Is Bundesliga the best?

If the average gate in the Bundesliga is still better than that in the Premiership that is surely in large measure thanks to the fact that admission charges in Germany are radically less than those in the increasingly expensive Premier League. By Brian Glanville.

Recent voices from the German Bundesliga claim its superiority to the English Premier League, frequently proclaimed as the best in Europe. German statistics aim to prove that Bundesliga attendances are superior to those of what one has always called “The Greed Is Good League”. But comparisons, proverbially odious, are difficult to make.

If the average gate in the Bundesliga is still better than that in the Premiership that is surely in large measure thanks to the fact that admission charges in Germany are radically less than those in the increasingly expensive Premier League. It was no surprise when thousands of Manchester City fans voted with their feet to stay away from their team’s match against Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium when the cost of a ticket was a monstrous GBP62.

The consequence of such high charges, though relatively few as high as that, is that the traditional working class fan support, for so many generations the backbone of professional English football, are simply priced out of attending games. Nor are things much better even for younger fans from the middle classes. All too frequently one meets such young enthusiasts who complain that they simply cannot afford to go to the stadiums.

A consequence of this is that the average age of fans at Premier League matches is going up all the time; today it is somewhere among the middle forties. With the lurking danger that sooner or later the so called fan base will measurably diminish. As for the clubs themselves, they are caught up in a desperate race to meet the huge demands of their players, empowered since the so called Bosman decision in the European Court which led to freedom of contract, real rather than as previously notional, creating squads of millionaires.

All very well for such clubs as Chelsea and Manchester City to meet such vast demands; though new UEFA legislation may to some extent curb their possibilities. Chelsea of course are owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich who, having saved the London club from bankruptcy, has poured out wealth to recruit a profusion of stars. Not always of course with success; as in the case of two international strikers who have notoriously failed at Stamford Bridge, Ukraine’s Andrei Shevchenko cost GBP30 million and massive wages, but failed miserably. Fernando Torres, once such a star for Spain, cost GBP50 million and has wretchedly been firing blanks. Manchester City have still more money, thanks to their Abu Dhabi owners, and have bought a string of leading players; Aguero, Dzeko, Tevez and the rest.

Yet if the ultimate criterion is surely success in Europe, and the so called Champions League, what have either of these clubs achieved this season? Chelsea last season against all odds and expectations actually won that title, the shrewd tactician and former club star Roberto Di Matteo reviving a flagging side, concentrating on breakaway football and surprising even the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. This season, however, with Abramovich demanding a more open and adventurous kind of football, Chelsea have quickly been eliminated from the competition. As have Manchester City for all their stars, knocked out at the first group stage for the second year in succession.

Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga simply toyed with City in Manchester while in Amsterdam, City were brushed aside by an Ajax team which subsequently fell by the wayside.

Drawn as they are against Bayern Munich in the knockout round, Arsenal have the chance to strike a blow for the Premiership against the Bundesliga. Yet what can one make of a team knocked out of the Football League Cup so humiliatingly by Bradford City of what is effectively the fourth division. Now and again Arsenal will thrash a Premiership contender at the Emirates, Newcastle United and West Ham among them but by the same token they have all too often been vulnerable at home, especially in what was once a rock like defence, to teams of lesser stature and financial powers.

Manchester United rather than flagging City seem likely to win the Premiership this season having last season been edged out at the last gasp. But for their expensive recruits United have faltered in defence, hardly locked irresistible in their previous European ties; with even a team as modest as Southampton recently going to Old Trafford and in the opinion of United’s manager Alex Ferguson deserved a draw rather than 2-1 defeat.

The GBP100,000 a week footballer is almost commonplace in the Premiership. But what of the quality?