The 2016-17 Bundesliga season offered some memorable moments but also included a large number of flops. Standards in the German top flight are slipping, writes DW sports reporter Andreas Sten-Ziemons.
It's all over bar the relegation playoff. Perennial champions Bayern Munich wrapped up a record-extending fifth straight title with a 15-point cushion over second-placed RB Leipzig. Darmstadt and Ingolstadt were relegated - as expected - and Hamburg - as usual - left it very, very late to secure their Bundesliga status. So nothing new there then. Or is there?
There were certainly some positive surprises. Leipzig in their debut season, Hoffenheim and young coach Julian Nagelsmann and, especially, Freiburg, who with relatively limited resources finished seventh. If Dortmund beat Frankfurt in the German Cup final on May 27 Freiburg will be playing in the Europa League.
Cologne also impressed and their fifth-placed finish means they return to continental competition for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Debutants Leipzig have been heavily criticized by self-proclaimed football traditionalists for their corporate backing. It cannot be denied, though, that the 'Red Bulls' have enriched the league. Of course, the cash from Red Bull helps but other clubs have plenty of money. Leipzig, crucially, also have a clear plan for how to spend it sensibly to achieve the maximum success. Even though they probably could afford them, they eschew the big-name players and focus on talented youngsters who fit perfectly with the football philosophy of sporting director Ralf Rangnick.
That gives Leipzig an advantage over clubs like Hamburg and Schalke, two of the teams who really disappointed this term. Wolfsburg and Leverkusen, two more clubs with strong corporate links, were also among the flops. Two years after winning the German Cup and finishing second in the Bundesliga, VW-sponsored Wolfsburg find themselves in the relegation playoff and fighting for their top-flight survival.
It has seldom been so easy to secure a lucrative berth in Europe and clubs like Gladbach and Schalke must be kicking themselves for missing out. Two more wins would have got them over the line.
Leverkusen and Frankfurt completely lost their way in the second half of the campaign, managing a mere 17 and 13 goals respectively. Frankfurt slipped from sixth place to 11th.
Standards in the Bundesliga, which likes to proclaim itself as one of the top three leagues in Europe, have slipped. If Munich can win five straight titles, and always by a wide margin, it says less about their qualities than about the shortcomings of their rivals. It is probably not a coincidence that no German club made it past the quarterfinals of European competition for the first time since 2005.
Developments in football tend to come in waves. Success is not a permanent state but happens in phases. German football has been used to success in recent years, with Bayern reaching the Champions League final in 2010, 2012 and in 2013 when they faced Bundesliga rivals Dortmund.
The previous golden age for Germany in Europe came in the decade leading up to 2005, with a German Champions League finalist in 1997 (Dortmund), 1999 (Bayern), 2001 (Bayern) and 2002 (Leverkusen). After that, just as appears to be happening now, it was all downhill. If the clubs and the league draw the right conclusions, things should improve again. But it will probably take a few years.
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