Germany … it’s so hot right now.
In the days following Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich’s combined 8-1 aggregate triumph over Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, in the first legs of the Champions League semifinals last week, pundits have been tripping over each other in the race to proclaim this the new epoch of German soccer dominance.
Stress, soccer, dominance. (If you think dated World War II jokes are bad, wait until it’s an all-German final at Wembley Stadium in May.)
Dortmund can help confirm this status Tuesday when it plays at Real Madrid (2:45 p.m. Fox Soccer), holding a 4-1 advantage after the first leg.
Fan-owned clubs, youth academy production lines, $160 season tickets, beer, brauts … what’s not to love about the Bundesliga?
There’s probably two ways to look at this, as to not confuse the arguments.
For one, from the way its run to its fan-first atmosphere, there isn’t a healthier league in Europe — or the world — than the Bundesliga. Watching on television it makes you want to hop a flight to Hamburg and bum around the country, gobble up some currywurst and watch as many games as possible.
The Bundesliga has buzz right now. Whether or not its Seattle 1991-level buzz or not, remains to be seen.
More open to debate is if Germany, for all it does right running the Bundesliga, can translate that into sustained European dominance.
These sort of things seem to ebb-and-flow. In 2008 everybody was talking about the English Premier League taking over when it sent Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to the Champions League semifinals. Lately it’s been Spain in control of both European and international soccer with Barcelona and Real Madrid each making the Champions League semifinals three consecutive seasons. If you’re into numbers, Germany’s UEFA coefficient is still far behind both England and Spain.
La Liga in Spain draws plenty of criticism for being a two-horse race between Real and Barcelona each season. That may be true, but at least in the last decade we’ve seen Sevilla and Atletico Madrid twice win the second-tier UEFA Cup/Europa League, something German teams have been unable to do. The last German club to win the Champions League was Bayern in 2000-01.
In fact, with the financial power Bayern exhibits over the rest of the Bundesliga there’s a better chance it widens the domestic gap in Germany, as the Bavarians are able to pluck star players from rivals clubs like it’s done with Manuel Neuer or now Mario Götze.
Since the turn of the century Werder Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg have each won a single Bundesliga, but those were isolated incidents and in the follow-up seasons none of the three clubs could even mange a second-place finish. FC Shalke 04 has the fans, stadium and finances to mount a challenge but the Royal Blues — a Champions League semifinalist last season — are defined by turmoil, seemingly unable to get out of its own way.
Borussia Dortmund might look like a steady No. 2 to Bayern at the moment but its position is more perilous than it might seem. The club’s ascension back to the top of the Bundesliga, winning consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012, has been attributed to manager Juergen Klopp whom seems to have most of Europe’s top soccer journalistic wrapped around his perma-stubble and hipster glasses.
Should Klopp eventually sell out and take a big-money job in England, or elsewhere, it’s hard to see Dortmund to maintain the level of excellence he’s instilled.
For now Klopp and Dortmund will worry about finishing the job in Spain they started last week.
As thorough and destructive as the Robert Lewandowski four-goal explosion last week looked, Real still managed a pesky away goal thanks to a gift giveaway from defender Mats Hummels. This one isn’t might not be as done and dusted as it seems. Given Dortmund’s youth exuberance and naivety on the European stage, one early goal from Madrid could cause them to wobble.
And wouldn’t it be the perfect Cristiano Ronaldo move to ruin all this talk about German soccer taking over?