It was Bundesliga two, La Liga nil this week as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund saw off Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in the Champions League semi-final, setting up an all-German clash at Wembley on May 25th.
There’s been a suggestion in some quarters that the result sees the axis of power in European club football shift east from Spain to Germany, but is that really the case?
There’s certainly an argument that Barcelona have been dethroned from their position as the best team in Europe by a Bayern Munich side that not only dominated them over both legs but made them look considerably mediocre. This final will be Bayern’s third in four years and they will go into the clash against their domestic rivals as strong favourites.
Yet, not to dilute Dortmund’s victory, Real Madrid have not been a force in Europe for some time. Despite being in the semi-finals on three successive occasions under Jose Mourinho Los Blancos haven’t been in a final for some eleven years, dating back to when they beat, aptly, Bayern Leverkusen in the final in 2002.
The rest of Spain’s representatives in the Champions League haven’t suggested that La Liga holds the power either. Malaga put in a good performance this year, being knocked out In the last minute of the quarter-finals against Dortmund, but that was their first stint in the tournament, and even if they finish in the top four a UEFA imposed ban will stop them competing In next year’s competition.
Valencia, whilst being present in the Champions League for the last three years running, have been crippled by the debt that has come with a bodged new stadium project and have never held on to their best players for long enough to mount a serious challenge whilst Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have rarely made an impact in the competition.
So if Spain can’t be claimed to be the central power in European club football, is there anything to back the idea that Germany has established itself in the position instead?
Bayern Munich are certainly looking like the dominant force on the continent, having already cemented the Bundesliga title with clashes against Dortmund in the Champions League and Stuttgart in the German Cup final to come. They look set to strengthen further in the summer, too, with the signing of Mario Gotze already confirmed and Robert Lewandowski looking likely to follow.
Dortmund too have been excellent in recent years, winning the last two Bundesliga titles and now making it to the final of the Champions League, but with the loss of Gotze and the more than likely departure of Lewandowski the club will once again need to restructure after losing key players. It’s something they’ve done well in the past, a risky strategy in the long-term.
Bayern haven’t restricted their poaching of players to Dortmund, either. Manuel Neuer was signed after winning the German Cup with Schalke 04, Mario Gomez joined a year after his goals contributed to Stuttgart’s 2006-07 Bundesliga title whilst first-team ever-presents such as Dante and Mario Mandszukic have all been purchased from rivals.
The result has been that teams other than Munich has struggled to sustain their success in the Bundesliga, Stuttgart’s league win was followed by a disappointing sixth placed finish, whilst Wolfsburg, winners in 2008/09 dropped to a lowly eighth. Werder Bremen, too have failed to repeat their 2004/05 title winning success.
It would be hard to argue that Bundesliga clubs can dominate on the European front unless Dortmund manage to sustain their recent success and another team step up and continually challenge the top two in Germany, with the closest teams to doing so being Schalke and Leverkusen, though they are both some way behind.
Even Bayern’s dominance on the European stage isn’t guaranteed in the near future. In the summer they will have to go through a managerial change which, even if the incoming manager is Pep Guardiola, can still be a difficult scenario, especially when that manager may be coming into the club on the back of a European and domestic treble.
A suggestion of the axis of power shifting to Germany also fails to take into account both Barcelona and Real Madrid strengthening in the summer, whilst the English teams, ever-presents in the latter stages of the Champions League, will look to bolster their squads, too. That’s not forgetting to mention the financial powerhouse that is Paris Saint Germain either.
In reality it’s hard to back the theory that German clubs will be the new dominant force in European club football, one-country dominance has been rare in the history of the Champions League and football across the continent, in its current state, is far too unpredictable to support a one-country stranglehold, and maybe that’s a good thing.