March 26, 2017

The Bundesliga’s European nightmare

While most Bundesliga fans enjoy the league’s extreme volatility and the competitiveness that results from it, the inconsistency of the clubs around Bayern has in fact done the league more harm than good.  Here is a closer look and explanation of the league’s underperformance in Europe over the years.

The Bundesliga has truly been amongst the most unpredictable leagues over the last ten years. Six different teams have won the title between the 00/01 and the 09/10 season. A number of historic clubs were relegated and a stream of new teams have managed to make their debut in the league.  In itself, that change is exciting to say the least, particularly when you consider the oligarchic grip some teams have in England, Italy and Spain.  That said, the high entertainment value of the league  also has its drawbacks and in the great scheme of things it may  outweigh those values.

The dreary numbers

Bayern were the last German team to lift the Champions League trophy. That was back in 2001.

From the 00/01 and until the 09/10 season only Bayern managed to grab one of the international spots in the league table for all ten seasons. Placing behind Bayern are Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart and Schalke 04, who managed to wrack up 7 international finishes.

Out of the 5-6 teams that qualified directly for an international competition in that time period, an average of 37% failed to grab an international spot the following season. Three teams that did qualify directly for an international competition were subsequently relegated the following season (SC Freiburg 01/02, VfL Bochum 04/05 and Hertha Berlin 09/10). 1. FC Nürnberg represented the Bundesliga in the Uefa-cup in the 07/08 season after winning the cup.  They too were relegated while playing international football that season.

This season could see Mainz qualify for their second appearance in European competition in the club’s history, while Hannover 96 are on their way to a comeback to an international competition after 19 years.  Both Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart won’t defend their international finish from last season and are still battling to avoid relegation , while Schalke could sneak into Europe by winning the cup or the Champions League.

How those stats hurt the Bundesliga

At this point you might say, great, but how on earth is all this hurting the league? The Bundesliga has just surpassed Serie A in the UEFA coefficient rankings, and it could be on its way to overtake Spain in the next couple of years as well at this rate.

The answer is simple. When the Uefa draws the groups for the next tournaments they divide the different contenders into 4 pots, based on how the clubs themselves, not the league that they come from, have performed in the last 5 years. Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen have done well in that respect in the last 5 years, and are therefore 4th and 11th on the UEFA club rankings. If both qualified for the Champions league, Bayern would be seeded at the top of their group, while Bremen receive the number two seed.  Both are rather favorable seedings and should provide a comfortable entry into the competition.

Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund haven’t covered themselves in glory in Europe during the last 5 years however, and are much further down the UEFA club rankings. Leverkusen will most likely be the third seed in their group, while both Dortmund and Hannover (should they qualify) will receive three difficult opponents, all listed above them in said UEFA rankings.  That proposition could very well prove too difficult for sides looking to re-enter Europe’s premier club competition.

Most German teams place low in the Uefa club ranking.

So Bayer will face a tough group, while both Dortmund and Hannover will face an uphill battle to go through or reach the third spot that would give them the opportunity to compete in the Europa League in the second half of the season. The same goes for Mainz and Nürnberg should either qualify for the Europa League.

With four out of five teams likely to struggle in next year’s international competitions, the Bundesliga will have a hard time gathering enough coefficient points to get past Spain in the 5 year UEFA coefficient.  None of that bodes well for the Bundesliga considering Italian clubs are undergoing a transition and rebuilding period of their own and are right up the Bundesliga’s bottom seeking to reclaim the 4th Champions League spot once more.

Why is the Bundesliga so volatile?

England has four teams in the top 10 of the UEFA club rankings while Spain has three and Italy two. Germany has for the last ten years depended solely on Bayern Munich to achieve results in Europe, while the rest of the league has had a marry go around, with clubs constantly changing positions and struggling to find a solid footing.

Four of the five sides that qualified in the 08/09 season failed to qualify in the following season.

There is only room for speculation to explain this phenomenon.  Part of that could be the lesser amounts of money from TV-rights or a lack of long term planning at club level. One could even make the case that German sides simply don’t adapt to the style necessary to perform in European competition.  The only thing we know for certain is that most German clubs have underperformed when playing in Europe.

Outlook

If the Bundesliga really wants to have a chance in surpassing La Liga in the 5 year coefficient rankings, much depends on how the top of the table looks in the coming years. Depending on inexperienced teams like Mainz and Hannover cutting the mustard in Europe would be naive.  If 3-4 teams could establish themselves as table toppers, and stay in the top half of the table over a long period of time, those clubs will eventually climb in the UEFA club ranking.  Only then will the Bundesliga have a serious shot at moving ahead of La Liga. In the meantime, it will have enough problems staying in front of Italy.

What do you think? Will German teams be more successful in Europe in the future? Leave a comment below.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

50 Comments

  1. There’s never a reply button after your comments Niklas–oh well, I’ll post, maybe you’ll find it.

    Some of the points you make now are not disputable, because they are more specific.

    Putting it in terms of *winning* European competitions, yes the results are plain to see, even if we may disagree as to whether any German teams were capable of winning them.

    Style may have something to do with not winning a competition, but then one has to ask, is there a “right” style and a “wrong” style, for winning the competition and are styles really nation-specific anymore? That’s probably for another article…

    I have read, but haven’t run the numbers on a claim that Italy out-pointed Germany in the CL in 8 of the last 10 seasons. It’s a believable stat, as is your stat about percentage of coefficient points from the EL. But, you’re in effect saying Germany should always have at least 2 teams in the CL knockout round and if they don’t it’s underperformance. I can’t agree with that as an absolute, I could agree that it CAN be true.

    Your comments about the EL, I feel are pulling things back to what we’ve been debating all along. Not winning the competition doesn’t equal underperformance as far as I’m concerned. You mentioned this in the context of “considering the teams that have won”, and I get the sense from this and some of the other comments that you see it as a poor reflection on German teams when teams from federations ranked lower than Germany (or perhaps from federations you consider inferior) win the competition. But usually these teams from lower ranked federations will beat teams from federations ranked higher than Germany on their path to the title. It may be that a club vs club rather than a country vs country comparison is more apt in these cases. Maybe we can’t agree because it all depends on how one evaluates who *should* be winning and why.

    Finally, the bar for next season’s representatives in Europe can be set much lower, and the coefficient may still rise. The problem in 06-07 is that you had two teams who did nothing really: Schalke, got beat in the UC first round, and HSV lost 5 matches in CL group stage. I think it’ll be a weaker showing next season, but I’ll be surprised if it’s less than the 9.5 coefficient average like 06-07.

  2. Sorry for the late reply, I have been busy all day.

    In terms of actually winning trophies German clubs have done terribly in the last ten years compared to about everyone else around in Europe. That is one way of looking at it.

    Furthermore, German sides often make schoolboy mistakes, and don’t appear to be able to adapt their style to what is required in European competitions.

    From the top of my head the numbers you mention seem to be right, but there are a few points to be made about them, and they have to be seen in context.

    70% of Germany’s coefficient points come from the EL, and are often produced by teams like Werder that finish third in their CL groups. Having two out of three teams drop out of the Champions League after the group stages is underperforming in that competition(and that has happened on numerous occasions). Couldn’t we agree on that?

    Yes, German teams have done relatively well in the EL, but haven’t won it in ages. An underperformance of sorts, considering the teams that have won that competition in the space of time we are talking about here.

    And finally, yes, the weakest season may fall out of the calculation, but that still means that the Bundesliga has to perform next year. And, to be honest, I have my doubts about that.

  3. The word I would use for English clubs is “consistent”, especially in the last 5 seasons. But in the last 10, England ranked #1 in a single-season coefficient rank only twice (they could also do so this season). You may call that brilliant, but I have no qualms saying they haven’t performed to the absolute best of their abilities.

    I’m not even going to try figuring out how a group of clubs can perform brilliantly while being “in decline”. I think what you might mean is that individual Italian clubs (like Inter last season) have performed at a very high level despite the overall downward trend of the Italian coefficient average. Even that is a bit of a misnomer, b/c the Italian coefficient average rose each of the last two seasons before declining sharply this season.

    But, what I was originally contesting here was Niklas’ assertion that “the only thing we know for certain is that German clubs have underperformed when playing in Europe”

    And I guess what I would say here is: Even if Schalke doesn’t earn another point in the CL this season, Germany will end this season with a 5 year coefficient average that is higher than Italy’s 5 year average was at ANY time in the last 10 seasons. And Germany will also end this season with a 5 year average higher than England had at ANY time between the 2000-2001 and 2006-07 seasons. I don’t call that underperformance, and I don’t know how you can, especially in light of your opinions of England and Italy.

    Oh, the best part for Bundesliga fans: The weakest season in Germany’s 5 year average falls out of the calculation next season.

  4. Luke, really? I think England have performed brilliantly actually. And Italy as well considering they’ve been a league in decline for a while now.

    You don’t even have to judge it on a season by season basis but look at it over a period of time, that’s how you get the best perspective on something like this. It’s not exactly difficult to see the difference in achievement.

  5. I don’t think any country’s clubs have performed to the absolute best of their abilities in Europe in the last 10 years.

    Every season, from every country, some clubs under-perform, some perform competently, and some exceed their abilities. I’m not breaking any new ground by saying so.

    That a particular German team may underperform in a given season is not evidence that German clubs are collectively underperforming. It has to be considered in the context of all the clubs’ performances.

    Of course it may all come down to what you evaluate as underperforming. Did Werder underperform by making it to the last UEFA Cup Final in 09 rather than advancing out of the CL group stage? Certainly not, from a coefficient perspective.

  6. Lukas, do you think German clubs have performed to the absolute best of their abilities in Europe over the past 10 years?

  7. Probably the most important thing for Bundesliga to avoid a potential nightmare next season–at least 2 of the three advance out of the CL groups with 1 going deep and the 3rd drop down to qualify for continued Europa play and show up there.

  8. Niklas, I couldn’t reply to you above either, so I picked this spot to say, now you are making MY head spin!

    I’m really trying to understand why you are harping on German clubs as “underperforming” in Europe over the last 10 years. Are you really arguing that Germany should already have been ahead of Spain and threatening England in the coefficient totals by now?

    On the other hand, there’s not a bigger reward for being 1st or 2nd in the country rankings than 3rd, other than more perhaps long term security, and maybe bragging rights.

    Finally, one way a coefficient crisis next season could be averted is if any of the CL teams takes up Werder’s old mantle of failing in the CL group stage but making a long run in the EL via the 3rd place CL group stage finish.

  9. Well how closely do you follow or have you followed the development of a team like United for example?

    They are a bit of an anomaly in football but make no mistake, they built it all from the base up, without this structural help you’re referring to. And that comes down to brilliant management, scouting, coaching and everything else involved in running a modern football club.

    As for Barcelona, the philosophy is inherent and provides the foundation first and foremost, everything else is secondary.

    To put it simply, having financial resources does NOT guarantee success or keep you atop alone. There are many many examples of clubs with excess resources that have not succeeded. At the end of the day you can have all the money, all the advantages, you want but if you don’t know what to do with them you’ll be left behind.

  10. Quality in depth is key. A lot of elite clubs have it. Most German sides don’t, not even Bayern it seems.

  11. That’s fair enough, but in the same period, the Bundesliga has overtaken Serie A and is hot on La Liga’s heels. So obviously something is going alright, even if individual teams haven’t gotten very far. And that fourth CL place could be absolutely crucial. For instance, if we had it this year, Bayern would be guaranteed a place in CL (qualifying, at least). So I think that fourth spot has the potential to address your concern – allowing more wriggle room for volatility while still fostering a greater chance that the same teams will start getting into CL repeatedly.

    I don’t know. We can argue til we’re blue in the face but no one knows what the future holds. But I just can’t bring myself to view the Bundesliga’s unpredictability as a negative thing that needs changing solely for the sake of European competition. That’s a matter of priorities, and each person’s will obviously be different.

  12. First of all, I am born in Hannover, so I don’t begrudge that club anything. They have gathered enough points already, and they deserve their spot in the table. I said that before, but if that wasn’t unabundantly clear, I hope that it is now.

    Long term vs. short term: well, I disagree with you on that one. The Bundesliga has had those funny seasons almost every second year(take for instance the 08/09 table that I inserted as a picture), and as a result there have been coefficient points lost the next season. After all, no other big league in Europe that I can think of has had 6 different champions in ten years.

    The likes of Stuttgart, Wolfsburg etc. then get hammered in the group stages, simply because they have to face much stronger opponents. And this has happened time and time again, in both European competitions.

    Yes, anything can happen next season, my predictions are solely based on the past history, that has repeated itself time and time again.

    If Dortmund, Bayern and Leverkusen get three of the champions league spots next season, it will definitely be positive for the Bundesliga.

  13. I can’t press reply on Niklas’s comment to me above, so inserting that here…

    I guess we’re focusing on different things. Next season MIGHT be disastrous (might being key! Dortmund and/or Leverkusen COULD do very well) but we’re looking at a longer spectrum here (we being me and Charles, I think). This has been one of the most bizarre Bundesliga seasons ever, from what I’ve gathered, so of course next year is going to look a bit funny as a result. Do I think Mainz and Hannover getting into Europe is a death knell for Bundesliga’s European standing? To put it quite frankly: no. I think the bigger picture looks quite promising over all. Perhaps Spain will outperform us next year, sure. I think aiming to dash up from 4th to 2nd in league rankings in 2 years is both unrealistic and unnecessary anyway. But regardless of performance in Europe next season (which is a complete unknown), consider Dortmund, Leverkusen, and Bayern getting three of the four CL spots next year. Doesn’t the future look a bit brighter then?

    You can argue hypothetically that Bremen and Hamburg getting into Europe next season would have been better for the league. But that scenario rewards precisely what I don’t believe deserves rewarding – some sort of entitlement based on past success and financial clout. This year both have played significantly worse than Hannover. So Hannover gets into Europe. What’s the point of begruding them that? It says only good things about the Bundesliga, imo.

  14. Thank you Perry. And I wanted to remind all readers that if they want to keep current on what’s going on at the Bundesliga Fanatic, you can easily subscribe to the blog, and become a fan on our FB page and follow our many twitters.

    Great comments by everyone. An interesting discussion about the heart and soul of the Bundesliga.

  15. Well, given the context that we’ll have four teams that might struggle in their group stages, because of their low uefa club ranking, and a Bayern side that isn’t really that into the EL, next season might potentially turn into one of the worst seasons in Europe for the Bundesliga.

    If teams like Bremen and Hamburg had made the cut, the potential for doing brilliantly in Europe would increase. (Based on their performance so far this season neither side deserve to be there.) That is the main point of the article.

    And if Spain outperforms Germany next year, you have to ask yourself: would that have happened with sides that are better placed then the likes of Hannover and Mainz in the Uefa club rankings?

  16. I agree with you 100% Charles. I think we view the Bundesliga the same way. I don’t think it should aim to emulate the EPL or La Liga; its own style should lead to success in its own way, in due time. I hope so, anyway!

  17. At this point, my head is truly spinning from sitting in a lecture, taking notes with my right hand, and using my mobile typing replies with my left hand.

    I certainly value Germany’s achievements in the CL and EL. And teams like Werder, and HSV have done very well in the EL in the last five years, while Bayern had their moments in the CL. And, I wouldn’t take that away from the Bundesliga.

    But, compared to England and Spain there is still a long way to go, and Italy will come back strong at some point. And, if the federation and the goals they have put out there are to be taken serious, it has to be pointed out that German teams have underperformed in several of the last 10 seasons.

    I am really startled by the amount of comments this piece has generated.

  18. So basically you’re making the argument that you do value mastery over parity. Which is fine, and I did say in my original comment that it’s a matter of personal choice. But in aiming for that route, I fear the Bundesliga would become more like the EPL or La Liga and lose a lot of what makes it special and unique. We can both value different things and still be Bundesliga fans, of course, but I’m going to have to disagree with you and say that I’d prefer if parity remained the strongest force, even if it means not dominating in Europe. If the Bundesliga can find some way to maintain internal competitiveness AND get better results into Europe, well, I’d love to see that. And with the extra CL spot, it actually is possible – if we add even one team (Dortmund or Leverkusen, or Bremen if they bounce back) to the Bayern tradition of doing well in Europe on a reasonably regular basis, that will do a whole lot for the league’s European standing, and still leave room for different teams to make their mark at the top of the table each season.

    I think I’m relatively alone in not particularly loving to watch Barca. It’s a combination of a sense that they don’t think the other team deserves to have the ball (or even be on the same pitch as them) and the nasty way in which some of their players behave – I don’t care how talented he is, Alves’s foul attitude and dishonesty regularly induce homicidal urges in me. I just can’t get excited about watching Barca play. Guess it’s my loss.

  19. I’d like to add that of course there is more to the story than just having money. Money must be well-spent to see quality results. There’s no question that United and Barca both do that and they deserve respect for it. But you first have to have the money to spend it well, and other teams simply don’t get that chance.

  20. I’m not sure I understand your argument here Cristian. “They got where they are today in spite of advantages they may have” – I wouldn’t think success would be in “spite” of advantages, but rather because of them. Admittedly I am no expert in English football but it seems to me like once a team establishes itself the entire system is structured to help extend and promote that superiority. There’s no allowance for smaller teams to challenge the hegemony. Regardless of how the superiority was achieved in the first place, the structure is what allows it to persist.

    And no matter how much Barca natters on about being more than a club and based entirely on youth development, the fact is they fling about cash just as much as any other big club. And their cash (from TV deals etc) supports the high quality youth system. So the financial advantage there promotes their persistent dominance by allowing them to develop the style/quality they have. That kind of quality doesn’t materialize out of thin air from some divine right to be better. It’s inextricably linked to the lack of parity, not independent of it.

  21. >>>In this article I tried to point out that the domestic league’s appeal, that both you and me appreciate, comes at a price.

    …and I think most Bundesliga fans are absolutely willing to pay that price.

    Less success in Europe does obfuscate the Bundesliga’s actual strength to a wider global audience. But anyone who digs a bit deeper will appreciate the Bundesliga following a different model from Spain/Italy/England.

    >>> The league itself has said that it wants to improve in Europe.

    Sure. And it already has recovered 3rd place and will soon be competing for 2nd place.

    There’s absolutely no need to give up the philosophy behind the renaissance of the Bundesliga.

    Four spots might help teams more consistently getting CL berths. So that alone should help German clubs do better in the CL.

  22. Well, a critique of coefficient formula is a completely different topic, although a discussion about why a CL winner deserves an additional bonus given that the finalists already receive a bonus would interest me–another day 🙂 As I’ve said, I think it’s a silly argument to somehow not value a given federation’s achievements based on believing the rules of the competitoin are unfair.

    What I gather from your and also Cris’ reply citing Portugal, is that you would say that Portuguese teams having a higher coefficient for this season is an example of underperformance by German teams. But I don’t think the 5 year average can necessarily be used as a predictor for a particular season. Past results would lead one to expect that German teams would perform better than Portuguese ones, (although Portugal also had a better yearly coefficient twice in the last decade as well) but as we all know many other factors are at work within a particular season: you may believe it’s simply underachievement by German sides; but the achievements of the Portuguese teams would require examination as well.

    Interesting that Portugal has this high coefficient total for this season mainly due to the EL. Someone somewhere will undoubtedly argue that they’ve outpointed Germany this season just because of the way the coefficient is calculated. Then, your head can begin to spin..

  23. @Michael: I really do hope that Uefa are serious about implementing those rules. I had a glance at what the rules will change, and Chelsea, Manchester City do have to change their ways if they at all want to be viable candidates for a European spot.

    Furthermore, the likes of Hoffenheim would never have made it from the 6th division and into the Bundesliga with those rules. People at Red Bull headquarters in Austria are probably kicking themselves for purchasing a club that has no chance of getting to the Bundesliga within 6 years if those new rules kick in.

    @Jason: I did expect that suggesting that the Bundesliga should have an established top three or four clubs, if they want to compete at the highest level, would rub some people the wrong way.

    What I honestly didn’t expect was that the fact that German teams had underperformed in the last ten years was up for discussion as well.

  24. I hope Kind never gets his way. It would suck to be a fan of a small/poor club which never has a chance to win. If the BuLi had 4 FC Bayerns taking the title and CL/EL automatic spots every year, that would be so. damned. boring.

  25. @ Nik: BTW, didn’t find the tone of the article too down, just realistic. I’ve never really thought much about the individual club rankings and how that slots a club like BvB into a tougher set. English football fans seem to think Man United always get an easy group/easy draw, but it would appear they do b/c they earn it a bit based on their individual ranking.

  26. Conni
    Oh no, keep those rules in place certainly. I was just thinking that’s an argument those owners in favor of doing away with it use. Hannover’s Martin Kind has mentioned something to that effect (I think).

  27. A great article.

    As an English football fan I’m very jealous of the current structure of German football. The fact that many clubs have a shot at glory and that fans don’t get ripped off is something to protect.

    However, the problem with England’s league isn’t so much the distribution of income. English teams use a collective bargaining agreement so basic TV money gets evenly shared, unlike in Spain and Italy. Parity is distorted by the presence of huge clubs like United that generate massive income from sponsorship , and clubs like Chelsea that spend hundreds of £millions they don’t really have.

    The problem in England is that because the stakes are so high, clubs gamble on success and if they fail they face ruin. As Charles has suggested, if UEFA is serious about the financial fair play rules then I struggle to see how Chelsea and Man City will qualify for Euro competitions in future. This will surely benefit German clubs.

    It’s true the past decade wasn’t a great one for German clubs in Europe, but I’d be surprised if this one wasn’t significantly better.

    Michael.

  28. Indeed, Italy’s not going to reclaim third spot any time soon. Way too much going in favour of the BL.

    Overtaking Spain is within the BL’s sights. That’s a mid-to-long-term goal the DFL has officially in its sights.

    But not the absolute top. The EPL simply has way superior revenue. They’ll remain top for the foreseeable future.

    Which is fine by me. I’ll take the Bundesliga over the EPL any day of the week.

  29. Hi Charles, appreciate your comment.

    I agree with you that the Bundesliga is probably the most attractive league to watch in Europe at this very moment. The amount of talent coming through these days is at an all time high.

    In this article I tried to point out that the domestic league’s appeal, that both you and me appreciate, comes at a price. The results of German clubs in Europe have suffered. I use the word nightmare in that context.

    There is a clear cut choice to be made here: Stability at the top, with a few top clubs that out-earn the rest of them, or a volatile league that allows the likes of Hannover to go from a horror season at the bottom to a season of glory and qualification for a European competition. The league itself has said that it wants to improve in Europe.

    I am very torn about this. Part of me wants German teams to be great in Europe, competing for titles in the CL and EL every year. But, being aware at what cost that might come, and you point that out in your comment, part of me says “screw it”, I want the league to stay just the same. All the things you said you love about the Bundesliga, I love too. Not a shrewd of doubt in my mind. I am a Werder Bremen fan, who was born in Hannover and therefor I do have a soft spot for the reds.

    I have to somewhat disagree with your assessment about the Bundesliga vs. La Liga. Yes, Spains good 06/07 season is finally being removed from the Uefa coefficient, but considering that Dortmund, Leverkusen, Mainz/Nürnberg and Hannover all will face uphill battles in their group stages, I am very much doubting that the Bundesliga will have a good season next year.

  30. Anne, I’m ideologically very much in your camp. I value parity and the little guy (e.g Hannover, Mainz, Freiburg) having a fighting chance.

    Football is emotion. As a supporter of an average or smaller team in Serie A, La Liga, EPL, there’s little for you to dream about. Other than some billionaire coming along and transforming the club…

    Football in those countries just simply is too imbalanced and cynical an affair for me to truly enjoy. Among the Top5, Ligue 1 and especially the Bundesliga are way more to my liking.

    German football has of course also made its compromises with commercialism (reasonable ones, I’d say), but it hasn’t sold its soul.

  31. Niklas’ “European Nightmare” article is an interesting read, yet I disagree with the following assessment of his:

    Quote:
    “In itself, that change is exciting to say the least, particularly when you consider the oligarchic grip some teams have in England, Italy and Spain. That said, the high entertainment value of the league also has its drawbacks and in the great scheme of things it may outweigh those values.”

    It all depends what importance you give European competitiveness relative to a competitive league back at home.

    I don’t want an entrenched topheavy league as Spain, Italy and England have.

    Consider the income ratio of a leagues four richest clubs as compared to the league average:

    Spain: 7.1
    Italy: 4.1
    England: 3.6
    France: 3.2
    Germany: 2.5

    Heck, Real earns 43 times what the poorest La Liga club earns.

    With such grotesque imbalances, league games will often not be nearly as interesting as in the Bundesliga. If you’re so massively outgunned, lesser teams will often choose to park the team bus in front of their goal.

    Compare that to the Bundesliga: Such minnows as Freiburg or Mainz play attractive attacking football.

    The Bundesliga in its entirety is arguably Europe’s second-strongest. But that counts for little in UEFA co-efficients as it doesn’t have the same income concentration at the top (and hence more inconsistent club records).

    I love the Bundesliga for what it is: A competitive, fan-friendly, financially healthy league not dominated by billionaire owners.

    I wouldn’t ever want that compromised merely for the sake of UEFA co-efficients. The European competititions are all very nice, but the domestic league is the heart of club football.

    Moreover, I don’t think the Bundesliga has to betray its values to do well in Europe. Despite the Bundesliga not being geared towards international success, German clubs have managed to overtake topheavy Serie A.

    And super-topheavy La Liga? If you leave aside the 06/07 season, the Bundesliga already is on par with Spain. So once Germany’s poor and Spain’s excellent 06/07 gets dumped, Germany will be breathing down Spain’s neck bigtime.

    The Bundesliga is on the rise! And with UEFA Financial Fairplay being round the corner, the less indebted and more profitable German clubs should further gain in European competitiveness.

    Yes, Niklas, the last decade or so was something of a “European Nightmare” for German club football. For good reason: A decade ago, German club football pretty much sucked.

    Now things are rapidly improving. The Bundesliga’s very much the mover & shaker among Europe’s leagues. The way it’s run is a model for others to emulate, rather than for us to betray.

    Just find your article’s downcast mood misplaced. The Bundesliga’s back. Bigtime!

  32. Just keep in mind that there is a youth system which will soon bring a flood of talents into german football and will raise the overall level of the bundesliga (parity does not mean that the niveau is low)
    and that there is also a financial fairplay rule coming around soon. So we are just at the start of a change generation in football, which shows a really bright future for german clubs. So at least we will stay ahead of Italy. 😉

  33. @Luke: Sure, the rules are the same for everybody. But, that doesn’t automatically translate to them being right. Winning the Champions League, as Kevin pointed out, is not rewarded by a great amount of coefficient points, while solely getting through the group stages gathers’ a fair amount of points.

    German teams have at time been outperformed by their rivals from smaller leagues in terms of results. Not La Liga, Serie A and EPL, but the likes of Portugal. I don’t think that the league as a whole can be happy about losing out to smaller leagues.

    @MichigAnne: Sorry about forgetting that Mainz had the briefest of stints in Europe six years ago.

    About your points regarding mastery vs parity: I somewhat elude that question in this piece, but I get into it in the last paragraph of this article. If the Bundesliga wants to compete more successfully, and actually have a shot at winning something in the next few years, there needs to be 3-4 teams that play in Europe every year. The league itself claims that it wants to get back on top in Europe, and I agree, something has got to give in that case. Teams like Nürnberg and Mainz will have a harder time getting into Europe, if a elite of 3-4 teams establish themselves at the top of the league. Only finicially potent teams like Hamburg will have a chance to catch up in that case, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    Seeing the crop of players at Leverkusen and Dortmund these days, I have to say that I am optimistic that these two teams will be able to find their way into Europe every year for the next 4-5 years. Of course, this depends on a number of circumstances. Are those clubs able to keep their most important players, will Robin Dutt be a good fit for Leverkusen etc.?

    About Barca: I really do understand how one can despise them. They are frustrating to watch, especially if they play against one of your favorite sides. I remember Barca crushing Werder Bremen a few years ago, and watching them being entirely superior wasn’t a pleasant experience. But my word, I love their style of football. When I watch LaLiga matches, it is mostly Barca and Villarreal I watch.

  34. Make no mistake though Anne, all clubs in Europe, Bundesliga included, strive to be where the likes of Barca and United are.t They got where they are today in spite of advantages they may have or how uncompetitive their league is.

    Ferguson for example almost single handedly shifted the power structure in English football and established them as a global brand.

    Barca are doing the same with their style. All that is detached from the lack in parity.

  35. To start with, cheers to Luke for heading me off at the pass – I was of course going to open with the point that Mainz has in fact been in the UEFA Cup, played three matches, and lost the third with a bit of rotten luck by being drawn against the eventual champions, Sevilla (only 2-0 on aggregate!). (See what I did there? Still slipped in more info? You’re shocked, I know.)

    A lot of this has been bouncing around in my mind as I became familiar with the Bundesliga this year. What really helped me to clarify my thoughts was a brilliant post by Brian Phillips over at Slate/Run of Play (it was split in two) about the dual concepts of mastery and parity. He argued that in order to have more football mastery – i.e., fantastic teams that perform well year after year, impressing with their quality and consistency – one must sacrifice parity within a league, and conversely, to have more parity, one must sacrifice some mastery. Neither option is inherently superior, but rather a matter of personal preference. The EPL and La Liga have clearly prioritized mastery – a handful of teams are given the leeway to assemble squads and support systems that result in high performing teams that succeed year after year. The Bundesliga, on the other hand, has clearly prioritized parity. The necessary fallout, which we all recognize and are seeing the consequences of, partially in European performances, is that there is less mastery – that is, less teams that are consistently impressive football machines.

    My use of the word machine there is deliberate, because in my opinion, a Manchester United is profoundly boring and mechanical. Even a Barcelona frustrates me deeply in the way it oppresses the other teams forced to “compete” with it. But there is no question that such machines are effective. They churn out trophies and they dance around the top five club places in Europe/the world without ever really worrying about their perch. With their dominance at home so ingrained, and so supported by the scaffolding upon which it is constructed, they have no problem venturing out into Europe and simply bringing it, every damn year.

    Germany is different. In the Bundesliga, the little guy is given a fighting chance. The money is not inherently skewed. History and sensible finances allows some teams to build more resources than others, of course, but the disparities are not nearly so stark. My (brief) experience shows me that there is less of an inclination to stability than there is to constant change in the Bundesliga – even if something is working, it gets shaken up, and if it’s not working, instead of being given time to work, it gets completely nuked. That kind of thinking will necessarily lead to volatility in the league standings – and thus in the teams that make it to Europe. That their performance there is irregular is not surprising. But Luke makes an excellent point – can this be called “underperforming”? Not necessarily. I’d say it’s performing to exactly the level that the situation in the Bundesliga allows them to.

    Now how does one put a value assignment on all of this? I don’t think you can. I love the Bundesliga fiercely for all of the things it offers that other leagues do not. Even though I have chosen an EPL team for myself, the league itself does absolutely nothing for me. I wouldn’t touch La Liga with a 50 foot pole (except to admire the glorious Özil, of course). But the Bundesliga has a spirit, a sass to it that I just love. It’s a bit unruly, it’s a bit inexplicable, but it is a whole hell of a lot of fun. If the consequence of that is that we don’t have a bunch of robot teams chugging their way to European glory every year, then you know what? So be it. I’d take our wacky league over a tilted playing surface any day.

  36. Niklas-

    I’m not suggesting, you should have done a case-study about the volatility, I’m just saying that it would probably be required to really come to a conclusion to the question you pose as your section title.

    It’s possible I misinterpreted what you meant too, as you could have meant “most German clubs have underperformed *in the Bundesliga* when *also* playing in Europe.

    Anyhow, you seemed to stand by the comments as I originally interpreted them in your reply, so to that I would say–ok, German teams have appeared in less semi-finals/ finals than England Spain & Italy..but does it automatically follow that the German teams have underperformed? Or is it that the teams representing those other 3 countries have simply been better? It’s not underperforming unless the German teams *should* have been in more semi-finals or finals. That may be your opinion, and there may be a convincing argument for it, but I’m not prepared to call it a certainty.

    I did listen to the pod segment you’re talking about, and in fact made comments about some of the topics you’ve now covered in this post. I could go back and listen to pinpoint what I’m talking about, but I recall Kevin was a bit unclear on some of the weighting in the coefficient calculation. Bottom line is, it’s a silly argument-the coefficient is calculated according to the rules as they are written, the same way goals are calculated in matches. It doesn’t cheapen or invalidate Germany’s rise in the standings if their achievements have been greater in the EL. One can just as easily argue Spain’s coefficient is overly inflated by Sevilla winning back to back UEFA Cups, but not many people are going to dispute the Spanish league is one of the top 2.

  37. nice piece Niklas.

    So the question is : Will Bundesliga rather forego the unpredictability and excitement that makes them popular to gain success in Europe? If you ask the Spanish, most of non Madrid & Barça fans would sign up for exciting + equal opportunity league vs a duopoly

  38. I dont quite agree with top teams have ability field two squads. Both Barça & Madrid rotate very less max 15 players. That is hardly 2 seperate squads ( i am discounting inconsequential games at the end of the group stage). A lot of it is to do with the high quality of the first 11 and then there is the experience bit.

  39. Where to start. Well, you are right on Mainz. They did in fact play 2 matches in the Uefa cup in 2005. I’ll change that. thanks for pointing that out.

    I agree with you 100% on the DFB cup finalists that actually made it to Europe.

    About underperforming, it has to be said that German sides rarely reach European finals, compared to their English, Spanish and Italian counterparts. For most of the 10 year period I am talking about in this article no German sides reached the Champions league semi finals. Germany going past Italy is solely a result of how the Uefa coefficient is weighted. Kevin Walker from Serie A weekly was on our podcast 2 weeks ago, and made some interesting points about that.

    Well, I am just touching upon the volatility of the league, I am not trying to give a full fledged explanation of it. The study you suggest would be interesting, but I am afraid that I don’t have the time to conduct it.

    Regarding LvG I agree, he should have brought in some new blood before the beginning of the season.

    Thanks a lot for your comment, I really appreciate it.

  40. There are to ways to “perform”. One is as a league and in the format of a multi stage tournament, the other is to actually win. In the latter Germany have been outperformed by even Portugal.

  41. Niklas, I’ll start by nitpicking a particular fact you list before someone else you’re acquainted with does-Mainz has qualified for Europe before, it’s just that was via a “fair play” bid from UEFA. But yeah, it would be their first time qualifying from a top 5. Hertha also got into Europe a few years ago after finishing 10th via the fair play spot.

    It’s also interesting to consider throwaways like Union Berlin and Alemannia Aachen, who both qualified for Europe via losing the Pokal final when they weren’t even in the Bundesliga. This kind of thing seems to happen in smaller federations with some frequency (Scotland!) but don’t recall it happening much in other larger ones. It’s just a blip within your statistics, but I bring it up b/c it could happen with Duisburg this season. Interestingly, Aachen made it out of the group stage in their UEFA Cup season.

    I am confused by your statement towards the end when you say “most German clubs have underperformed in Europe”. They can’t have underperformed too much if they surpassed Italy, and it certainly wasn’t on the strength of Bayern alone–Bremen deserves just as much credit on that score. And personally I would say teams like Hertha in the EL last season really over-performed.

    Either way, it doesn’t quite explain the volatility in league standings, which is an analysis worthy of a thesis rather than a post. 50+1 does level the playing field to a degree unquestionably-but I think one almost has to do case-studies to figure out the trajectories of many of these clubs.

    Finally, funny how the only club that could afford a competent B squad didn’t want to under Van Gaal. Might have saved him a lot of trouble both this season and last season.

  42. Bayern are the only club in Germany that have the finical ability to field two equally strong teams. Of the top of my head, I can remember how Hitzfeld played 9 midfielders in the Champions League winning season, and all of them got 20+ matches in the Bundesliga.

    In the case of Dortmund it has to be said that the low Uefa club ranking put them in a group with two sides that could be considered to be amongst the team that could achieve a lot in this competition. Going up against Sevilla and PSG with such an unexperienced team is a tough task.

    But, you are right, there is a depth issue. Defense behind Hummels and Subotic is thin. Sahin is very vital and almost irreplaceable, and Lewandowski has done all right in first Bundesliga season, but is nowhere near being a proper replacement for Barrios.

    Dortmund have to buy two-three players this summer, and spent their cash wisely. The 5 million euros they usually spent is not going to cut it this time around if they want to do well in the Champions League.

  43. OM, do we want the ownership rules to change, so oil tycoons can turn BuLi clubs into their playthings? Fixing the TV rights/money thing seems a better place to start.

  44. Excellent analysis Nik. Several of those clubs at the top of the rankings have the ability to field two squads–one for league and one for Europe. Perhaps the financial restrictions brought about by ownership inhibit Bundesliga clubs from doing the same. Looking at BvB this season–dazzling in the league but with roughly the same squad, a wash-out in mid-week European matches. Quality is there–depth the issue?

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