Is the Bundesliga in a European crisis?

By Louis Ostrowski

Of the seven German sides who qualified for European football this season,  only Eintracht Frankfurt remain.

While their exciting performances have captured the imaginations in the Europa League, Eintracht have been let down by the rest of their cohort.

“German disaster”, read the front page of the Thursday edition of German football magazine kicker, after Bayern Munich were knocked out on Wednesday. For the first time since 2005-06, there are no German teams in the Champions League quarter-finals.

That doesn’t sound good for the league that some considered the world’s best just five or six years ago.

Is this year just a blip, or are Bundesliga teams no longer competitive?

Same as every year

In truth, this year is business as usual for everyone but Bayern Munich. They last went out this early in 2010-11, where Schalke flew the Bundesliga’s flag by reaching the semi-final. That was also the last time that Bayern were not the best performing Bundesliga side in Europe. Since then, no Bundesliga side has progressed further than Bayern in any given year.

While Bayern disappointed, the other Bundesliga teams actually improved on last year’s performance. The league has already earned more coefficient points (UEFA’s mathematical measure of success in their competitions) this season than in 2011-12, when Bayern reached the final.

Some have claimed that German club football is at a low point.

But the Bundesliga has more coefficient points this year than last year, when Bayern were the only Germans to make the last 16.

It’s true that the Bundesliga has declined since the highs of 2013, but there is no crisis –the league enjoyed almost a decade among the best in Europe, and it is impossible to sustain that level of performance every year.

What explains this year’s results?

Nobody is guaranteed European success; not even the ridiculously rich Premier League. There are four English clubs in the last eight now, but as recently as 2014-15, no English team made the quarter-finals. Things can change quickly.

The league has been worse than this, and this year’s failures can be explained. Bayern are in a year of transition, and Dortmund ran into their worst form of the season just before the knockout stages.

Schalke’s 7-0 loss to Manchester City is not particularly representative of the league’s quality either –lucky to finish second last season, Schalke are the worst team in the Bundesliga on current form.

Unlike in England, there is no group of German teams consistently qualifying for the Champions League. Bayern and Dortmund take up two spots, but Wolfsburg, Leipzig, Gladbach, Leverkusen, Schalke and Hoffenheim often share the other Champions League places, none able to achieve consistent top-four finishes. This means the teams representing Germany are usually not the best four teams from Germany– Schalke the prime example.

Can the Bundesliga be the best again?

Although the league isn’t too far off the highs of 2013, a return to 2013 form is unlikely for multiple reasons.

The financial gap to England keeps growing, making it tougher for Bundesliga teams to compete in Europe. “When the 18th placed Premier League team has a budget 20 million higher than us, it is very difficult,” Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann explained to kicker.

This nothing new, and the Germans will not sacrifice their ideals to close the financial gap. Instead, clubs will continue to develop players as they always have. What is troubling, however, is the lack of top coaches.

When the Bundesliga was at its best, the league had managers such as Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp at Bayern and Dortmund respectively. Now they have Niko Kovac and Lucien Favre, who are both inexperienced and unproven at elite level.

If the Bundesliga is to return to the heights of around five years ago, hope lies with managerial prospects like Julian Nagelsmann. Or perhaps somebody ought to tempt the likes of Klopp and Guardiola back to their old stomping ground.

And if not? There may not be any all-German finals, but the Bundesliga will do just fine without them.

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