By Peter Staunton
"I find the idea of two or three teams pulling away not good. We can't be comfortable with that." Those were the words of the Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness only last week regarding the state of play in the Bundesliga. A German top division which parallels the Spanish Liga with Bayern and Borussia Dortmund fulfilling the roles of Barcelona and Real Madrid is not a competition in anything else but name and certainly not an entity to be greeted with much enthusiasm.
With Dortmund dominating the German landscape in recent seasons, and Bayern never far away during that period, the possibility of the Bundesliga becoming a closed-shop was forebodingly palpable. The signing of Mario Gotze by Bayern from their closest rivals, though, hastens Jurgen Klopp's fears - a one-team Bundesliga ruled by Bayern like Celtic rule Scotland's pitiful Premier League. "I fear a situation like Scotland with only one team," he said ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid. "Next year, we will see the Bayern team and say: 'Oops! [Uli] Hoeness will not have been right about 'Spanish conditions'."
|BAYERN'S SHOPPING LIST|
It's not Spain, it's twice as bad.
Part of Klopp's statement was designed to camouflage his side's status as genuine contenders in Germany and wider Europe but he cannot have reasonably expected his prophecy to come to pass with such immediacy. This season Bayern are 20 points clear in their domestic league. They have lost one league match all season, conceding, on average, about a goal every two matches. They will score 100 before the campaign is out. To this dynamic juggernaut next season will be added the coaching and psychological nous of Pep Guardiola, heralded as the best coach in recent memory. A man whose managerial honour sheet runs longer than most clubs'.
And on Tuesday Bayern were back doing what they do best; abrasively announcing the signing of one of the Bundesliga's star players. That their academy is now one of the best in the world is no matter here. 'FC Hollywood' have a long history of hoovering up the competition's best players and, with that, distorting the very fabric of the league, by throwing their power, money and leverage around. Claudio Pizarro, Michael Ballack, Lucio, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez are just some of the names, in recent memory, to have signed for Bayern after impressing for other clubs in Germany's top flight. Each transfer was met with a sigh of futility by the rest of the competing teams. What chance do they have when Bayern are spending sums exceeding entire some club budgets on one player? Backed by south German sponsors the scale of Audi and Adidas, there is no way Bayern can be caught in a financial and, increasingly, a sporting sense.
What followed the leaking of the news of Gotze's signing was evidence of the callous disregard in which Bayern hold their domestic competitors, their aspirations and ambitions. It is no disaster for Bayern that Dortmund eyes will have been taken from the prize just before a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. It is no disaster either that, for now, German eyes will have been taken off the stinking heap that is Hoeness' alleged tax dodge, which has led to accusations of hypocrisy against them.
As a European superclub they are looming back into view like an eclipse, casting a giant shadow over the rest of their domestic league. Their two-year spell in the trophy wilderness is over. Rapidly, the league is becoming Bayern's own personal fiefdom which exists to sustain them first and foremost.
|"I fear a situation like Scotland with only one team. People will look at Bayern and say Hoeness was wrong about 'Spanish conditions'"
- Jurgen Klopp
News of the signing of Mario Gotze in a potential €37 million deal seeped out overnight, barely 36 hours before Dortmund were to play their most important continental fixture in 16 years. What effect the news will have on the squad is unfathomable. Here was the jewel in the Dortmund crown; a player coveted by every club in Europe who was uniquely, identifiably BVB's. He is to leave; for wages and conditions unmatched elsewhere in the world. It is conceivable that the entire Bundesliga playing staff is now waiting for Bayern's call. No player is off their radar, off their limits, beyond their means. Normal service not only resumed but, frighteningly, accelerated.
The German league in recent seasons has been one of the more open and entertaining in Europe. Five different teams since 2004 have claimed the shield. But the fact of the matter remains this: If Bayern Munich perform to expectations, they win the league. They have done so 23 times in 50 attempts. It's a shock when they don't win it. By snaffling this key asset from a direct rival Bayern have made the inevitable a whole lot more inevitable and reminded Dortmund who's boss.