Bayern Munich had won a record-extending ninth straight Bundesliga title on Saturday before they even beat Borussia Mönchengladbach handsomely. RB Leipzig relinquished their challenge after defeat in Dortmund.
Two small wobbles in January and February aside — the latter following an additional trip to Qatar for the Club World Cup — Hansi Flick’s side have once again dominated domestic competition.
Thomas Müller has also issued an emphatic response to his detractors after Joachim Löw kicked him out of the Germany squad, while Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka deserve plaudits for their exploits both on and off the pitch.
Although Bayern Munich clearly deserve their title, such dominance is not good for anyone. It’s not good for the league, it’s not good for the supporters, it’s not good for the sponsors ― and it’s surely not even that good for Bayern.
So, what can be done? There are no easy answers ― however, if last month’s furious reactions to the Super League have taught us anything, it’s that change is possible.
1. Redistribution of television money
In August last year, with the fragile state of football’s finances laid bare by the pandemic, German fan initiative Unser Fussball („Our Football“) officially presented a series of concepts for reform.
Alongside demands to strengthen the 50+1 rule and ideas to protect football from dubious investors, there was also a demand for redistribution of broadcasting and media rights revenue.
This season, Bayern Munich received an estimated €70.26m ($85 million), over twice as much as Arminia Bielefeld or Union Berlin, even before factoring in Champions League money from UEFA.
Given the immense sums Bayern and other top European clubs are also able to generate via their huge sponsorship deals, domestic broadcasting revenues could be distributed equally, so that the teams at the bottom receive just as much as those at the top.
2. Salary cap
Hailed as an „interesting idea“ by Bayern Munich’s CEO Karl Heinz Rummenigge last year when the pandemic caused endless financial stress for clubs, salary caps could level the playing field somewhat.
Currently, a salary cap would violate European law ― but were UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin to approach the European Union about the idea, he would certainly have the support of DFL (German Football League) CEO Christian Seifert.
A limit on how much players can earn, as well as how much teams can spend on its entire squad, could be a huge help in making the Bundesliga more competitive. If Bayern can’t spend €80 million on a single player, then surely that would help?
Given that it would likely need all 55 UEFA members on board though, this is probably the most complicated option. It does have support, however, and so perhaps some form of this approach might work.
3. The rest just have to do better
It’s all well and good trying to handicap Bayern Munich, but perhaps chasing the pack needs to start closer to home.
Of course, the pandemic has caused problems for all clubs. But even before the pandemic, several of Germany’s biggest names have been falling way short of expectations for years now.
Borussia Dortmund’s policy of buying up Europe’s best young players before selling them on at a premium might have boosted their reputation as a talent factory and allowed to make economic progress off the pitch. But the flip side of that is high squad turnover, inconsistency and inexperience, which leads to situations such as the 2018 to 2019 season, when the Black and Yellows blew a nine-point lead.
RB Leipzig are arguably even more guilty. The Red Bull franchise have spent a net €176 million on transfers since their arrival in the Bundesliga in 2016 (more than any other Bundesliga club) and have recruited 20 players from their farm team in Salzburg ― a ready-made supply line which no other competitor benefits from. In April 2019, Red Bull simply converted €100 million of liabilities into club equity for RB, money which has since helped them through the pandemic. Given such backing, they should arguably be doing better.
As for the rest of Germany’s traditional giants, where to start? Schalke, technically the country’s second biggest club with 160,000 members, have spend the last few years self-destructing and have already been relegated. The fourth-biggest, Cologne (111,500 members), could yet join them in what would be a seventh relegation since 1998. That takes some doing.
Elsewhere, Hamburg look set to spend a fourth season in the second division after missing out on promotion again, while the likes of Nuremberg, Hannover, Dresden, Kaiserslautern, 1860 Munich and others have fallen even lower. Mismanagement and sporting failure are rife.
HSV, Germany’s seventh-biggest club and 1983 European Cup winners, are facing a fourth year in division two
4. Removal of the 50+1 rule
German football’s 50+1 ownership rule has received increased attention this week after playing a role in keeping Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund out of the proposed Super League.
It’s also at the heart of why top-level football remains more accessible and fan-friendly in Germany, with vibrant community atmospheres, standing terraces, cheaper tickets and more sociable kick-off times.
But the rule also explicitly discourages investment on the sort of scale which could perhaps help German clubs compete against their English counterparts, since potential investors can never have majority control over their investments.
One such investor who has complained about just that is Martin Kind of second-division side Hannover, who has threatened to try and have the 50+1 rule declared illegal in the European Courts.
But would scrapping the 50+1 rule really level the playing field? Or would the biggest clubs today just attract the richest owners tomorrow? And what if those owners ― American venture capitalists, Russian oligarchs and human rights-abusing Middle Eastern states ― one day decided to break away and form a Super League?
Surely they wouldn’t try that …