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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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  1. Tuttle

    October 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    The bundsliga is not as entertaining as the epl and your biggest stadium I think is the bayern muinch one which is around 55000 which is poor for a team of bayerns standing, U

    Closer to 70,000. That would be bigger than Anfield, Stamford Bridge or the Emirates. And Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion holds a little over 80,000. That would be about 5,000 more than Old Trafford seats. You could fit Whiteheart Lane in there… twice. In fact, Dortmund AVERAGES more attendance than all but two English league stadiums can even accommodate.

    Thanks for playing though. Perhaps you should reconsider who needs to stop talking rubbish now.

    • seamus

      November 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      eric asthules dead ha ha ha

  2. joel

    September 30, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Very interesting,
    Its out with the man united memorabilia and in with the hoffenheim stuff.

  3. Excelsior

    August 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I have only one thing to say: all the reasons detailed above have only one true source and that comes out of the german quality of organization. If there is a perfect way of organizing things (in Europe and not only here) you might think (and you are probably right) that Germany comes as close as it may get. I wish you all the best and good luck!

  4. justin

    July 18, 2010 at 9:31 am

    This is a great article and shows why Germany has success at world level and makes some telling points.
    I think the Internationals cap also works in your favor, as you are not allowed to have a starting XI of internationals, so German players benefit as well does the health of the sport in your nation, in the top 4 clubs in the Epl, how many Englishmen play in them and whats happened to their keeper development? they used to produce some great keepers.

  5. Jezreel

    July 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    I love the bundesliga and this is so true about it compared to the over rated epl !

  6. Tom

    May 23, 2010 at 2:40 am

    No. 1.epl. liga. 3.Serie A. 4.
    4 bundsliga. 5 ligue 1. The bundsliga is not as entertaining as the epl and your biggest stadium I think is the bayern muinch one which is around 55000 which is poor for a team of bayerns standing, U
    you said that epl has never produced a good player. Look ryan giggs Paul scholes David beckham cristiano ronaldo Steven gerrard frank lampard John Terry rio Ferdinand Gordon banks George best sir Bobby chaltoneric cantona theo Walcott Aaron lennon many more now shut the fuck up

  7. craig

    January 7, 2010 at 8:37 am

    And yet you watch just 20 minutes of a bundesliga match and you are absolutely bored to tears!
    The play is so robotic, not enough flare, excitement, no worlds best players or overflowing emotions.
    the bundesliga is so much better because none of their teams have made it into the last 4 in the european cup for maybe 5 years?! Shocking.
    Solvency, ticket prices (ive just explained here why theyre so cheap), the 50 + 1 are all pointless arguments and hardly matter when comparing entertainment value in a fight to the death football match.
    And where did you get these stats?? Optima is the official stats and they are nothing like yours.
    I would go as far to say I would stay in England permanently just for the football!
    I go to Germany and people are talking Hockey, Formula 1 etc and football is not mentioned as often as UK.

    Germany… all numbers and no fun.

  8. Sean

    August 27, 2009 at 6:26 am

    You forgot to mention something else.

    I attended the VfB Stuttgart / FC Timisoara Champions League Playoff last night.

    Beers were 3 Euro. Giant bratwursts were 2.70 Euro.

    Case closed

  9. Akhil

    February 2, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Excellent article, I have been telling people for years that the Bundesliga is the most fun league to watch. While Bayern are consistenly in the title race, it is not a forgone conclusion that they will.
    The popularity of the EPL is based on its stars and its ability to parade these stars in its commercials. The quality of football drops of dramatically after the top 4 teams.

  10. whatever

    January 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Ur full of ****. I'll give you you're better than the italian league out of the Epl, serie A, and La liga. I do enjoy the Bundesliga though, but it does not have a better league u stupid ****.

  11. Juliet

    November 11, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Thanks for this article. The next time someone looks at me cross-eyed and asks, “Why on earth do you watch *German* soccer?” I can point them to this excellent argument.

  12. L'astro

    September 17, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    pinche bundesliga, es bn aburrida, solo BM y WB pueden dar batalla en UCL, ya se ha visto
    la EPL, tiene minimo 6 equipos q pueden ganar la UCL
    el Calcio, tiene 4 equipos para ganar la UCL
    LFP 4 equipos para ganar la UCL
    y asi se dicen ser la mejor liga jajajajajajaja
    por favor, dediquense a hacer autos (q los hacen muy bn) y no a jugar futbol

  13. DoublePivot

    September 17, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    As I am not comparing this to La Liga, I don't see your argument. Perhaps you expected that my Spanish would be non-existent. Wrong!

    your racism is noted and not appreciated. Feel free to provide a counter-argument. Specifically to the EPL, which you say has 6 teams fighting for four slots, when it has only the big four as I pointed out. But if you are going to make racist remarks then I will just erase your drivel.

    However, my point about the Chocolate Box might have seemed as an attack of Argentine football, and if it was I apologize. My fear of the Bombanero is the steepness of the stands and how the bouncing of the fans makes me fear of a long tumble. Not that Argentine fans are inherently violent. That being said, my best friend is a River supporters, so my view of Boca has been skewed.

    And obviously if you only care about UCL, then I can't win the argument. However you have taken no time to consider (perhaps even read) the other things I pointed out, then what is the point of posting this spam?

  14. diana

    September 14, 2008 at 5:05 am

    'Diana, we need to write to the New Paper about how big Bundesliga is slowly becoming in Europe'
    Good idea, Lynn. But we need to gather evidence why is this so. And we need the paper's address. How about writing to The Straits Times as well? I do read that paper as well. Not sure about writing to TODAY though. But at least they do have reports on the German national team during the international week. I got a plesant surprise when last week, there's a preview to the Liechtenstein match. Klose's hat-trick against Finland was reported in that same paper just on Thursday.

    'It's not like EPL is the only exciting league in the world.'
    The other football fan in the family, my father is going to 'murder' me if I tell him that. LOL! But, I do respect his choices and he does the same with mine. It's the same even when it comes to outside of football.

    Anyhow, I still remembered he told one of my older cousins at a relative's wedding dinner that I followed the Bundesliga (he actually said the German league back then but, whatever). I was sitting in between my father and cousin at that time and I just kept quiet, given the cousin he was speaking to is actually one of my favourite cousins whom I had never seen in a long time. 🙂

    Lynn, I'm already thankful the Football Channel is showing matches, even if it's on delayed telecast. Or maybe I am easy to please. I spent the two seasons after the 2006 World Cup catching up on Bundesliga news online. It's already an improvement for me. I'm watching the Rhur derby at the moment actually.

    Just imagine, this would not have been possible a few years ago. So imagine how did I felt when I once flipped through Telescope's August edition in late July and it mentioned about the Bundesliga. The fact that the new season began on my birthday (August 15), makes it all the more nicer for someone who had not dared to imagine a few years ago that the Bundesliga will be shown on the TV here. Patience is a virture, indeed.

  15. Lynn

    September 14, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Diana, we need to write to the New Paper about how big Bundesliga is slowly becoming in Europe, and that Bundesliga matches must be shown live on TV–they can open up a new channel if need be xD. It's not like EPL is the only exciting league in the world. I watch EPL, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and the odd Primera Liga matches and I can vouch that Bundesliga is no less exciting than EPL (well, most of the times xD).

  16. Musab

    September 13, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Great article, loved the point you made about young talents being found and developed about youth players.

  17. Chris

    September 12, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Great article, and I especially liked the comment about fan power. The EPL is very much like most American sports, in that they are pricing the common man/average Joe out of the stadia, and that has always been the sport's biggest fanbase. That the Bundesliga still has standing sections (and still sell beer) is what keeps the generations of fans coming back, and brings new ones in (like myself–I wasn't a huge Bundesliga fan until I attended a match between Hamburg and Dortmund in Hamburg. An AWESOME experience, in every sense.)

  18. lsmetana

    September 10, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Great article. I've really gotten into the Bundesliga the last couple of seasons and have been enjoying it more than a lot of the EPL matches for some of the reasons you outline above.

  19. DoublePivot

    September 10, 2008 at 5:45 am

    By the way, Jan was very helpful in putting together this piece as he helped me to better understand club structures and finances. His e-mail was so thorough and comprehensive that I should have just posted it it 🙂

  20. DoublePivot

    September 10, 2008 at 5:43 am

    It was a good year though. Who did the Bundesliga lose? VDV to Real Madrid was about the only significant one. City took Kompany but that was only because of the Olympics and we can't call him a start. Gomez and Diego will most likely leave next year, and that will be disappointing, but the attrition is minimal. After all, there are only about a dozen teams is the other big 3 that can poach our stars so there is only so much attrition we are bound to face. So things aren't too bad.

  21. DoublePivot

    September 10, 2008 at 5:35 am

    In fact, you won't find any coverage in papers here in the States. ESPN, the US version, might give one goal a week, although they have reluctantly given respect to the UCL because they own the rights. However even then, you will find the announcers are snarky about it.

    While we do get good coverage with Gol TV, that's about all we get when it comes to the Bundesliga. Mostly everything here is about either the EPL or the Mexican Legaue (which to be fair is the 5th most popular sports league in the US)

  22. diana

    September 10, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Mark, I'm also a fan of Uli's columns as well. Always looking forward to what he has come up with. Rafael Honigstein's columns in the Guardian as well.

    'Very well said, now if we can get stars to stay in the Bundesliga, that would be great.'
    That is the thing. Now as much as they have been linked to other leagues like in England or Italy (one example is Werder Bremen's Diego who used to be linked to quite a number of clubs before), the problem is that will they stay in the Bundesliga for the long term.

    DP, I come from Singapore myself and I suggest you send this list to the newspapers here. I know it can't be helped given over where I am, we were once a British colony and so the EPL has always all along dominate the football coverage here. Many do follow that here. In a way, historical ties with our former colonial master. I will be the first to admit – I actually grew up with the EPL as well.

    Pick the newspapers (okay, there are only three here which does have the sports section in their paper) at almost any time of the week here and when you read the sports section, chances are the EPL dominate the coverage when it comes to football news. I don't forsee in the future, the coverage will change in the papers even if there's Bundesliga on the pay-TV here. Even when it comes to the recent Champions League group draw for example, it's being viewed from the English angle (back then the reactions to the draw was seen from purely the Premier League angle with a focus on the opponents the Premier League clubs are facing). For someone like me who does watch the two leagues (EPL, Bundesliga), nothing much I can do on what the papers here are covering. The next best thing on Bundesliga coverage in the newspapers here…showing the TV times.

    The newspapers here didn't really care that the Bundesliga provided the most players at Euro 2008. No mention except okay, there was once I read an article in the midst of the tournament on the Bayern Munich players who took part in the tournament. That was more or less about it. The Internet is still my most biggest source of information if I want to know of the Bundesliga happenings. That is how I had 'survived' before the Bundesliga arrived on the pay-TV here for the 2008/09 season and I am lucky my family subscribed to pay-TV and so I can watch the matches.

    Unless the Bundesliga clubs consistently peform well in European competitions and more specifically the Champions League, the level of awareness of the Bundesliga is probably not going to be there in my country. We are a football-crazy country, but there are times I wondered is it only mainly at the EPL level. Bayern is probably one of the more recognised football clubs here (maybe partly in view of its Champions League appearances) outside of the EPL, that is about it.

    At the end of the day, it's the media coverage and people's general perceptions of the other leagues. People here will probably say a footballer they know playing in the EPL but the Bundesliga? I have my doubts. So while back then I was happy that there's going to be the Bundesliga here, I was slightly amused at how the pay-TV provider managed to get the broadcast rights.

  23. steven downs

    September 9, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Very well said, now if we can get stars to stay in the Bundesliga, that would be great.

  24. Jan

    September 9, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    “though they're gone in Munich, Frankfurt, Duisburg, and a few other new stadia”

    Those stadiums all have standing sections.

  25. Mark

    September 9, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    I also enjoyed the post, perhaps because it reminds me of Uli-Hesse Lichtenberger over at (who I'm quite fond of). Although I really don't need the incentive or justification to follow the Bundesliga, I like how he manages to dissect and present both the tactical and cultural bases of the league (and how favorably it tends to compare to, say, the EPL) Confirmation bias! Anyway, being compared to Herr Lichtenberger is high praise in my book, DP. Carry on.

  26. DoublePivot

    September 9, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks so much for the feedback. I was unaware that Munich didn't have a standing section, but now that you mention it; I don't remember seeing any. I'm astonished that Frankfurt wouldn't have any. Although isn't that a banking center. Maybe they don't have them because tellers stand all day 🙂

    I used this for goals…. Ligue 1 is always on bottom in it.

  27. Bryan in SF

    September 9, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    I loved this article for so many reasons.

    At a few years back they averaged out goals-per-game and the Bundesliga came out way above the Premiership (France's Ligue 1 was top). Also, thanks for mentioning the CHEAPER PRICES at the stadium. A game at the new Emirates in London will cost 60 pounds at its cheapest and with much luck. A game at Hertha in Berlin starts at 7 euros.

    Another big difference for stadium atmosphere is the “Stehblock” or standing section. They're illegal in the UK, because of high-profile violence years back. But in Germany you still have them and they cause an amazing vibe (though they're gone in Munich, Frankfurt, Duisburg, and a few other new stadia).

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