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Suddenly fashionable, the Bundesliga returns

The German Bundesliga's focus on fans and comparative financial sustainability, European football's worst-kept secret for years, is not just out - with the addition of star coach Pep Guardiola, it's now in vogue.

What was once a knowing whisper in football circles has grown into a roar. Perhaps a slightly overhyped one, if the truth be told, but the basic chorus is sound.

Talking about the relatively solid financial foundations of Germany's top football league, the Bundesliga, used to be a tricky, even tiresome affair. It involved looking at ownership structures, legal niceties, the nuts and bolts underpinning the action on the pitch. There weren't many of the action replays, goals, or star names that usually dominate the sport's headlines.

Barcelona's coach Josep Guardiola is seen during the match against Chelsea during a Champions League semifinal second leg match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, April 24, 2012. Chelsea drew 2-2 with Barcelona to win the match 3-2 on aggregate. (Foto:Emilio Morenatti/AP/dapd)

Envious European eyes turned green when Guardiola signed

This season, though, a perennially short-sold piece of soccer stock has seen its value soar - the Bundesliga is in vogue, almost an object of European envy.

There are a string of reasons, but Bayern Munich's acquisition of Josep "Pep" Guardiola - the hottest piece of coaching property on the market - for next season helped turn the volume up to 11 this week.

When fans of super-rich clubs like Manchester City, Paris St Germain or Chelsea wondered why the former Barcelona tactician chose to go to Bavaria ahead of their beloved outfits, the answers weren't hard to find.

Buoyant Bayern

Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller (left to right) celebrate a Bayern Munich goal away to Fortuna Düsseldorf. (20.10.2012)

There's a healthy mix of big buys and homegrown stars at Bayern

Bayern Munich top the table comfortably going into the second half of the season. Their squad is young and oozes talent - much of it homegrown. The Bavarian behemoths have no debts to speak of and a committed fan base; they invariably fill their state-of-the-art Allianzarena stadium.

And owing to an increasingly well-known German law, dubbed the 50+1 rule, paid-up Bayern Munich "members" - fans who put a little of their money where their mouths are each year - own a controlling stake in the club. This is the case for almost all Bundesliga teams. At Bayern, 18- to 25-year-olds pay 40 euros ($53), other adults pay 60, and pensioners pay 30 euros each year.

Shielded from the sharks

Corporate investment in the Bundesliga is still strong. But it's impossible to take over a club against the fans' wishes or to run a side into debt by purchasing it with borrowed funds, on the hope that subsequent revenues can pay for the investment.

That's probably why the Manchester United fan blog trulyreds.com wrote a story in March 2010 with the headline "Bundesliga model may show the way ahead."

Carling Cup Quarter Final West Ham United v Manchester United 30 November 2010. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson Photo: Joe Toth / BPI

Long-standing manager Alex Ferguson has maintained United's success, despite shakier finances

Like Bayern in Germany, United are England's most successful league club. The side once boasted a similarly solid balance sheet, but not any more. A 2005 takeover by the US-based Glazer family has resulted in more than 600 million euros going out of the club's coffers, with the club still more than 500 million euros in debt.

Supporters pick up the tab

Outstanding bills like these are usually paid by fans, either in their cable television subscriptions or at the turnstiles. Traveling Manchester City fans in England are to boycott Sunday's away game against Arsenal, saying that the 74 euro ticket price is unfairly high.

Last season, Arsenal was the most expensive English club to watch. The best seats in the house at the Emirates Stadium in London cost 150 euros. Bayern's most expensive tickets in the current campaign sell for either 70 or 60 euros, depending on whether the club classes the visitors as "A" or "B" grade opponents. Fans can stand in the terraces for just 15 euros. And yet with demand through the roof, Bayern's tickets are among the most expensive in Germany.

Fans on the Südtribune at Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park stadium

Dortmund's fabled standing-only Südtribune behind the south-facing goal: a ticket's yours for around 15 euros

These low prices, coupled with the ability for clubs to have standing areas that are outlawed on safety grounds in several European countries including England, help explain why the Bundesliga attracts the most spectators of any European football league.

The final puzzle piece: performance

The comparatively conservative German model was sometimes criticized as holding the Bundesliga back. Analysts would point to the difficulties German teams encountered in European competition against opponents with more financial flexibility.

No German side has won the coveted Champions League since Bayern Munich in 2001. But the Bavarians reached both the 2010 and 2012 finals, only losing on penalties to Chelsea at their Allianzarena last May.

Mario Goetze of Dortmund celebrates with teammate Marco Reus after scoring his team's third goal during the DFB Cup match between Borussia Dortmund and Hannover 96 at Signal Iduna Park on December 19, 2012 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The Bundesliga boasts superstars like Marco Reus and Mario Götze

Furthermore, all seven German teams that qualified for European competition this season have made it through to the knockout phases. Bayern's main rivals, reigning Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, embarrassed the English, Spanish and Dutch champions to waltz through what was widely acknowledged as the most difficult group in this year's Champions League.

It was a different story for champions Chelsea and English Premier League holders Manchester City.

Back from the winter break

The final motive behind Guardiola's German move can be found in Friday's league restart. Bayern go into the second half of the season as champions-elect. They lead the league by nine points, having scored 44 and conceded only seven in the first half of the season.

Frankfurt players celebrate a win over Freiburg. (30.09.12)

Eintracht Frankfurt: the surprise package of the season so far

Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen will be hard pressed to stay ahead of Borussia Dortmund in third, let alone mount a charge against the league leaders.

The competition is on a knife's edge below the runaway leaders, though. A mere 12 points separate champions Dortmund in third from underachieving Wolfsburg in 15th position.

Newly-promoted Eintracht Frankfurt, flying high in fourth position, will seek to cement their status as the season's Cinderella side, with outsiders like Freiburg and Mainz similarly in contention for European berths at the half-way stage.

Minnows Augsburg and Greuther Fürth are rooted to the bottom of the table, with relegation looming large.

Schalke, through to face Galatasaray in the Champions League round of 16, are struggling to contain a disastrous domestic downturn. Despite European success, the Ruhr valley giants are winless in seven league games. They will look to stop the rot in the very first fixture on Friday, when they entertain Hannover.

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