By Peter Staunton
Felix Magath, interviewed by the Hamburger Morgenpost this week, was asked about Bayern Munich's dominance of the Bundesliga and the increasing strength of Borussia Dortmund, as well as Bayer Leverkusen. It was put to him that it would be only a matter of time until the German top flight mirrors other league across Europe: the same teams finishing in the Champions League spots year after year.
He disagreed - but only in the sense that he believed that time had already come. He'd been thinking about a solution, too. "The clubs that play Champions League football have a huge advantage," the former Bayern coach said. "That's why you should exclude them from the national competition. A European league would be fairer."
A continental 'super league' is, at this stage, an inevitability - and for many reasons. The only uncertainties are when it will begin and what form it will take. Across Europe, the biggest clubs in the most popular leagues hoover up the talent and stroll through domestic programmes, the odd blip aside. After all, Bayern have been beaten four times in two years in the Bundesliga.
|BUNDESLIGA RECORD IN 2013
More often than not, though, visiting teams give up before a ball has been kicked when pitted against the strongest clubs. Sometimes it all feels like a massive waste of time. Despite assertions to the contrary, that pattern is being replicated in the Bundesliga. There can be no denying it. The Bundesliga likes to think of itself as some sort of competitive utopia where anyone can beat anyone. Not true. Look at Dortmund's recent, almost apologetically facile 6-1 win over Stuttgart as evidence of that.
The last time that the Bundesliga was a wilderness in which any team could thrive was 2009, when Wolfsburg won it, under Magath. That season, the points gap that covered the top six in the league stood at 10. It grew to 15 in 2009-10. In both 2010-11 and 2011-12, it was 28. Last season, it was 40. Meanwhile, the points gap between the sixth-placed team and the bottom team has been as good as stagnant. Thirty-one points in 2008-09, 31 again in 2009-10, 18 in 2010-11, and 30 in each of the last two seasons. So, while the gap between the top team and the contenders has risen 400 per cent in five seasons, the rest have stood still.
"Too many teams are satisfied with mediocrity," was Magath's assessment of it. The quality in the Bundesliga, from positions six to 18, is best described as middling. It is quite true that any team can beat any other team but only if you exclude Bayern, Dortmund and now Leverkusen from the equation. So long as the best of the rest remain locked out of the Champions League places, they are content to merely exist in the top flight - because those three Champions League places are unobtainable in now.
Schalke earned €27,980,000 for their participation in the 2012-13 edition of the Champions League. Borussia Dortmund took €54,161,000. Bayern earned €55,046,000 for winning it. Replace Schalke with Bayer Leverkusen and you have an approximation of the figures for the next few seasons. That is money available to no other clubs in Germany. The gap grows wider by the day now, as it does all over Europe. Flush with Champions League cash, the hegemony is perpetuated.
Last season, Schalke pipped Freiburg for fourth place. That is as good as it will ever get for Freiburg. They were punished, heavily, for finishing fifth. All their best players left, including Max Kruse, and they are struggling to compete in the Europa League and the Bundesliga at the same time. They've won one match all season. It's a similar story to Borussia Monchengladbach the year before: they finished fourth and lost their three best players - Marco Reus and Dante to Dortmund and Bayern, respectively, and Roman Neustadter to Schalke.
Traditionally, it was Bayern who poached the Bundesliga's best talent, from Mario Basler to Mario Gotze. Now there are two teams doing it. Think of Dortmund as the underdogs all you like but the signings of Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and Sokratis Papastathopolous show that they have just as much wrecking-ball potential as Bayern in the Bundesliga transfer market.
It's futile, worthless even, for the rest to even to try to to compete. All they can do is lose. In that respect, Magath is right.
It might seem, now, that Bayern and Dortmund exemplify the brave new world of German football. But the league is being choked by their wealth and strength. A European league would indeed be a more fitting environment for Germany's 'Big Two'. They could compete with the other super clubs and end the distortion of the domestic competition.