We’re getting used to headlines about the struggling Eurozone economy and stories of the changing landscape in the region, but Bayern Munich’s spectacular 4-0 victory against Barcelona may well herald a shift in power in Europe. While Germany is pivotal to everything that happens in the financial world, it is increasingly looking like the start of a new era dominated by German football.
We’ve been saying for a while that Germany has the optimal business model for high level professional football. But while the Spanish were tiki-taka-ing their way to European Championships and World Cups, not to mention UEFA club competitions, everyone felt something was missing around the German game – possibly merely affirmation. But Bayern’s feeble display against Chelsea in last season’s final indicated that Munich’s finest were not yet ready to step up. They are now.
Bayern are playing a fresh type of power football. It’s not often that Barca are outplayed, but they were in the Allianz stadium. Has Messi ever been so anonymous? Barca looked positively dwarfish compared to the powerful running of Schweinsteiger, the trickery of Robben and the towering presence of Alba at the back. Bayern’s height, pace and strength were too much for Barca, who suddenly look a team in need of inspiration.
Perhaps what Barca really need, to use corporate parlance when someone has been fired, is to “seek fresh challenges”. Let’s fly in the face of popular and misguided opinion, and admit that La Liga rarely tests either Barca or Real, despite the occasional flutter from Atletico Madrid and Valencia. As someone said on TV, “Barca are not used to defending”.
Equally pertinent is that most great teams only go on for three or four years, certainly in terms of global or continental dominance. It’s different on the domestic front, as Manchester United, Barca and Real, Juventus and the Milans have shown. But more broadly, the guard has changed frequently, witness past eras when Ajax, Bayern, Liverpool, Real and Milan have ruled the Pan-European game. There were hints of it in Milan and in Paris, but Munich confirmed it – Barca’s time may be coming to an end.
And there’s a growing feeling that Spanish clubs, the big two aside, will struggle to remain competitive in Europe in the very near future. Why? The nation’s economy is floundering, unemployment is astronomically high and young people are trying to leave the country in their droves. Most clubs are in serious financial order and it’s not going to get any easier. What will be easier will be Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on domestic football, because the others will be even less equipped to compete. This is not good for either club as it’s no good being the only shop in a parade of derelict outlets. Just look at Scotland as an example of a duopoly that has killed off the opposition.
When you see a packed Nou Camp or Bernebeu, and know that outside of that rarefied atmosphere, people are struggling with their daily lives, it does seem to echo the “bread and circuses” philosophy of the Romans.
Germany, by contrast, is in rude health compared to the rest of Europe. Therefore, German clubs, with their reasoned approach to corporate governance, will continue to prosper and that means they will challenge Bayern, who, let’s not forget, missed out on the Bundesliga in the last two years. This year, Bayern walked to the title, something that’s quite unusual in Germany, but still, you don’t get the feeling that Bayern and Dortmund are the Wagnerian equivalents of Real and Barca.
While most of the footballing world is either bankrupt or teetering on the brink of it, the ultra-conservative German model, comprising fan ownership and stringent financial controls, will flourish. Bayern Munich, with Pep Guardiola waiting in the wings, look set to be at the top of that pile. Get used to lederhosen, steins of foaming beer and hats with little feathers. Forgive the stereotyping, but have you been to Munich recently? The Bavarians are back….