Germany is a country where business is, to some extent, protected. Germany’s social contract is far more people-friendly than many of its European counterparts. Some call it protectionism, but others may consider that is merely being very civilized. But right now, a country that, traditionally, has disliked the concept of monopolies may have overlooked that its most successful sporting entity, Bayern Munich, is doing its best to kill the Bundesliga for the next few years.
Ah yes, Monopoly. That’s quite appropriate when you talk about Bayern Munich. You can now buy a version of the famous board game all about Bayern. In reality, they have the Bundesliga wrapped up this season, and probably for 2014-15. They have no credible rival for their title and they’ve just made it even tougher for the others in snatching Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund, the only club that has been able to look Bayern in the eye with any seriousness over the past coupke of years. That makes it Borussia’s two best players making the switch to Bavaria, Mario Goetze moving south in the summer.
There’s little anyone else can do about this, unless you introduce the sort of system that America use for its own sports, creating a democracy where anyone can come out on top. But in many countries, the top clubs simply refuse to sell their prized assets to a major rival.
Spain or Scotland?
Bayern have done it all before, of course – eyeing successful opponents and taking their best men, inevitably sending that club on a downward spiral while strengthening their own hand. That’s sporting capitalism for you. It happened with Leverkusen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg and now Dortmund have been rendered impotent. There’s a little hope, though, as Dortmund have more muscle than the rest.
The big danger here is that this time, Bayern have swept up even more talent when they already have a huge advantage in Germany. Is there a degree of hypocrisy about this? Only last season, Bayern’s Uli Hoeness, one of the shrewdest men in European football, expressed his concern that Germany was lurching into a “Spanish situation”, with Bayern and Dortmund filling the places [perpetually] occupied by Barcelona and Real Madrid and wiping out all who come before them.
What’s actually happened is that Germany are not creating a Barca-Real axis, but they are moving into “Scottish” territory, with one club taking the Celtic role in winning the title by a huge margin year-after-year. That leaves the only hope for big clubs like Schalke, Hamburg and Leverkusen is second place and a crack at UEFA Champions League qualification.
No-one passes go
It’s quite realistic that Bayern could go the whole Bundesliga season without defeat. Who will beat them? And with Lewandowski joining them, the task just got harder.
Monopolies are never good for football. Part of the reason this season’s English Premier is shaping up nicely is that Manchester United will certainly not be running away with [another] title. In Europe, Bayern and Juventus look to have their championships pretty much sewn up and you just know PSG will take it in France. It’s left to La Liga and the Premier to keep a little uncertainty bubbling in Europe’s main leagues.
The strong and rich will always be successful, but without some degree of uncertainty, the fantasy of football will not flourish. Bayern are merely consolidating an already fearsome dominance in Germany. The question is, when you are the best, and your competitors can only look up to you, how many more arrows do you need in your quiver to win your domestic league. Do you really need to spend so much money? It’s a question that Glasgow Rangers could answer for you. No, it’s European supremacy that Bayern are after, but in the meantime, they will be happy to be “flat-track bullies” on their own turf.
Bayern, appropriately, are much admired. It’s easy to forget that the uber-club we now see standing astride Europe did not win their league in 2011 and 2012 – that was Dortmund. We look on in awe at the German business model for football and again, quite rightly so. But let’s not kid ourselves that Bayern’s first choice line-up is a team comprising home-grown talent. It’s not. They have used their incredible wealth to buy a team: Neuer, arguably the best keeper in Europe, cost EUR 22m from Schalke; Arjen Robben signed from Real Madrid (EUR 25m); Franck Ribery was picked up from Marseille (EUR 25m); Kroos came from Hansa Rostock and Mandzukic from Wolfsburg; Alcantara was lured from Barcelona (EUR 25m) and Boateng arrived from Manchester City (EUR 13.5m). Players like Thomas Mueller and Philip Lahm were essentially from the Bayern system.
Bayern’s cheque-book building has been in the cause of sustaining their position among Europe’s elite. They have already reached the Champions League final three times in the last four years, and the way they are going in 2013-14, they could become the first team to retain the trophy.
But for German football fans, the outlook is starting to look grim. In the last 10 years, there have been five Bundesliga champions: Werder Bremen (2004); Bayern Munich (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013); Wolfsburg (2009) and Borussia Dortmund (2011, 2012). The playing field, as the old cliché goes, is no longer level and we’ve seen just how easily Leverkusen and Schalke were rolled-over by Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, so it would seem Bayern will have no contenders for their crown for some time. This may make the Bundesliga somewhat less attractive than it has been over the past few years. Bayern’s overwhelming triumph may be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.