Borussia Dortmund And Union Berlin capitalized on a Bayern Munich defeat this weekend to equalize on points the Bavarians at the top of the Bundesliga in the closest title chase Germany has had in years.
After Bayern lost 3-2 to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturdaysunday saw Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 4-1 to equalize with 43 points, while Union might even have been better had they been beaten Schalkeinstead settling for a draw and a point against the struggling Royal Blues.
It is the first time that three teams have been level on points at the top at this stage of the season since the three points per win were introduced in 1995/96 and, with Union facing Bayern next week and Dortmund still to play Either way, there is cautious hope that the Bavarians’ decade-long stranglehold on the league could perhaps be broken.
The desire for a serious challenger and a real title chase is understandably strong in Germany – even among some Bayern fans, if they’re really honest with themselves. But the debate over exactly how to achieve this has divided German football for a decade.
Powerful voices at some clubs and in some media – most recently Bayern Munich honorary chairman Uli Hoeness – say German football’s restrictions on club ownership are discouraging the kind of investment that could help Bundesliga clubs. to challenge Europe’s elite abroad and Bayern at home.
But a significant number of German fans remain adamant that they would rather see Bayern win twenty consecutive league titles than sell majority stakes in their clubs to outside investors.
Premier League ownership: cause for concern, not envy
Indeed, the English Premier League may have had five different champions since anyone other than Bayern last won the Bundesliga, but the identities and ownership structures of those clubs tend to be a cause for warning in Germany, rather than envy.
Manchester City, winners of four of those seasons, are 88% controlled by Abu Dhabi-owned City Football Group and are currently the is being investigated for financial irregularities by the Premier League. Chelsea, champions in 2015 and 2017, were recently the subject of a forced sale by the British government following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia because of the former owner Roman Abramovich’s ties to Vladimir Putin.
Even Leicester City’s 2016 ‘fairy tale’ was funded by Thai family Srivaddhanaprabha and their King Power group, while Liverpool’s American owners Fenway Sports Group were forced to backtrack on their role in the attempt. European Super League coup of 2021, and have since put the club up for sale.
And now, this weekend, investors linked to the State of Qatar have launched an official bid for the record champions Manchester Unitedwho themselves were robbed of more than £1bn ($1.2bn/€1.12bn) by the Glazer Family since 2005.
A successful Qatari bid for United would follow last year’s takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and effectively completing the transformation of English football’s elite into a geopolitical tool for a group of Middle Eastern states.
Bundesliga shows there is another way
This weekend, however, the Bundesliga showed that there is another way.
All of the top four (Bayern, Dortmund, Union and, three points further on, Freiburg) all adhere, to varying degrees, to Germany’s 50+1 rule, which states that parent clubs retain majority voting rights in the companies that operate the professional club. teams, preventing the kind of majority takeovers by outside investors seen in England.
Indeed, Union Berlin and Freiburg go one step further, being two of only four current Bundesliga clubs 100% owned by their members. The recent successes of both (Freiburg reached the German Cup final last seasonwhile Union’s final leg in their incredible journey came with a goalless draw against European giants Ajax in the Europa League this week), justify their approach.
Another member-controlled German club, Eintracht Frankfurt, even won the Europa League last year, knocking out Premier League side West Ham United along the way.
Now Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are hardly volunteer-run non-profit charities themselves (Bayern sold 8.33% shares to Allianz, Audi and Adidas respectively, while Dortmund is listed on the German stock exchange) but, in both cases, club members still retain ultimate control.
And those members – the fans – know how to exercise that control. Back to 2021, the threat of serious consequences at annual general meetings played a role in keeping Bayern and Dortmund out of those ill-fated Super League plans.
Even on Sunday as Dortmund cruised to a 4-1 victory – their eeighth winning in a row in all competitions – their supporters have unfurled banners criticizing examples of what they perceive to be over-commercialization both at their own club and in the league as a whole.
“You adorn yourself with the symbols of the working class,” read a banner as Dortmund players took to the pitch wearing all-black kits rather than their traditional yellow as part of a club initiative to to honor the city’s industrial heritage in coal mining. and steel. The one-off kits are available to buy for €90 ($96), but the monetization of the club’s working-class traditions is seen as hypocritical.
“But don’t forget them with the price of your tickets!” continued the message, a reference to the fact that, although match tickets at German clubs can be extremely affordable compared to the Premier League, permanent season tickets in Dortmund are still the most expensive in the Bundesliga at €240 (256 $) per season .
Then there was political criticism of the German Football League’s (DFL) latest plan to boost investment in the league by potentially selling shares in the league as a whole, rather than individual clubs. “[You want to] strengthen the league’s ability to be competitive?” asked one banner. “Sustainable solutions, not a complete sell-out!” asked the next. “No to the sale of DFL shares!”
In England, by contrast, opposition to state takeovers at Manchester City and Newcastle United has been conspicuous by its absence. It’s unlikely to be much different from Manchester’s red side if United were to be sold to Qatar.
Indeed, rather than resisting, fans seem to be actively welcoming their new overlords, concerns about human rights abuses or the washing away of sports masked by promises of thoughtful glory, which they will tell themselves are the their. But it’s not.
In Germany, however, the successes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin this season belong to their supporters, who have a legal interest in their clubs. With all three now level on points at the top of the Bundesliga, however, it’s just a question of which direction it will go.
Whatever happens, it’s proof that the German model can work, and proof that there is another way.