Bundesliga: The Gap Between The Best And The Rest Is Growing

Ultimately, it didn’t matter that Bayern Munich suffered something of a mini-crisis at the start of the season, that they had to change managers, dismissing Carlo Ancelotti in September to replace him with Jupp Heynckes. It didn’t matter that many of their best players failed to find top form for much of the campaign. For the sixth straight year, the Bavarians were crowned German champions and their coronation came with five games to spare.

It was an illustration of Bayern Munich’s dominance of the Bundesliga. Even when they are far from their best, they are good enough to stroll to the title. This could constitute something of an identity crisis for the German top flight. The Bundesliga, not so long ago, was billed as Europe’s most inherently competitive league. That was its biggest selling point, the reason is attracted so many fans. Now, after six successive Bayern Munich title wins, it doesn’t seem so competitive.

This doesn’t say much for the rest of the chasing pack, for Schalke, for Borussia Dortmund, for Bayer Leverkusen and the rest. Between 2007 and 2011, four different teams won the Bundesliga, with Stuttgart, Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg and Dortmund all finishing top of the pile at different points. Those triumphs feel a long time ago, though.

The Bundesliga might restrict foreign ownership of clubs, they might have Safe Standing for fans and sell quality, German lager on tap at every ground, but they have succumbed to the elitism that threatens the European game as a whole. The gap between the best and the rest is growing and Bayern Munich have become the embodiment of this plight.

Champions League revenue is Key to catch up to Bayern Munich

Of course, Bayern Munich have long been German football’s predominant force in terms of stature and size. Where they are now untouchable is in their guaranteed Champions League revenue. With the chasing pack jostling for position behind Bayern, no one team has used that Champions League money to draw them closer to the Bavarians.

Essentially, if Bayern Munich’s supremacy is to be challenged in the future, one or two consistent teams must rise into the Champions League places and make their position there stick. Only through consistent European revenue can teams like Dortmund, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen get close to the Bavarians at the top of the Bundesliga.

At present, though, no true challenger has emerged from the pack. Every season, there is an expectation placed on Borussia Dortmund to compete, given that they were the last German side to topple Bayern Munich, but they are a club going backwards rather than forwards. The same can be said for so many in the Bundesliga.

What’s more, Bayern Munich still have their pick of the bunch. Leon Goretzka, for instance, has become a key figure for Schalke over the past few seasons, but this summer he will pitch up at the Allianz Arena to sign for the champions. Just like Nicklas Sule, Sandro Wagner, Serge Gnabry, Sebastian Rudy, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski before him.

These moves provide the starkest depiction of Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga dominance, but it’s something of a catch 22 situation for the German game – not until clubs can count on consistent Champions League revenue will they be able to keep their best players, but without their best players consistent Champions League revenue will prove beyond them. The Bundesliga isn’t alone in the current issues it is facing – look across Europe at the lack of true title races – but its predicament is most acute.

*Odds were correct at time of publishing the article

Graham Ruthven is a football writer based in Glasgow working for the Guardian, Eurosport, Yahoo, FourFourTwo and others.

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