond the obvious Barcelona and Real Madrid. That surprised me about the Bundesliga regarding going beyond Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund when we began thoroughly watching them, as well. However, I’d say the biggest weakness these two leagues have is roster turnover. Because the Premier League and the big clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and even the likes of Paris Saint-Germaine or Juventus/AC Milan/Inter have so much money, second-tier clubs have a strong challenge in retaining talent that those other clubs can easily purchase. I think the new influx of television money that will come into the Bundesliga will help curb that tremendously, and I’m very excited to see how that affects the league—hopefully in a positive manner.
Will: With La Liga, the strengths are the sheer technicality of the league as well as the surprising amount of depth in the top half. It’s a very fun league to watch actually, and very different from what we’ve seen prior in our podcasting experience. The weaknesses there I would say would be a relative lack of unpredictability up top (though it still has surprises!), as well as just how heavy the big team bias is at times; then again, that just leaves it up to us to spread the love on the other teams! The EPL is the most unpredictable for sure, and there always seems to be something with a couple of the big teams to discuss, as well as a smaller team or two that’s making waves (good or bad). However, relatively speaking, its brute physicality (as well as the media machine) can be a bit draining. Meanwhile, the Bundesliga honestly doesn’t have much in the way of weaknesses, looking at the shake-up this season at the top. It’s just such a tactically interesting and attractive-to-watch league, and it seems to be at the forefront of the modern game both in the talent and the philosophies they export.
Fanatic: What are your thoughts on the rise of RB Leipzig, the 50+1 rule, the tradition v ‘plastic’ clubs?
Will: I’m a fun person to ask this question, given that I’m American and (unfortunately) adopted Leverkusen as my team, but I actually fall much more on the side of tradition. To some extent the antipathy for clubs like RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim seems hypocritical to me, given just how deep-seated a bit of “corporate” nature has ingrained itself into the game. However, I really can’t help but respect the dedication to tradition and keeping the game in Germany as untainted by purely investors’ interests as possible. Does it make things pretty staid for Bayern and Dortmund at the top? Probably. Does it encourage loopholes to be found that allow clubs like Leipzig to rise anyways? Apparently so. But in a world where teams like PSG and Manchester City are successful because of the backing of people who have more money stuffed behind their sofa cushions than the net worth of a Rolls-Royce factory, I love seeing the Bundesliga stick to their guns and be incredibly successful regardless.
Patrick: I’m more so on the side of modernization in the game. While I understand the animosity toward a club like Leipzig that has seemingly skirted the rules to an extent by finding a loophole, the idea that they are the antithesis of German soccer is fairly amusing when you look at clubs with a significant corporate sponsorship structure like Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund—for crying out loud, the fan section in the Allianz Arena make the T-Mobile logo! However, even under the 50+1 rule, the Bundesliga’s ‘plastic clubs’ still feel more authentic than clubs in similar situations in other leagues. The rule makes the Bundesliga unique, and I’d prefer my club to not go bankrupt like so many in English football.
Fanatic: How do you feel about the introduction of the VAR to the Bundesliga next season?
Will: I’m very happy with this introduction, honestly. I do get the traditionalist standpoint of fundamentally changing a facet of the game (being the imperfect human refereeing), but all this does is make things more accurate, keep the Bundesliga near the pinnacle of football technologically, and make sure that teams get the correct calls going their way… or, well, more of the correct calls. The fact that it’s not a complete overhaul either, but a foray into VAR (although the majority of wrong calls made by referees thus far this season would be reviewable by VAR) can only help when it comes to making sure games go off smoothly. My one concern is the time it takes for an in-game call via VAR to be made, but if they can make that process swift, it’ll be a successful introduction.
Patrick: Well, it doesn’t appear VAR will involve many situations, so I feel the pace of the game won’t be lost. Maybe I’m weird, but I like my calls to be made correctly. Contrary to popular belief, human referees are relatively accurate, but they are human, after all, and can make mistakes. We’ve seen other leagues in America utilize similar technology and it improves the calls made in a game, so why couldn’t it work in soccer?
Patrick Onofre and twenty-two year old Will Clarke are from Washington, DC, and Kansas City, MO, respectively, by way of Virginia Beach, VA. Patrick works with the Department of Defense Office of Warrior Care Policy while Will has recently become employed by the MLS club Sporting Kansas City. When they’re not watching soccer, Patrick is playing with podcast mascot and fur baby, Willis—a one-year old Feist dog—and drowning his sorrows over the latest D.C. United performance with pints of craft brews, while Will can be found at the local record store, displaying his music prowess. Follow the boys on Twitter at @ChallengersPod and you can also access their podcasts on Soundcloud. I Tunes and read some good articles by both at https://challengerspodcast.com//
Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.