FOR THE first time in years, Bayern Munich have had to scramble to retain their Bundesliga title. It is far from certain that they will be successful as they are two points behind Borussia Dortmund with one game to go. Bayern will travel to Koln on May 27, while BVB will host Mainz. If Dortmund succeed, it may well send the Bavarians into a tail-spin of panic; they have not been used to being challenged on the domestic front for a decade and it’s obvious they don’t enjoy it, as the knee-jerk dismissal of Julian Nagelsmann demonstrated. Just what failure will do to the future of Thomas Tuchel remains to be seen.
Bayern lost their way at home to RB Leipzig by 3-1 in their last fixture, a result that suggests RB are getting used to managing big games. They won the DFB Pokal last season and they’re back in the final again this season and will play Eintracht Frankfurt on June 3 in Berlin.
Dortmund have, at times, been quite stunning to watch, especially at home, where they have scored 53 goals in 16 games and won all but two. They’ve lost just once, a slip-up against Bremen, and drawn one game, with Bayern, and have attracted an average of 81,000 to their famous stadium.
Bayern have missed the goals of Robert Lewandowski, who moved to Barcelona for € 45 million, and they have others like Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller who are coming to the end of their time at the club. Dortmund’s mix of experience and younger, promising players such as Jude Bellingham, Nico Schlotterbeck and Karim Adeyemi makes for an energetic team that knows their time could be now – such is the power of Bayern that next season they will surely regroup and strengthen. This BVB side, which overcame the loss of Erling Haaland and Manuel Akanji to Manchester City and Axel Witsel to Atletico Madrid in pre-season, has to win the Bundesliga in 2022-23.
And if they do become champions, it will be good for Germany and a victory for those that want club football to be more democratic. In the past 10 years, Bayern, PSG, Manchester City, Juventus, Real and Barcelona have stood astride their domestic leagues. In 2022-23, there’s been a little chink of light in the form of Napoli in Italy, Arsenal in England and Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
Across Europe, you cannot get away from the fact that most leagues have been, and will continue to be, governed by one or two (and maybe three) major clubs. In the last five years, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia have only known one champion. In some countries, such as Scotland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, France, Belgium and Bulgaria, one club is the dominant force with the occasional deviation provided by a rival that is only a limited window to shine.
Dortmund and Bayern are among the very top clubs in terms of crowd appeal – there are 23 clubs that attract 50,000 or more in Europe and the German duo are at the summit. The Bundesliga’s overall attendances are still at the top, with an average of almost 43,000, although the Premier League is closing the gap with gates above 40,000.
Dortmund have developed a reputation for being an excellent stepping stone for players, hiring them at reasonable prices or nurturing them from youth and selling them on for a profit. Jadon Sancho was one such player and England international Bellingham will surely be the next to move, possibly to Real Madrid if you believe the rumour-mill. Over the past 10 years, Dortmund have spent € 840 million on players, but have received € 923 million from sales. The net effect is a positive of € 83 million. Bayern, by contrast, have a net spend of € 340 million in the same timeframe.
Coach Edin Terzic returned to BVB in the summer of 2022 after the departure of Marco Rose and it is clear he has been behind their transformation into potential champions. The final day of the Bundesliga season approaches and it could be a landmark moment for German football. Dortmund may be in the driving seat, but as we all know, Bayern Munich can never be written off. They have been in this position before and if they are deposed, it won’t be long before they regain the top prize.