The governing body of European football UEFA has finally confirmed that the German Bundesliga will get four Champions League spots as of 2012. It was only a matter of time, say the experts.
Bayern lost last year's final, but the Bundesliga beat Serie A
Bayer Leverkusen's 2-0 victory over Metalist Kharkiv last Thursday in the first knockout stage of the Europa League will probably not go down in history as one of the club's more famous victories.
But this routine win over a team that finished third in last season's Ukrainian league proved to be the straw that broke the Italian camel's back. It means the Bundesliga has now banked 68,103 points in UEFA's five-year coefficient, putting it out of reach of the Italian Serie A, a distant 8,122 points behind.
With third place guaranteed, Bundesliga clubs will, from the 2012-13 season on, fight for three automatic Champions League places – plus one place in the qualifying round - rather than just two.
Dortmund's success reflects the German faith in youth
The coefficient rankings are calculated by an impenetrable system of points awarded for games played, wins, draws, and goals scored, all calculated by dividing the sum of earned points with the number of games played within a two-and-a-half-year cycle. International matches in World Cups, European Championships – both in qualifying and the final tournament – are also taken into account.
German League Association (DFL) President Reinhard Rauball was quick to express his pride. "We're extremely happy about the fourth Champions League starting place," he said. "It's the consequence of excellent work of the Bundesliga clubs."
He also had a handy explanation for Germany's success. "We have always believed that the Bundesliga will become stronger on the field because of its philosophy and its conditions," he said. "We knew the foreign leagues, with their structural weaknesses, would dip in the rankings."
The unfancied German clubs are certainly punching in a new class this season. Even though second-placed Spain will take some catching, Germany is currently out-scoring the home of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the current season – with 14,333 points against Spain's 13,214.
"I'm convinced that with a little patience we will overtake the Primera Division in the medium term," predicted Rauball.
Strength in youth and depth
DFL spokesman Kay Langendorff told Deutsche Welle that the reason lay in the depth of Germany's infrastructure. "It's down to the fact that the youth training concept is working, and that the Bundesliga is committed to supporting young blood," he said.
Langendorff says the current Bundesliga table reflects this policy. "You can see the success from the example of Dortmund," he said. "The team is extremely young – I believe at the weekend's game they had an average age of 22.6 years."
Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes agrees. "This is no short-term snapshot - it goes back to the performance centers of the Bundesliga clubs and the many different DFB projects," he said. "Bundesliga football has become a class better and it has a bigger wealth of highly-talented players than it has ever had before."
Langendorff says resulting confidence has led the lower Bundesliga teams to take lesser European competitions like the Europa League just as seriously as Bayern Munich take their Champions League clashes.
The more open the better
Pundits often look down on the Bundesliga for its lack of international heavyweights – since only Bayern can boast the prestige and the pedigree of Manchester United or AC Milan, the Bundesliga is often mistaken for a one-team league. From abroad it seems as if, in the odd season when Bayern don't run away with the title, a group of interchangeable "A. N. Other" teams scrap it out.
Magath always said the Bundesliga was best
But German insiders believe the relative openness of the Bundesliga is actually a strength in disguise, because it boosts competitiveness. Schalke coach Felix Magath was not taken by surprise by the new status the Bundesliga has achieved. "I've always said: the Bundesliga is the strongest league because it's so even."
The 2006 World Cup in Germany – which ironically was won by Italy – seems to have been a catalyst for the Bundesliga's ascendancy over Serie A. The infrastructure improvements have attracted more people to Bundesliga matches. "We have the most modern stadiums in Europe," says Langendorff. "Since the 2006 World Cup, we have the highest attendance average in all football leagues in the world, and the second highest of any league after the NFL in America."
German football also seems to be gaining larger international recognition, with last weekend's high-octane clash between Dortmund and Bayern being shown live in 198 countries – a new record.
Financial stability makes virtue of necessity
On top of this, while other European clubs have bought into massive inflated spending on mega-stars, Bundesliga clubs have tried to keep their books a little more balanced. Heribert Bruchhagen, board chairman at Eintracht Frankfurt, said, "We're on a good path, especially when you see the degree of debt in some big clubs. You get that in the Bundesliga too, but it's nowhere near as much as in other countries."
It is this financial caution that has apparently laid the foundation for the policy of training young talent.
Others have noted the parallels between the Dortmund's fresh-faced team storming the Bundesliga and Germany's spirited campaign at last year's World Cup in South Africa. This time, they probably won't be ending second best. But when they play in the Champions League next year, they will certainly command more respect from Spanish clubs.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Andreas Illmer