Friday, July 30, 2010

The Bundesliga and Raul, not ready for prime time just yet

One of the points that my fellow footy fan and podcasting partner in crime has made was the rise of the Bundesliga. Sam aka the Gooner, has made the point that the German league was poised to surpass Italy and join England and Spain as the "big three" domestic league. This was reflected in some commentary I have read, the catalyst for this was the fact the Bundesliga was the most profitable league in Europe this past season - only the second time that the EPL was not the most profitable league since its inception in 1992. Add to this the fact that the Bundesliga has jumped Italy with regards to the Champions League - Serie A will send 3 while Germany will get 4 sides in the Champions League (starting in the 2011-12 edition). Finally, Bayern Munich had a great run to the finals of the Champions League - defeating Manchester United along the way as well as Hamburg in the Europa League reaching the semi finals. Of course the German national team is always in the conversation when it comes to European Cups or World Cups. So put this all together and it would make sense to see the Bundesliga as the domestic league most likely to challenge the EPL for top spot. However the transfer of Real Madrid striker Raul to Schalke gave me pause for thought.

Raul reminding us who wore the 7 shirt in Madrid
Raul is clearly on the tail end of what was a successful career, however it is surprising to see him leave Real. Especially considering 2 years ago he was given a "life time" contract. Raul had the opportunity to move to the EPL or the MLS, but instead decided to try his luck in Germany. This could be seen as another indicator of the rise of German domestic football...or that the Bundesliga is still far behind the EPL and La Liga. Why? To me what this shows is that Germany can attract marquee names, but those that are on the decline not the rise. Couple this with the return of Ballack as well as Lehmann a few seasons ago from the EPL and you seem to have a net gain of stars, but those on the down. Granted, Bayern was able to get Ribery from Marseilles when he was heavily linked to the EPL. However those big name moves are few and far between. On the flip side, some of the up and coming names from the Bundesliga are all rumored to be moving to....the EPL, La Liga or even Serie A. Players such as Ozil, Khedira and Dzeko are all on the wish lists of the Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Milan, Inter, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even Scheweinsteiger is rumored on the Real Madrid radar. The aforementioned Ribery was heavily linked to Chelsea and Real Madrid prior to the World Cup and his resigning with the German Champion surprised many. So what does this mean? Clearly if the Bundesliga want to challenge to be one of the top 3 domestic leagues, they cannot allow their young star players escape to the fields of Spain, Italy or England. Until the Bundesliga are signing established name stars, who are in their primes, they will always be chasing the current big three.

The Raul signing is another indicator of how much further the Bundesliga needs to go in order to be considered truly the 3rd or 2nd league of Europe. Being profitable will assist with this task, but until they can match the marketing heft of the EPL, Barcelona, Real Madrid or even the big Italian clubs they will always be chasing these leagues.


SSJ said...

Good post Frog, but you knew I'd quibble a little bit. A good recent example of a win for the Bundesliga is the Danish center-back, Schlaar, moving to Wolfsburg from Italy. That was a coupe for Germany. Also, the fact that Bayern, Hamburg, Stuggart, Wolfsburg, Schalke and to a lesser degree, Leverkusen and Bremen, spending big money is more balanced than the situation in the other three big leagues, Ligue 1 too.

Final points:
The Bundesliga's youth development system is just really starting to show its strength, and I think it will end up powering the Bundesliga with players like Muller, etc. for years and years, and offer a real competitive advantage.

When (and it is when) the cash-strapped, debt-laden clubs in Serie A, La Liga and the EPL fall off the financial cliff, the Bundesliga will be ready to benefit.

Anonymous said...

"Until the Bundesliga are signing established name stars, who are in their primes, they will always be chasing the current big three."

Manchester United and Arsenal don`t sign established name stars either.

GFC said...

@SSJ....quibble away!

I would argue the following - the signing of Schlaar was a "big" move but we are also talking about a center-back. In a way that move is a net gain of zero since 2 seasons ago another center back - Lucio who I would argue is a bigger name - left Bayern for Italy and Inter.

I completely agree with your point on the youth system. However, if the Bundesliga teams cannot hold on to these players - Ozil, Khedira - the league will never be able to challenge the EPL or La Liga. Granted the Bundesliga have done a better job developing and retaining their young players for a few seasons unlike Ligue 1 - who regularly lose the likes of Kakuta, Sunu, Griezmann, N'Zogbia, Ngog, Clichy, to name a few to other leagues before they even get to grace the Ligue 1 pitches. But long term the German clubs will need to retain their youth talent and attract some of the established talent from other leagues to truly consider themselves on par with the EPL.

I agree that the ability to maintain financial sanity could allow the Bundesliga to take advantage when some of the other leagues suffer from poor money management...unless there is always a bank or a rich owner that is willing to bankroll a Chelsea or a Manchester City or give a loan to Barcelona.

If the Bundesliga image is not perceived on par as the other leagues, then I fear there will always be a rich backer willing to invest in the "sexier" clubs from England or Spain or even Italy over Germany. Unfortunately the basic rules of business do not necessarily apply to the world of Football, otherwise teams like Real Madrid would have been in trouble a long time ago.

That might be the biggest hurdle Germany has to overcome if it is to ever truly challenge the EPL or La Liga.

GFC said...

I would argue that Arsenal have in the past signed established names - Pires, Wiltord, Berkhamp, Campbell (when he was signed from Tottenham) - were all established players. My beef with Wenger is that he has stopped this practice for the past few seasons.

Manchester United have also signed the likes of Ronaldo (not the giant star he has become but at the time everyone knew who he was and the potential he had), Rooney, Nani, Hargreaves, Berbatov, Tevez, Ferdinand, Saha - all established players at the time of their signings...SAF also goes after some of the lesser known names - Obertan, Rafael, Fabio - but he has the money to do so!

I think because Manchester United have not, recently, made the big splashes as have Chelsea and now Manchester City we forget that they are always a big player for the big names.

GFC said...

Good article in about the Bundesliga and the overall outflow of names over the summer.

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