Bundesliga 2022-23 season: The big issues | DW | 04.08.2022

Same old story?

The charge most often leveled against the Bundesliga is that it’s boring. It’s difficult to argue against that when only considering the outcome of the title, with Bayern Munich heavy favorites to add to their ten in a row in the coming campaign.

It’s usually about this time of year when hopes start to rise that Borussia Dortmund will finally mount a serious and sustained challenge, before fading as the season draws on. BVB moved early in the transfer window to snap up two of the league’s best central defensive talents in Niklas Süle (free from Bayern) and Nico Schlotterbeck (€18 million from Freiburg), though the former is already injured. It looks like an improvement in the backline, but we’ve been here before.

Another German international, promising young striker Karim Adeyemi, also arrived early from Red Bull Salzburg while Sebastien Haller was purchased to replace Erling Haaland’s goals after his departure to Manchester City. However, Haller has had devastating news that a testicuar tumor is malignant and he will undergo chemotherapy.

Though such health concerns put title talk in to perspective, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke admitted that Bayern “are the top contender again” and the rest are feeding off scraps. “Leipzig, Leverkusen, we, of course, would all like it if Bayern don’t become champions,” Watzke added, while accepting the unlikelihood of breaking the strangehold. 

There is a similar feeling of preseason resignation at RB Leipzig. The Red Bull-backed side won the German Cup last term after the appointment of Domenico Tedesco saw an upturn in their fortunes, but the former Schalke coach has set his sights a little lower. 

“We are ambitious and want to achieve the best possible result and qualify for the Champions League again,” he said, after his team recovered from a poor start to give Bayern a second-half scare in the Super Cup. “But it would be presumptuous to talk about the title or even declare it our goal,” he said.

RB Leipzig won the Cup last season and gave a Bayern a second-half scare in the German Super Cup – but they’re keeping expectations low

Big break

Whether you can find fun away from the title race (the battle for Europe is as open as ever, with seven different German clubs having qualified for the Champions League in recent years, while at least one big name is likely to get dragged into the relegation dogfight), the Bundesliga will be very different this term thanks to Qatar.

The emirate with sponsorship links to Bayern will host the World Cup in the European winter, meaning the Bundesliga will start earlier, pause earlier and stay away for much longer than usual.

The opener is this Friday, a couple of weeks before the usual starting point, while the last round of fixtures before a 10-week break is slated for the weekend of November 12 (matchday 12). Similar dates will apply to the second division, which began its season on July 15, only about seven weeks after the last one ended. More domestic midweek games will be required.

“From a sporting point of view, this World Cup is a disaster for the clubs,” said Bayer Leverkusen’s newly-promoted sporting director Simon Rolfes to German media group RND, echoing the thoughts of many across Europe’s top leagues. “Clubs that play internationally and release players for the World Cup will have an extremely heavy load.”

As well as the difficulty for clubs of coping with such a drawn-out season, there are serious concerns about player welfare, particularly given the impact of COVID-19 of the previous three seasons. Such a tighly-packed calendar also leaves little wiggle room should the virus impact the league again.

Top scorers depart

Last season’s battle for the Bundesliga’s Torjägerkanone (the top-scorer’s “cannon”) was fought out between Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland, but the league has lost its two top strikers this season. 

Nevertheless, Dortmund’s Watzke remains convinced that the league can withstand the blow, especially given Bayern’s recruitment of Mane and Matthijs de Ligt, the return of Mario Götze to the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt, plus his own club’s summer signings.

“We don’t have to gloss over the situation: it’s a challenge that the league has to face,” he said the loss of Lewandowski and Haaland. “But the Bundesliga existed well when neither of them were there, and it will continue to do well.”

Battle over 50+1 rumbles on

For some, including certain club executives, the departures of superstars like Lewandowski and Haaland to La Liga and the Premier League respectively is further proof that German clubs cannot compete financially with their Spanish and English counterparts abroad, while Bayern’s tenth Bundesliga title last season suggested a lack of competition domestically, too.

Both, critics argue, are arguments that the infamous 50+1 rule is holding German football back.

“If we want to remain a top destination in European competition, I believe that a serious and less emotional discussion about the 50+1 rule is absolutely necessary,” said Bayern Munich CEO recently. “We at FC Bayern have always been of the opinion that every club should decide for itself whether and how far it wants to open itself up to investors.”

For others, however, including many fans and even other club officials, the attractivity of the Bundesliga has plenty to do with keeping 
 50+1, the rule that stipulatees that members must retain a majority voting stake in their club.

Lewandowski and Haaland may have joined Barcelona and Manchester City respectively, but no Bundesliga club has the financial problems that the Catalonians currently have, while you would struggle to find a German football fan who would want their club to be owned by a nation state such as Abu Dhabi.

“Nobody has yet been able to prove to me that 50+1-run clubs cannot be just as successful,” said Watzke. Indeed, Eintracht Frankfurt knocked both Barcelona and Premier League West Ham out of the Europa League last season en route to winning the competition.

“It’s a question on convition,” he said. “Democratic participation has been a key element of members’ associations for hundreds of years in Germany. It’s deeply rooted in our society.”

It seems clear that the debate, which strikes at the heart of what makes German football what it is, will rumble on.

Edited by Matt Ford.

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