Bundesliga Focus - German work ethic triumphs
Not every league in Europe, regardless of skill or wealth, is as wonderfully erratic as Die Bundesliga. Felix Magath’s Schalke stormed their way through the season with genuine hopes of claiming the title, with Magath looking to swell his CV and win the title with more underdogs, the Bundesliga’s volatility of unsuspecting teams challenging for the coveted winning shield has been wonderfully showcased. Another unlikely side to have stamped their authority in recent years are Wolfsburg, after winning the 2008/09 title, the Wolves have lost the services Felix Magath and struggled to find a replacement but can take heart in the performances of Edin Džeko, the Bosnian retaining his golden boot (shared last seasons with team mate Grafite). Wolfsburg will also be pleased in snagging Steve McClaren’s signature, the former England manager comes to Germany as Eredivisie champion continuing his good run of European form, the Wolves fans will hope he can repeat his Dutch heroics with their talented side.
In its 46th season, Germany’s top tier has also shown a deeply spirited and sensitive side which has seen a year of struggle and tragedy culminating in the resurrection of the German football. The Bundesliga has become the fans haven, stadiums are packed to the rafters week in week out, banners proudly displayed and ticket prices averaging in at just £10, it appeals and stays true to its fans respectively. The fans’ loyalty and passion are unquestionable, but along with the dedication in the stands, the men on the pitch have proven equally devoted to their cause. Of course every small and financially strapped club struggle to make it through their seasons, keeping their heads above the water of the relegation zone, but none have done so with more tragedy and class than Hannover 96. The Lower Saxony outfit were hit with a devastating blow in November when veteran goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide after suffering severe depression for six years. The 32 year old had many stints across Europe but his long tenure at Hannover left the remaining squad ripped apart, losing the next nine league matches but eventually picking themselves up and fighting to keep hopes of another season at the top, ultimately finishing two points clear of the drop zone dedicating the feat to the memory of their former number 1.
The season has echoed the message to the rest of Europe that German football should no longer be underestimated, Bayern Munich’s fantastic campaign in the Champions League has seen them reach the final. Hamburg have reached the semi-finals of the Europa League in a turbulent season and the final Bundesliga table has ended with Munich, Schalke and Werden Bremen all involved in next seasons Champions League in some shape or form. Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Stuttgart are guaranteed spots in the playoff and qualifying rounds of the Europa league. If Bayern were to win the Champions League final, the Bundesliga will be allowed two more teams into next seasons European competition, all this is a testament to the growing power emanating from Germany, the upcoming seasons could see a power shift reminiscent of the years between 1997-2002.
Youth talent has also propped up neatly, Borussia Dortmund’s campaign, along with Bayern, is arguably the most interesting in terms of nurtured talent. Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber have had an astounding impact for Bayern Munich, Muller scoring a memorable hat-trick on the season’s final day to confirm the Bavarians as the champions. Dortmund have boasted talent in Matt Hummels and Mario Goetze along with other future stars Neven Subotic and “The Panther” Lucas Barrios who has become a cult hero, his poaching partnership with Mohamed Zidan lifting Die Schwarzgelben into European qualification. Barrios has netted 19 goals in the 2010 season (two behind golden boot winner Edin Džeko).
Next season the Bundesliga can look forward to the arrival of Europe’s most arguably unique club, FC St. Pauli. The Buccaneers of the League from Hamburg’s red light district were promoted from the 2. Bundesliga to the top tier along with Kaiserslautern.
Football and politics have often intertwined, nationalistic views occasionally interlinking into a football club can be less or more prevalent than other countries, depending on the stability of the government and political spectrum of both regime and football club. Nations with turbulent pasts in modern history often find their football clubs mired in protests and violence, associating themselves with a certain axis of the political spectrum. Germany’s notorious political past has shaped a huge chunk of modern history, but where least would suspect it, their most exclusive club has emerged. Northern Germany’s St. Pauli acquired a ‘Kult’ following of punk rebels and left-wing activists during the tense political environment of the 1980’s and became the first club in Germany to officially ban right-wing activity. To consider such a prospect in Germany at a time when the hooliganism and the right-wing endemic was at its height, speaks volumes. The subculture club with a memorandum have clawed their way back to the Bundesliga after eight years and hope to spread their ever important anti-fascist, anti-racist message through Germany with their travelling hippy fans. The St. Pauli faithful often clash with the neo-Nazi element, prominent through Germany, who infiltrate the Bundesliga terraces.
The Bundesliga is often hailed as the king of support in Europe, accumulating masses of fans each week and generating unparalleled decibels, with St. Pauli now cemented into Germany’s top tier, there is no doubting the devotee aspect has taken a political turn for the better, their unique following will hopefully be a welcome change and with the Buccaneers ready to rock the Bundesliga boat, the unpredictability of German football continues and the message is clear - take a breath of Hamburg’s very fresh air.