We have reached the 24-hour countdown to the latest Bundesliga campaign, and it’s safe to suggest that it has never been more eagerly anticipated outside of Germany.
The league that has slowly but surely been threatening to give the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A a run for their money at the top of the European popularity scales over the last few years soared into a formidable position off the back of Bayern Munich’s treble-winning dominance and Borussia Dortmund’s ‘sexy’ approach to the game.
That those two very sides contested an all-German Champions League final in Wembley certainly did no harm. Nor has Pep Guardiola’s arrival in Bavaria. And the role played by the league’s television deal to air a Monday night highlights wrap-up shouldn’t be played down, either.
All in all, between the top dogs’ success, the mid-tablers’ formidable array of talent (Bayern love poaching from their fellow Bundesliga sides for a reason) and a thrilling climax at the wrong end of the table, Germany knocked one clean out of the proverbial park in 2012-13, in its 50th anniversary.
And outside of Bayern v Dortmund on the opening day, perhaps there isn’t a better way to start the new term than another Borussia, Moenchengladbach, visiting the Allianz Arena on Friday evening.
The same two sides met at Moenchengladbach’s Borussia Park on the final matchday of 2012-13, with nothing but the home side’s outside chance of a Europa League spot still up in the air – but it didn’t stop them from producing an enthralling contest with four goals in 10 minutes which saw Bayern win 4-3 from 3-1 down.
While we can only hope for a similar corker when Guardiola takes charge of his first Bundesliga game, the German domestic season has already begun.
From last Friday to this past Monday, the opening round of the German Cup took place. Much like the rest of German football these days, it was full of intrigue and plenty of goals.
One of the key reasons for this is that the tournament – called the DFB-Pokal locally – seeds the sides for the opening two rounds.
Of the 64 teams that participate each year, clubs from the top flight and the second-tier (2.Bundesliga) sides who haven’t just been promoted to that league are drawn from the ‘seeded’ pot of 32. In addition, those drawn from the ‘amateur’ pot are always at home.
In round two, regardless of how many ‘big boys’ survived their openers, the ‘amateur’ sides are again kept to their own pot. Once that pot empties (or in a freak season, once the ‘pro’ pot empties), the rest of the draw is conducted openly. Every other round up to the final is then wide open.
In summary, the German season begins with 32 fixtures over four days, with bigger clubs travelling to grateful and atypically-packed crowds of local supporters, quenching their three-month close-season thirst for competitive football with either a giant-killing or a Globetrotter-esque exhibition of world-class talent.
Now perhaps that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but is there seriously a better way to start a new domestic season?
Serving as evidence are Hoffenheim’s 9-0 goal feast at Aumund-Vegesack and Kaiserslautern’s 7-0 rout of Neckarsulmer Sport Union. Bayer Leverkusen hit Lippstadt for six while the home fans were momentarily buzzing when they got on the scoresheet themselves, making it 1-1 early on.
Rafael van der Vaart scored as Hamburg hit four at Schott Jena, while Thomas Mueller hit a hat-trick for Bayern in a 5-0 win over BSV Rehden. The Pokal’s seeded draw was making the transition from pre-season to league fixtures fun.
That isn’t all it did, as Moenchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Fortuna Duesseldorf, St Pauli and Bundesliga new boys Braunschweig found out in their respective shock exits at the first hurdle.
The German Cup has everything that every football fan loves about David v Goliath cup ties, only it is compulsory. Each and every season. Plus the extra cash at the gates is crucial for the always-playing-at-home underdogs.
It makes you wonder: could such a business model be made to work elsewhere?
We particularly love the old ‘magic of the cup’ cliché here in Britain. Media outlets and television companies circle around such lop-sided pairings when they emerge from the draw, knowing a big upset will provide plenty of business – business that comes from a fanbase who lap up said coverage as they discuss the entertainment of such a result for days on end.
I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is just how much of that cup football ‘magic’ comes from the completely random draw English cups (outside of some logistical seedings at the start of the League Cup) use.
Would ensuring that the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea begin every cup campaign away to the likes of Fleetwood, Newport County or a non-leaguer who has made it through to round three of the FA Cup be putting ‘the magic’ on tap, or would it be diluting the source?
Outside of a slight risk of overkill, we just cannot see why it wouldn’t be a great idea.
And while on surface level, the smaller clubs look set to benefit most – their opening League Cup tie would almost always enjoy an improved gate, and those who survive FA Cup preliminaries and two unattractive ‘proper’ round ties know they will be rewarded with a glamour tie – there are benefits for the top teams, too.
Sides with European interests tend to field fringe players for such domestic cup ties, right? In this scenario, they can do so every year and prepare accordingly. It’s not a winter break, but it’s a start.
It provides a developmental opportunity for their kids in a lower-pressure environment, and means the big cup ties are more likely to happen at more lucrative stages of the tournament.
Above all else, the German cup model filters out the weakest sides first. By that we do not mean the smallest or the poorest, but the ones who just don’t take the competition seriously, and thus are quickly either overpowered or upset by a hungrier opponent in those first two seeded rounds.
For the last few years, talk of what English football – and a few other nations – could learn from the Germans has snowballed. This past weekend showed that cup football is another one to add to a growing list.
Of course, there’s a strong chance the majority of English football fans will disagree about my cup suggestion. Do you think it’s a good idea or do you side with sticking to our own traditions? Let me know in the comments section below – I’m curious to see what we all make of this.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter