Could play-offs be the way to stop Bayern’s dominance?

The former Bayer Leverkusen chairman Wolfgang Holzhäuser is the most recent figure to propose reform to the Bundesliga in order to prevent potential competitive stagnation.

German domestic football has been undeniably dominated by Bayern Munich, as the Bavarian club have regularly won the title since the league’s inception in the 1960s. In total, they have won a record 27 league titles and look set to record their sixth successive title in 2018 as they currently sit 13 points clear at the top of the table.

Whilst this does not necessarily look different to other European leagues, as Manchester City sit a similar distance clear at the top of the English Premier League, Bayern Munich have enjoyed a historical dominance unlike any other team in European football. Borussia Dortmund have been Bayern’s closest rivals, as they have won eight league titles – 19 trophies behind Munich.

Other European leagues are clearly more competitive. In England, Manchester United hold the record number of titles with Liverpool only two behind, whilst in Spain Real Madrid are the record holders with 33 titles as Barcelona trail them on 24.

It would be wrong to suggest that other teams have not generally dominated their respective leagues across Europe, as the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus have had similar dominance domestically. Bayern Munich, however, represent a unique case due to the lack of permanent competitive opposition.

In many ways, the potential competitive stagnation of the German league is a great credit to the five-time European Champions from Bavaria. The likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen had their purple patches in the 20th century but have never really been able to pose a permanent challenge to Bayern’s dominance.

It’s true that it’s not possible to handicap Bayern Munich or restrict their footballing power, but Holzhäuser believes he knows how to create a more competitive scenario in Germany.

The former Leverkusen chairman has suggested that the Bundesliga should adopt a play-off style finale to each league season. This would not be an unprecedented move, as the American MLS already employs such a system and the Bundesliga itself has a play-off system to decide the final spot of relegation and promotion.

The new system, as Holzhäuser suggests, would have the top four teams at the end of the season play knock-out matches and then ultimately a final and third-place play-off.

There are some clear drawbacks to this proposal. It would arguably negate the competitiveness of the league further, as it would no longer matter to teams like Munich and Dortmund whether they came in first or fourth place.

Play-off systems have also been criticised for not producing a fair outcome, as the team that performs the best over a domestic campaign may end up without the title. The MLS and sports such as American Football and Rugby League, however, run this system without problem.

Logistically, this change also poses more problems, as television coverage and fixture congestion must be considered.

These problems, however, should not rule out the change – the Bundesliga already has fewer games per season than the English Premier League and more television rights could provide the top German clubs with revenue that they need to compete with the spending power of other European giants.

Ultimately, there is no guarantee that a reform to the league structure would have any impact on Bayern Munich’s dominance at all. The reality is that Bayern Munich is by far the biggest German football club – they should expect to win the knock-out games against whichever team they come up against.

The changes proposed in this article may not be the final answer to challenging competitive stagnation in the Bundesliga, yet it is clear that Bayern Munich’s dominance will not be challenged unless there is a change to the league structure.

 

Image courtesy of Tsutomu Takasu

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