The 45th season of the Bundesliga has come to an end with comparatively little drama or theatrics. Bayern all but guaranteed itself the title with a busy summer in the transfer market, spending 70 million Euros on Luca Toni (the league’s top scorer), Franck Ribery (world class playmaker) and the rest. While this investment was able to secure first place in Germany, a return to Champions League action and a domestic cup, it could not secure the treble. Two (lucky) draws against a lower table Spanish side Getafe and an aggregate 2-5 drubbing by the Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg did remove some of the season’s luster. But ultimately with their 20th Bundesliga title in hand this year can be seen as a return to form for Bayern and their fans.
The names of the other squads returning to Europe has a familiar ring to them:
Both Bremen and Schalke return to the Champions League with Bremen automatically qualifying this year and Schalke going into the third qualifying round.
Hamburg, last year’s Intertoto Cup “winner”, enters the Uefa Cup proper joined by a Wolfsburg team who in 2006-07 had finished 15th, the last safe spot above the relegation zone, and Dortmund who had an uninspiring year but were runners-up in the DFB Cup.
Hertha Berlin are fortunate to be in Europe this year, being the lucky recipients of a Fair Play UEFA Cup first round qualifying place along with Manchester City and Denmark’s FC Nordsjælland.
Finally Stuttgart, the ex-reigning champs, have the pleasure of playing in the Intertoto Cup’s third round where, if they’re as lucky as Hamburg was last year, they’ll get to play a team from Moldova. The Intertoto Cup is slated to be abolished in 2009, so if Stuttgart (or any other German club) still has designs on European silverware the time is running out.
Bayer Leverkusen and Nürnberg both failed to emulate last year’s success. Leverkusen just missed out on a spot in Europe with their 7th place finish. Nürnberg took matters one step further by not only avoiding Europe but the 1. Bundesliga as well, choosing relegation instead. Being relegated as reigning DFB Cup holders stands proudly alongside the club’s unique achievement of winning the league one year (1968) and being relegated the next.
Joining Nürnberg are Hansa Rostock and MSV Duisburg, two squads who gained promotion only the year before. Karlsruhe, comfortable winners of the 2. Bundesliga, finished a respectable 11th in the table.
The 1. Bundesliga welcomes in their place two old faces: five-time champions Borussia Mönchengladbach and three-time champions FC Köln, and one very new one: 1899 Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim is only two years removed from playing in Regionalliga Süd, one of the various third tier leagues (soon to be replaced by a nation-wide 3. Liga). It is difficult to imagine them surviving beyond their inaugural season in the highest division, but they are sure to gain numerous fans from around the football-starved Heidelberg area in southwestern Germany.
As for the other clubs? Hannover, Frankfurt, Bochum, Cottbus and Bielefeld did just enough to stay within the safe band of clubs between spots 7 and 15 on the table to avoid mention. Sure, Cottbus and Bielefeld flirted continually with relegation throughout the season, but did just enough in the end. The rest managed to be solid, anonymous mid-table clubs. Consistent adequacy may not be glamorous, but it is reassuring.