The Set: Seven Reasons the Bundesliga Is Better Than the EPL

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1. Parity

Okay, let’s not kid ourselves.  Not any team can win the Bundesliga.  But since the inception of the EPL in 1991, four teams have won the title: United, Blackburn, Chelsea and Arsenal, but United has won 11 of those titles.  In that same span, five teams have won the title in Germany: Kaiserslautern, BVB, Bayern, Werder and Stuttgart.   This may not seem huge, but it is if you look more closely.  If you look at contested title races (one’s that have gone to the final weeks), Newcastle’s epic collapse in 1996 and Blackburn’s purchase of the title in 1995 have been the only times that Arsenal, Chelsea or United were not involved in the title race.  Even Liverpool has never come close.   In the Bundesliga, aside from the winners, Schalke has lost the title twice and Bayer Leverkusen thrice (once tied on points with Bayern).  Even Eintracht Frankfurt has been within six points of the title (back in 1992).   And never forget that Kaiserslautern won their one title in this era the year they were promoted from Zweite.   Anyone think Hull has a chance of doing that? 


The big four is truly the big four in England.  They have only been piped for a slot in the group stages of the UCL by Leeds and Newcastle since United’s Treble saw England pass Germany in coefficient and get four slots compared to Germany’s 3.  During that same time, Germany has sent Hertha, 1860, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Schalke, Stuttgart, HSV and BVB to the group stages.  All this was accomplished with one less spot.  And unlike Leeds, none of those teams were ruined by the efforts to get there.


In addition, while Bayern is the most successful and richest club in Germany, Schalke, Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg, BVB, Stuttgart, Leverkusen and HSV are quite capable of winning the title this year (some more so than others).  Meanwhile apart from Cottbus, Bielefeld and Bochum, every team can confidently hope for a run into European.   In the EPL, there are only two possible champions.   While other than the big five, only Everton, Tottenham and Villa can hope to squeeze into one of the extra slots.  For the rest, the only hope of Europe is to get to the finals of the FA Cup and lose to a big four club.


2. Support


Maybe you saw Tottenham’s win over Arsenal last year in the Carling Cup and could hear the power of the chant that was repeated over and over, “Que Sera Sera, Whatever Will Be, Will Be.  We’re going to Wem-be-ley”.  It was as breathtaking as the game.  The EPL can have amazing crowds, but it can have rather dull ones too.  Arsenal isn’t called the Library for nothing.  Wigan is a rugby town.  Roy Keane’s comments about the Prawn Sandwich brigade at Old Trafford were a damning statement on gentrification in the game as it becomes the vice of the old and wealthy in England. 


In Germany, where stadiums are significantly bigger and seats cheaper, the young and the avid attend virtually every team’s games.   The same power I remember from that Carling Cup song could be heard at Wolfsburg in a game against Stuttgart last year in a midtable/ midseason clash.   And Wolfsburg’s stadium is small and one of the few stadiums that hosts empty seats.


The crowds are amazing.  They are spectacle unto themselves.  Think about a Bombanero in Buenos Aires without the fear of losing your life.  And this can be had at many of the average teams in Germany.


Last year 1860 Munich averaged 44,000 people for Zweite games.  That would have made them the third highest attended team in Spain and Italy.  They would be the second highest attended team in France and fourth in England.   Meanwhile they were 8th in Germany.  And Köln and Borussia Möchengladbach both had 40K+ average attendances as well in the Zweite.  Just for the record, Borussia Dortmund virtually equaled both United and Real in attendance with a putrid side last campaign.


They are loud, they are relentless and they never stop waving the flags or singing the songs.   And is there any site more beautiful than the post game acknowledgments between the players and the fans?


3. Fan Power


Thanks for supporting the team, now shut up and give us your money.  Increasingly that has become the feeling of the supporters of clubs in England.   And while some supporters are finding solace in the lower leagues, for example through F.C. United, many English fans are now seeking it in Germany.


Because in Germany, fans still have a say due to ownership rules and tradition.   Fans have forced issues such as standing terraces, which are one of the reasons for the wonderful crowds and atmosphere, reasonable seating prices, use of flags and banners and the continued presence of Sportschau, think Match of the Day, on free television. You can get seats for as little €5, even at the Allianz.  At Old Trafford, that money wouldn’t even get you their infamous prawn sandwiches.


The fans aren’t a profitable inconvenience in Germany; they are part of the makeup of the league.  And their tireless work has led to many of the wonderful aspects of the league that make it the most compelling league in the world.  


But if you think they are sitting on their haunches, you need only look back to an article by Raphael Honigstein last year

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*This is not to suggest that there isn’t a minority of these Ultras in Germany who aren’t capable of the same.


4. 50+1


A term used to refer to rules regulating that no individual can own more than 49% of a club.  The remainder has to be owned by the Verein, which is the original sporting club, which derives its purpose and finances through its members, which spawned the football team.  Think of your local YMCA owning the Boston Red Sox. 


With this rule, there are not any worries about oil tyrants and human rights abusers taking over clubs for a quick return on investment.   There are concerns that these rules might be relaxed in the future, but there is doubt that fans, who have a say through their memberships in the Vereins, will allow for this, even at the expense of watching English clubs dominate Champions League.


But that’s not to say that teams can’t be bankrolled.  Bayer Leverkusen has the backing of the Bayer Group pharmaceutical giant, Wolfsburg has Volkswagon and Hoffenheim has Deitmar Hopp of SAP.  There could be an increase in the number of rich owners who have a 49% stake, which would allow Germany to still compete in Europe without giving its league to bandits, as has happened in England.


5. All Teams Solvent


What is the most profitable league in Europe?  Wrong! (I know you said the EPL).   You’re not even close.   While revenue is greater in England (by almost double), the Bundesliga profited €250 million last year, over €100 million more than the EPL.  In the meantime, the Bundesliga is now 2nd in revenue to England, outclassing both Italy and Spain in revenue and profit.   The major factor in this is player costs.  While all the talk in England revolves around player power and transfer deals, the Bundesliga keeps player costs to 45% of revenue (compared to 66% in England).  Meanwhile, television money continues to increase, shirt sponsorship is greater than England and bigger stadiums all help to keep teams revenue rich.


Pick a team! Any team!  Tomorrow they will still be solvent.   Yes, Borussia Dortmund recently had a financial crisis, but it was a crisis.  It was not administration.   The number of teams that would be denied a license under Germany’s Lizenzierungsordnung, which regulates finances, would be staggering, as it is much stricter than in England.  Each March clubs are required to put a financial plan to the league to show their liquidity. They have to budget based on that submission.  In fact, it was BVB’s missing out of the group stages of the UCL in 2003, which they had budgeted upon that caused much of their financial worries recently.  Hopefully Schalke had contingency plans for their failure this year.  


The last time a team was denied a license in Germany was 1982 to 1860 Munich.  Twelve teams have been near or in administration in England over the past 2 years.   And Chelsea have recorded losses of £140. 


6. Youth Development and Scouting


Want to see who the stars of Euro 2012 or WC 2014 will be.  A good place to start is the Bundesliga.   Italy is housing fewer and fewer young stars, especially ones that aren’t Italian.   Spain is loaded but is mostly the domain of the Spanish and Argentine.   England puts an overvaluation on youth but rarely produces the young stars.  The exception is Arsenal, where Arsene Wenger has made a cottage industry of buying young kids from outside of England and developing them.  England may buy talented teenagers, but these players were almost always developed elsewhere.   In fact, even with English talent, rarely does the EPL develop it, other than Manchester City and West Ham.  The lower leagues develop most English talent. 


While that may change is FIFA is able to implement the proposed 6+5 rule, the fact is that money has allowed England to give up on the academic system.  Bayern Munich is as big as any of the clubs in England.  Their squad includes Lahm, Ottl, Rensing and Schweinsteiger, who they developed from their youth system.  Compare that with Manchester United, who haven’t developed a player of note on their own squad since the golden generation.  Any kid with a modicum of talent in their youth system is bound for Belgium or Sunderland.   It begs the question as to why they even incur the expense.


It’s the Bundesliga that houses most of the young international talent in the world.  The fact is that Spain has limits on foreigners and England has work permit regulations.   Meanwhile Germany has few restrictions other than a player must learn German.

This is why every team at Euro 2008, except for Spain, had a representative in the Bundesliga.  And this was done without a detriment to the German national team, which is exactly the opposite effect that a slew of internationals are having in England.  And the league also had the most players at this year’s tournament.   Meanwhile, they were the hardest hit by the Olympics, where 16 of the league’s players, most starters for their club, were in Beijing while the German team wasn’t.   


The stars of the future play in the Bundesliga: Kroos, Adler, Marin, Renato Augusto, Fenin, Breno, Thiago Neves, Alex Silva, Arturo Vidal, Said Huseinovic, Neven Subotic, Sosa, Demba Ba, Kuba, Nuri Sahin, Rakatic, etc.


7. Tactics


How many true #10’s are there in England?   Joe Cole who will never be allowed to play the role and Elano at Manchester City.


Werder has Diego, Bayern has Ribery, BVB has Hajnal, Hannover has Bruggink and the league lost two in Wolfsburg’s Marcelinho and Hamburg’s van der Vaart recently.   It is a very common position that is the pinnacle of technical football; yet, it doesn’t exist in England, because it slows the game down.


Nonetheless, the Bundesliga is no slower than the EPL.   In fact if you compare distance covered, the Bundesliga and the EPL are slightly behind France as players cover 10km per game.  While much more time is spent sprinting in the EPL (210m vs 169m), when it comes to high intensity runs the EPL is barely above the Bundesliga with each player running 241m at high intensity compared with 224m. But for the slight advantage they have in sprinting, English teams don’t even complete 60% of their passes, while the Bundesliga compares with La Liga at 63.5% completion rate.


Another telling problem for England is that there are 50 more challenges per game, which is due to the defensive nature of the league.  Even worse is that the EPL has 10 more air challenges per game, proving that “Rt. 1” football is far from dead.  Meanwhile England has the lowest number of touches per game and Germany the most. 


And all of that leads to the most telling factor: For 19 straight years, the Bundesliga has had the most goals per game of any of the five biggest leagues in Europe (2.81 last year).   England, who claims that Italy is the land of defensive football, has managed to average more goals than Italy just three times this decade.  The last time England even came close to the Bundesliga was 1999-2000 when they scored 2.78 vs 2.80 gpg.  Most years, the most “exciting” league in the world is statistically more like Ligue 1, which is desperately trying to get its clubs to play offense.  It has many less shots on goals, significantly less goals, and many more challenges.   In effect, take an Englishman’s worst stereotype of Italian football and it describes his league perfectly.


Germany on the other hand, seems to be the middle ground between the highly technical Spanish and Italian leagues and the fast-paced, physical English and French leagues.  And that seems to me to be the perfect place to be in a tactical sense.

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