Spain, which features Barcelona and Real Madrid, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta and Mesut Ozil, has the best football league in the world. After all, the recently announced FIFA/FIFPro World XI featured eleven players from La Liga. There’s no better league in the world, right? Wrong!
And England, which features Chelsea and Manchester City with money that can buy any player in the world. Or Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, or Liverpool which have glorious histories that those other two teams can only dream of. This must be the best league in the world, right? Wrong!
This isn’t an argument to bash what the EPL has done over the past decades in which they were undoubtedly the most powerful football league in the world. Much more, this is an appreciation of what is growing and developing in Germany. The EPL’s run is over, for now. Over the past few years, the German Bundesliga has been developing into the world’s role model league. It is now, and will for the next few years, be the best football league in the world. Or, to steal the words of Moises Llorens, the writer for one of Spain’s sports papers, “AS”, the Bundesliga is “the most renowned and best organized league on the continent.”
Ticket prices, compared to those in England, are relatively cheap. An average ticket costs about $28, roughly the same as a ticket to an MLS game and at least half as cheap as a ticket for an EPL game. Stadiums are state of the art - most of them were built or renovated for the FIFA World Cup in 2006. The fans can still drink beer in the stands. The product on the field is fun, exciting, and unpredictable to watch. While Bayern Munich have won eight of the last 14 titles, five different teams have been Bundesliga champions the last nine years. A sixth, Schalke 04, have been runners-up three times.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this support is the connection the fans have with the club. Thanks to the 50 + 1 rule, Bundesliga clubs all have the same majority owner -- their fans, who maintain control of 50 percent of shares plus one. This rules out clubs finding a sugar daddy like Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour. It hasn’t happened yet, but what happens when one of these rich owners in England or Spain loses interest in his toy? Does he dump it and find a different project? We will see.
But perhaps the most important argument for a having a quality league is the on-field product. Messi and Ronaldo are in Spain, yes. Rooney and van Persie are in England, OK. But the Bundesliga is packed with young stars, many of which would barely be old enough to legally drink in the United States. Second maybe only to Spain, German youth player development is astounding. At EURO 2012, Germany had the youngest roster. But for Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, all play in the Bundesliga. Lukas Podolski is the only one who has since left. Young stars such as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, and Thomas Muller (none older than 23) are all tied to their clubs long term. One reason for this “youth boom” is a rule, which demands that all first and second division teams must have a certified academy. How many teams in England would qualify?
Perhaps the real power of the Bundesliga will be shown in the coming weeks or months, when one of the most highly sought after coaches in the world snubs English teams and decides to manage in Germany instead. Pep Guardiola will become the next manager of Bayern Munich. Why? Because there he has everything that he and the Bundesliga stands for and the EPL doesn’t - great youth development and great club management...
If you enjoyed this article, check out Gary Curneen's piece, "Why I Love the English Premier League".