The Talent Spread
La Liga is now often held up as the best league in the world and understandably so. Both Barcelona and Spain (with 11 La Liga players) are the current world champions. However, it is hard to argue that the talent in that Spain side is representive of the league as a whole. In the semi-final against Germany the side was made up of 6 players from Barcelona, 3 from Real Madrid and 1 each from Valencia and Villarreal. Contrast this with their German opponents that day who also fielded 11 players from their national league. Germany fielded 1 Schalke, 2 Hamburg, 1 Hertha Berlin, 2 Werder Bremen, 3 Bayern, 1 Stuttgart and 1 Cologne player. This talent spread is something of which the Bundesliga can be proud, with many of the teams boasting stars of the national team in their midst.
Multiple Title Challengers
The upshot of this talent spread, of course, is that the Bundesliga is capable of producing multiple title challengers. A look at the league tables for the past 10 years makes for somewhat depressing reading for those who to choose to peddle the myth that what makes the Premiership the best league in the world (trademark of Sky) is the fact that anyone can beat anyone. Over the past 10 Premier league seasons only Newcastle, once, have broken the current Big Four’s monopoly of the top 3 positions in the table. In that same period the Bundesliga has seen Bayern, Schalke, Dortmund, Leverkusen, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Hamburg all finish in the top 3 positions. Throw in the fact that Hertha Berlin have also finished 4th on 3 occasions and you get a picture of a league where there genuinely is all to play for. And it is all to play for: in the Premiership, Newcastle are 9th favourites for the title with the bookies at a huge 1000/1. Meanwhile, Freiburg are dead last in the betting to win the Bundesliga at a mere 500/1. It is an eye-opening contrast.
Perhaps it is the ongoing hopes of success entertained by so many different clubs that is part of the reason behind the Bundesliga having the highest attendances of any league in the world. Manchester City were the 3rd best supported side in the Premiership last season with an average of 45,512. Incredibly, this would have placed them behind Borussia Moenchengladbach as the 9th best supported team in the Bundesliga. From the intimidating atmosphere of Schalke in Gelsenkirchen to the remarkable spectacle on the Sudtribune at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund, these high attendances help to create the unique atmosphere of German football.
Of course, these attendance levels are aided by the low ticket prices in Germany. A ticket for the Sudtribune at Dortmund, the world’s largest stand, averages as little as £13. The comparison with Birmingham City of England who were charging as much as £45 a ticket as long ago as 2005 is truly astonishing. In Germany, the fan is king.
Fan power is also evident in the altogether more stable mode of ownership in Germany. Until the mid-90s clubs were 100% members clubs and even now the 50 + 1 rule is in place meaning that no single entity can control more than 49% of the club. There are exceptions to this rule, Wolfsburg for example, but in these cases the controlling entity must have been financially invested in the club for longer than 20 years, thus demonstrating their commitment and avoiding many of the problems currently engulfing English club ownership.
And for 2010/11….
For those of us in the UK there is an added intrigue this season with former England coach Steve McClaren now at the helm of the 2009 champions Wolfsburg. When you also factor in the arrival of Raul at Schalke, there are plenty of clubs with good reason to be optimistic about their chances this coming season. And, after all, isn’t that just the beauty of the Bundesliga?