This piece originally appeared on www.sabotagetimes.com.
Tuesday was a day of watershed moments that more or less established Bayern Munich as football’s latest pre-eminent force and confirmed in my mind the need for a European Super League to make the European game interesting again.
Bayern’s era has been a long time coming. They have reached two of the last three Champions League finals and should really be the European Cup’s current custodians. They are perennial favourites to win the Bundesliga and their commercial revenue dwarfs that of every other club on the planet.
Despite these facts, their European standing and sheer might have often been underestimated by casual football viewers in the UK. Until recently, some of our leading journalists still fancied Manchester United as the better side. The last of those doubts were removed on the day that Bayern first confirmed the signing of Mario Götze and then destroyed Barcelona.
By taking Götze from Dortmund, they torpedoed their only serious rivals on the eve of their biggest match for years and set in motion a chain of player exits that will see Jürgen Klopp’s men fatally depleted in the short-term. Even the long-term rebuilding job at the Westfalenstadion will almost certainly prove impossible.
As for Bayern, €37m for Götze is a bargain when one realises that for that sum they have all but secured the next five or six domestic titles. Their squad is simply too strong for it to fail to win two-thirds of its league fixtures every year. This season’s procession will be the norm from now on.
In truth, Bayern have always had the capacity to be this dominant. The playing field was levelled throughout the last decade by a combination of widespread mismanagement, bad managerial appointments and some seriously flawed short-term thinking on the part of just about every club in Germany. That time is over. Just as the Bundesliga was establishing itself as a go-to division for high quality competition, it will suddenly become another Scottish Premier League.
The last few years have seen Germany’s top flight overtake Serie A as Europe’s third strongest league, gaining an extra Champions League spot as well as millions of viewers around the world. Bayern being Celtic-like champions by default sees the division lose an essential part of its appeal. By killing off the competition, they have removed the incentive for their domestic rivals to innovate and improve.
In football as in economics, competition and quality are of paramount importance and are intrinsically related. When two sides of an equally high standard compete, the odds are the result will be fairly unpredictable. Furthermore, the teams will have to make a concerted effort to innovate and raise standards in order to increase their chances of victory against an opponent of equivalent strength.
Now that competing with Bayern is impossible, Germany’s other big clubs will inevitably decline in strength. They are already miles behind in terms of revenue and squad quality but the current chasm will appear no more than a hair’s width when contrasted to the gap that will emerge in the coming years. After all, few prospects of the required quality will be motivated to join sides that can’t offer big money or a reasonable shot at tangible success.
Dortmund’s current Champions League campaign, perhaps naively billed as the dawn of a new era, has been reduced to a last hurrah. Klopp’s team will go down as this decade’s Red Star Belgrade and while some of the players will doubtless collect trophies and paycheques aplenty elsewhere, the most common question put to them when their careers are over will be “what do you think that Dortmund side could have achieved if it had stuck together?”
We have had plenty of time to see this coming, of course, and one can hardly blame Bayern Munich for wanting to increase their chances of success to 100%. In many ways, they are behind the curve in terms of having their domestic title wrapped up before a ball is kicked each season. Their rivals for the Champions League have already made their own leagues painfully predictable.
In England, Manchester United have won thirteen of the last twenty-one Premier Leagues and, by rights, should be on a run of seven consecutive titles. It will take an almighty transfer splurge from Manchester City to break their supremacy over English football. No-one else can challenge.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have used their economic strength to all but forbid domestic competition. In doing so they have turned La Liga into something Barça’s sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta recently described as “a clandestine tournament played between Champions League ties.”
Elsewhere, Juventus have rejuvenated admirably and should dominate Serie A until Milan and Inter can afford to end their periods of relative austerity. Paris Saint-Germain’s oil money will see them win Ligue 1 every season unless their management goes quite literally insane or a bored oligarch buys Lyon or Marseille.
Europe’s minor leagues – the Dutch Eredivisie, the Portuguese Superliga and the Russian Premier League, for example – remain relatively competitive but nonetheless contain established class systems. At the top of the league, a tiny and impossibly exclusive set of clubs squabble over the title and the rest exist purely to sell to these clubs.
This widespread hegemony has long been in place and has contributed to the growing number of protests and whinging blog posts from the Against Modern Football movement. Without wanting to join their number – believe it or not, I quite like modern football – I was for the first time moved to sympathise when I heard that Götze was signing for Bayern.
If the big boys are so determined to grind everyone else down into the dirt, only really being tested in the few Champions League games between themselves, then European football is heading in a very boring direction. This season is a case in point: its only noteworthy aspect is that nothing noteworthy has happened. Every major title race was done and dusted before March.
With domestic leagues now ‘clandestine tournaments’, there is no longer a point in them existing im their current form. An NFL-style system enforcing equality across the continent would be the ideal solution but it would be impossible to enforce. That leaves only one solution. A European Super League has been in the pipeline for at least the last ten years and its creation would be controversial and, regrettably, devastating to some clubs.
Nonetheless, if football is to sustain its current level of quality and recover a smidgen of intrigue then some level of competition must be maintained. Let Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona go off and play a league amongst themselves. So help me Christ, we are going to be bored if they don’t.