Almost all internationally out
FC Bayern outshines the problem of the Bundesliga
By Sebastian Schneider
03/17/2023, 7:57 p.m
How good is the Bundesliga? This year, four of the five German participants have already been kicked out in the Champions League. It’s been the same picture for years: FC Bayern’s success protectively overlays the weaknesses of the others.
What a European Cup round: It was almost forgotten, but in Naples last Wednesday not only restaurant tables and pyrotechnics flew through the city center, but even football was played in the Diego Maradona Stadium. In all the fuss about shameful excesses of violence, it was almost forgotten that Eintracht Frankfurt played a round of 16 in the Champions League for the first time – and was eliminated in this premiere without a chance. They lost 5-0 on aggregate against SSC Napoli, who are perhaps Europe’s most in-form team. Coach Oliver Glasner himself admitted: Maradona’s heirs were “simply a size too big for us”.
Eintracht was not alone in this. It’s almost the same thing every season: How good is the Bundesliga really in an international comparison? And, not surprisingly, the answer is just as similar: actually not that good – apart from the Europa League title in Frankfurt last year. Of the eight German teams that started this season internationally, only two remain – FC Bayern in the Champions League and Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League. In the most important competition, the premier class, in particular, the distance to top European football is revealed.
And there are no positive surprises here this year. With FC Bayern, only one of the five German starters is left in the quarter-finals. The Munich team eliminated the star ensemble from Paris St. Germain in the round of 16. That once again in decisive games had not turned out to be the often touted world team.
Too bad for Wolfsburg, enough for Naples
In the second leg, Brazilian superstar Neymar was injured, the incarnate high-speed train Kylian Mbappé couldn’t get going and Argentinian world champion Lionel Messi no longer exuded the motivation to turn the game on his own. In addition, PSG, supported by Qatar, struggled with serious injury problems. In the end, 17-year-old talent El Chadaille Bitshiabu, actual midfielder Danilo and 35-year-old Sergio Ramos formed the defensive back three. It didn’t have much to do with world class.
But just because FC Bayern has overcome this multi-billion construct does not mean that German club football is in good shape as a result – on the contrary. In fact, it’s been twelve years since a team stayed in the competition longer than Munich. In the 2010/11 season it was (really) Schalke 04 with the legendary Rául. At that time, the Royal Blues only failed in the semifinals against Manchester United, while Bayern lost in the round of 16 against Inter Milan. After that, Borussia Dortmund made it into the CL final in 2013 – but lost against FC Bayern with the outstanding Arjen Robben.
And in the present? The fascinating thing about this season is that the German participants failed in rows because of former Bundesliga professionals. Frankfurt, for example, conceded three of the five goals scored by Victor Osimhen, who was once deemed not good enough by VfL Wolfsburg. Now the 24-year-old raves about what he learned there from Mario Gomez. After all, the Bundesliga is still good enough for training.
Lost to Chelsea
The German teams are particularly left behind in comparison to the Premier League. Financially, the English are floating in almost unimaginable spheres. What that means, lawn ball sport Leipzig felt painfully. The German cup winners were so beat up by Manchester City in the second leg that they didn’t even get upset about an extremely questionable penalty after the game. Leipzig was dismantled in half. They had no answer to the unleashed ex-Dortmunder Erling Haaland – hence his pack of five. Despite the 1-1 draw in the first leg, City’s show of power in the addition of both games ended in a 1-8 from Leipzig’s point of view.
It continues with Borussia Dortmund. BVB is still unbeaten in the Bundesliga this calendar year and is even putting pressure on Bayern. But their wave of success could not save Borussia into the Champions League. The disadvantage compared to the Premier League is also evident here. Even if Chelsea FC is really not in good shape at the moment, its squad is still much more powerful than BVB’s thanks to the crazy transfer behavior. If a regular employee fails in Dortmund, it is a structural problem; Londoners have rows and rows of (expensive) top people on the bench.
Borussia won the round of 16 first leg 1-0 thanks to a brilliant counterattack by Karim Adeyemi. But the Borussia lost the second leg against the weak Londoners with 0:2. Despite the referee’s bad luck, the elimination was deserved in the end. And Kai Havertz made the decisive goal – who played in the Bundesliga not long ago. Meanwhile, his ex-club Bayer Leverkusen failed in the CL group phase. The Werkself started the season badly, changed coaches and are now convincing as the last German representative in the Europa League.
A fundamental problem
It’s the most sobering thing about this European Cup season: the German participants – apart from Leipzig and its colossal slump – can’t really be blamed. Nobody expects SC Freiburg or Union Berlin to play everything against the wall internationally. Juventus Turin was simply too ripped off for Christian Streich’s team. And the iron from Berlin are slowly beginning to feel their performance limits. They have not won any of the last four games in the league – the success and the triple burden apparently leave their mark.
In addition, most German representatives also suffered from controversial referee decisions. If Leipzig hadn’t received this strange hand penalty in the first half, it might not have collapsed so violently against Man City, at least it would not have lost so much. BVB also had bad luck in the second leg when VAR mistakenly repeated a missed Chelsea penalty. None of this is good as an excuse, but it steers a game in other directions.
The question is what the consequence of it all is. BVB advisor Matthias Sammer said on “Prime Video” that he missed virtues such as athleticism, physique or a winning mentality in the Bundesliga. That could be the reason. Or it’s just the structural problems: For years, funds in European football have been distributed unequally.
Nobody can follow the financially hasty Premier League anymore. The Germans are not alone there either. Spain can practically only rely on Real Madrid, and FC Barcelona is also weakening internationally. France is completely left behind without PSG. For the first time in 17 years, European champions Italy have three teams in the CL quarter-finals, where it remains to be seen how sustainable the success is. In order for the Bundesliga to be able to keep up again, something has to change fundamentally in European football.