Bundesliga in 2020s: The biggest questions facing Germany′s top league | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 17.01.2020
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Bundesliga in 2020s: The biggest questions facing Germany's top league

German football enters a new decade this week when the second half of the Bundesliga gets underway. From Bayern's dominance to 50+1, DW takes a look at the biggest questions facing Germany's top division in the 2020s.

Will Bayern Munich's domination continue?

Bayern Munich have ruled over German football for the past half century, but their dominance in the 2010s reached another next level. They strung together seven consecutive league titles (eight last decade in all), their longest ever title streak, to go along with five German Cups and a Champions League to boot.

But at the dawn of the 2020s, the Bavarians are in the midst of a generational shift, both on and off the pitch. Club icons, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben have all left, and more — Jerome Boateng, Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer — could also be on their way out sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, long-serving club president Uli Hoeness has made way for former Adidas chief Herbert Hainer, and German goalkeeping legend Oliver Kahn is set to replace Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as the club's chief executive in 2022.

Read more: Oliver Kahn faces big task leading new Bayern Munich era

Bayern have so far proven to be immune to the fluctuations on the pitch and in the boardroom and they continue to be one of the most valuable football brands in the world, posting record revenues year after year. They still have a vastly superior budget to their rivals, but could the competition be about to catch up?

Timo Werner scoring against Cologne (AFP/O. Andersen)

RB Leipzig have emerged as Bundesliga title contenders this season

Who will Bayern's main challengers be?

After a decade which saw Bayern win the Bundesliga several times by a comfortable margin, it appears that other German teams have finally showed the ability to present some sort of challenge for the Bavarians.

Bayern enter the new decade in third place with RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach ahead of them in the Bundesliga table. Borussia Dortmund and Schalke are only three points behind the defending champions in fourth and fifth respectively.

But can any of them remain consistent challengers? Leipzig and Dortmund appear to have the financial means to do so, and Gladbach have established a solid infrastructure to at least stay near the top. But until someone unseats the perennial champions, it is fair to wonder if the Bundesliga will ever be more than a one-team league.

Read more: Opinion: RB Leipzig are top of the Bundesliga, and that’s not a good thing

Will 50+1 survive?

The 50+1 rule, which requires members to hold the controlling stake in their football clubs, is what makes German football. In no other country in the world do fans have more of a say in how their football clubs are run than in Germany.

However, the rule faced an existential threat in the 2010s when hearing aid manufacturer Martin Kind, who has argued the rule violates EU competition law, made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take over Hannover 96. In the end, clubs in Germany's top two divisions voted to retain the 50+1 rule in 2018.

Read more: Opinion: 50+1 is the root of all that is good about German football

But can the rule survive another decade in an increasingly globalized world? With Bundesliga clubs ramping up their commercial activities in an effort to remain competitive internationally, another reckoning may come.

RB Leipzig, whose voting "membership" is comprised of people connected to Red Bull, have already circumvented the rule and their success, could inspire other corporations to use similar tactics, providing another existential quandary for German football.

Hamburg fans during a match against St. Pauli (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heimken)

Hamburg have spent the past two seasons in the second division

Will traditional German giants regain their former glory?

Some of the biggest names in German football spent at least one season in the second division in the last decade, including Eintracht Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin, Nuremberg and Stuttgart.

Kaiserslautern and Eintracht Braunschweig have dropped even further, currently wallowing in division three, while it's even worse in the former East Germany, where former Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus are now in the fourth tier.

Some of those traditional clubs have since experienced a renaissance. Gladbach, for example, are putting together their first legitimate title challenge in decades while, after their relegation in 2011, Frankfurt have reached the knockout stages of the Europa League twice, including a run to the semifinals last season.

Will others experience a similar revival? Hertha, German champions in 1930 and 1931, signed on a new investor at the end of last year as they aim to become a "Big City Club" and German superpower, while Schalke are still dreaming of that first ever Bundesliga title.

Five-time champions Stuttgart have recruited former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger and former Dortmund scouting director Sven Mislintat to reestablish the club as a Bundesliga contender - but they need to win promotion first.

But many of Germany's traditional titans have a lot of work to do if they are to ever regain their former glory.

A global Bundesliga?

Though the Bundesliga has sought to broaden its horizons for decades, the 2010s saw globalization efforts reach another level.

Closed season marketing tours to the United States and China have become a regular occurrence, as has Bayern's controversial midseason trip to Qatar. Multiple clubs have set up offices in New York and/or Shanghai, as has the German Football League (DFL), the organization that governs Germany's top two divisions and which set up an office in New York in 2018.

Some globalization efforts have contributed to record revenues for clubs, but others have led to dissent from fans. Bayern supporters have openly criticized their club'srelations with Qatar, a country with a poor human rights record.

A decision in 2017 to allow a Chinese under-20 XI to play fourth-division sides in Germany's southwest regional league confounded many, and the experiment was ultimately cut short after fans displayed a Tibetan flag at one of the matches.

But clubs in Germany seem to be committed to spread their marketing efforts across borders. As more teams tour abroad, one has to wonder to what lengths German football clubs may go to extend their international reach.

The Spanish football federation recently staged its Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia. It is not hard to imagine the DFL or the DFB, Germany's football federation, attempting something similar, in spite of what the fans think about it.

VAR display on a jumbotron in Cologne (picture-alliance/Fotostand/Ellerbrake)

The Bundesliga began using VAR in 2017

What is the fate of VAR?

New technology in football was a hot topic during the last decade, from the establishment of goal line technology to the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR). 

Both refereeing systems were quickly adopted by the Bundesliga, goal line technology in 2015 and VAR in 2019. While the former has been a mostly accepted form of technological intervention, the latter has been met with frustration from all sides, from players to coaches to club executives to fans.

Hardly a Bundesliga matchday goes by where VAR is not a topic of discussion in some form. Match-going fans organize choreos seemingly every week calling for the apparatus to be scrapped.

Read more: Opinion: VAR has stolen football’s soul

The DFL is sticking by the VAR for now, with clubs voting to retain the system in 2018. But if fan dissent continues, how much longer can the system in its current form remain viable?

Because VAR has been established across the world, it's hard to imagine that the system will be binned entirely. But the system German football fans were introduced to last decade may be completely different by the end of this one.