• Fri
  • Apr 18, 2014
  • Updated: 7:17am
Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 4:41am

Bundesliga on a roll but still can't claim the EPL's crown

Germans say that their league is now better than England's, even though international appetite for latter on TV remains bigger

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

With the EPL's stars on international duty, the ghastly void in our weekend lives is being filled with another dose of self-doubt and worrying whether the English league is still the best in the world.

Arsenal's recent exit from the Champions League means for the first time since 1996 there are no English teams remaining in last eight of the world's top league competition, surely a harbinger of doom.

Worse, the old foe Germany and its squeaky-clean Bundesliga have been noisily staking a claim to the EPL's crown.

The Germans have been quick to point out there were a record seven Bundesliga teams in the knockout stages of the Champions League this season - and more German teams in the last 16 than English teams for the first time since 1999.

Arsenal's defeat by Bayern Munich merely underscored Germany's rise, as does former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola's decision to snub the EPL and head to the top German club next season.

There's no point denying the Bundesliga is on a roll. More fans watch league matches in Germany than anywhere else in Europe, with an average attendance of 45,116 last season.

The uber-managed Bundesliga operates under the 50+1 rule which stipulates that 51 per cent of German clubs must be owned by members. This refreshing approach prevents rich, vain foreigners egotists - the Middle Eastern sheikhs, the Russian oligarchs and the Americans - taking over and running amok.

Unlike England where scores of clubs operate their finances in the red or have gone to the wall, 14 of the 18 German clubs in the country's top flight posted a profit last year.

Such vorsprung durch technik in league soccer pleases Fifa and Uefa, who sneer resentfully at the reckless, gaudy, megabucks EPL.

Adding insult to injury has been the temerity of German soccer officials loudly claiming the Bundesliga should be considered the world's top domestic league. Chief executive of Borussia Dortmund Hans-Joachim Watzke told the London Evening Standard newspaper the way EPL clubs are managed brings only fleeting success because the clubs' owners are not interested in developing from the training academy up.

"Leagues like England that have big investors only want to buy big stars and not make stars," he said.

Much better the German way, cooed Watzke, where stars such as Mario Goetze, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger are moulded by the country's cottage industry clubs and youth training.

Watzke has a moot point. Dortmund topped their Champions League group with a squad costing a fraction of opponents Real Madrid and Man City.

The crowds, too, are better in Germany than in England, Watzke claimed.

"The atmosphere was marvellous in the English league 20-30 years ago. Now you can smell there is a completely different structure and different supporters for the clubs. In Germany, not so," he said

Add to this Teutonic smugness the growing universal claim that the EPL no longer attracts the quality it once did with the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic preferring to dazzle elsewhere in Europe.

Neither the Fifa nor Uefa Team of the Year included any player from the EPL, after all. And in what many are portraying as an act of blasphemy and shame, the citadel of soccer, Wembley Stadium, will host the Champion League final in May without an English club present.

Oh dear.

Since Liverpool's epic 2007 battle in Istanbul against AC Milan, there has been, bar 2010 - when former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho led Inter Milan to victory, an EPL club in every final, including last year when Chelsea triumphed.

But the glorious days of 2008, that fine year when EPL clubs ruled Europe and Manchester United and Chelsea duelled in the Moscow final, seem long gone.

It's hard to disagree with Watzke and the stats.

Yet while the German domestic set-up is something to envy, it has yet to reach full ripeness.

And the Germans' claim that their league is now better than England's has no truck with EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore.

"I understand the admiration for the Bundesliga," he said this week as he put the finishing touches to a new, record £5.5 billion (HK$64.64 billion) EPL broadcast deal.

"But it doesn't alter the fact that I wouldn't swap my job for theirs. The world does not want to watch Bayer Leverkusen against Wolfsburg but will pay fortunes to see Chelsea versus Newcastle United," he claimed.

There remains huge appeal for the England's "thoroughly international league", as is evident in the £2 billion - almost 40 per cent - of the new TV deal which will come from foreign broadcasters.

The absence of English involvement beyond the Champions League last 16 for the first time in 17 years is a mere blip, said Scudamore - a small bump in the road.

"When we had three teams through to the semi-finals, we didn't say that was a trend either," he said.

"If you go round the world and ask people to name 10 football clubs, five will be English," he stated confidently.

Many EPL fans choke as they digest the magnitude of the £5.5 billion TV deal. But we have been promised that £145.4 million will flow into lower leagues and £22.7 million will be spent on grass-root development of home talent.

Which league is the best in the world is a cyclical debate. And as watchable as the Bundesliga and Spain's La Liga are, they fail to match the EPL for high-octane, end-to-end, edge-of-the-seat, bruising, competitive soccer.

You, the overseas audience can continue the discussion next weekend once you have decided to tune into either Southampton v Chelsea and Arsenal v Reading, or VfB Stuttgart v Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayern v Hamburg.

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