7-0 against VfL Bochum, 3-1 against SpVgg Greuther Fürth with a man down. The week before the Bochum game Bayern Munich smashed Barcelona 3-0 in a game that could have ended in a similar fashion then the 8-2 victory in the 2019/20 Champions League campaign.
What stands out are the two results in the Bundesliga and Bayern’s perceived dominance over Germany’s national competition. It is true, Bayern dominates 90% of all games, whether it is in the Bundesliga or the Champions League. But with several blue-chip clubs now relegated to 2. Bundesliga, the Rekordmeister’s dominance over German football, is ever more apparent.
“We are playing in the same league, but it was more than one class in difference,” Bochum head coach Stefan Reis said after the game against Bayern. A glance at Bochum’s and Fürth’s Transfermarkt market value underlines the gulf in quality. With an overall squad value of $938.19 million, Bayern Munich has the sixth most valuable squad on the planet.
Bochum ($42.76m) and Fürth ($40.59m) sit at the bottom of the Bundesliga squad value standings. On a global scale, neither club rank in the top 100 of the most valuable squads on the planet. In fact, the two clubs would be ranked just inside the top 15 of the most valuable Major League Soccer clubs.
MLS, in many ways, provides the blueprint for a much healthier football ecosystem. While the gap between Bayern Munich and Fürth is almost $900m in squad value—the gap in squad value between first-placed Atlanta United and last-placed Real Salt Lake City is just above $50 million.
A flexible salary gap in MLS means that the gulf between the top and bottom teams is still manageable, and it guarantees that no one team can dominate the league. The problem, of course, is that North America’s solution to ensuring competition cannot be translated to Europe, where the European Union’s competitive and anti-trust make an MLS construct impossible.
“It is our goal to win the tenth title in a row,” Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann said after the Bochum game. “I want to continue the legacy of my predecessors.”
Spoken by Nagelsmann, the sentence sounds like a threat, a continuation of dominance over a league in which the competition has no chance to end Bayern’s run of successive titles. Both the bosses at Bayern and the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) are also aware that the lack of a title race damages the Bundesliga product internationally.
“A title race is absolutely important,” Bundesliga International CEO Robert Klein said to the Gegenpressing Podcast in August. “The last few years have been good as [clubs] have been closer to Bayern. The question is: ‘Bayern win it every year, isn’t that easy.’ Bayern do an unbelievable job, and they are going for ten, which would be crazy. If they win ten and the title race is close … that would be great. [The title race] is an important factor for the growth of the league.”
The problem is that the DFL can incentivize or punish Bayern for its success. Also, the gap between Bayern and their closest competitors is not the only problem. The Rekordmeister does not just compete in the Bundesliga but also in the Champions League, where clubs from England and France—fuelled by investors from resource-heavy states—are not bound by financial limitations that German teams face due to the 50+1 fan-friendly structure of its clubs and strict licensing by the DFL.
Sure there are some things the Bundesliga could do, The Athletic journalist Raphael Honigstein, for example, proposed the reduction of the Bundesliga to 14 clubs with television money more evenly spread—but Honigstein also admitted that such a plan is unlikely because no club in the league would vote for its own demise.
With that in mind, the only way to reduce the gap in the Bundesliga is through general reform in European football. The Bundesliga, in general, and Bayern Munich, in particular, have pushed UEFA and the EU to introduce stricter FFP measures and a soft salary cap. The interests of Bundesliga clubs seem to, however, run contrary to those of wealthy club investors, making meaningful change at the Bundesliga unlikely and true competition a thing of the past.
Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth