For many years, FC Bayern München have been the Bundesliga's one reliable presence in the UEFA Champions League. Other teams have come and gone, with progress to the knockout stages viewed as a bonus. This season, however, FC Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern all qualified for the last 16 with a game to spare and eventually finished top of their respective groups.
All four German participants in the UEFA Europa League – Hannover 96, VfB Stuttgart, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach – also progressed from their groups, prompting Bild to claim that "the Bundesliga makes Europe rock".
What is the Bundesliga doing right? As with the national side, most of the recent success can be linked back to the focus placed on producing home-grown talent in the aftermath of disappointing displays in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
[PHOTO src="1896068" size="smallSquare" align="right" caption="Marco Reus has impressed for Dortmund" ]The result is the emergence of players like Mario Götze, Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels and Marco Reus at Dortmund, Lewis Holtby and Julian Draxler at Schalke, and David Alaba, Thomas Müller and Holger Badstuber at Bayern. As many of the world's household names still prefer the allure of the Spanish Liga or English Premier League, it makes perfect sense for a country of more than 80 million to develop their own talent.
All of Germany's 2012/13 UEFA Champions League participants have also been very realistic in their fiscal approaches. Whether this results from being burned in the past, or is simply part of a long-standing philosophy, it has guaranteed the retention of these teams' star players. "Fortunately, the days when German clubs were quick to sell their top players when someone from England came in are over – that certainly applies to this club," said Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp.
Mario Gomez, out through injury for the majority of Bayern's campaign so far, is effusive about the prospects of the Bundesliga's trio of contestants. "They all deserved to win their groups," said the Germany striker. "It's nice to see the Bundesliga is alive and catching up with the very best leagues. In terms of strength across the board, I'd even say it's the best at the moment. The top teams are all performing strongly in Europe."[PHOTO src="1783747" size="smallLandscape" align="left" caption="Bayern won the continental title in 2001" ]
Though I agree with the gist of Gomez's statement, it seems too early to be proclaiming the Bundesliga as the best on the continent. "I am a bit surprised to see us celebrating like we have already won a title like we did in the past," said Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer. "Our demand in Germany has to be for this to be the norm. The competition only really starts now."
In the end, lifting trophies is what counts. It has been over a decade since Bayern last ensured the Bundesliga sat at the head of the table, but this season both they and Dortmund look like credible contenders. Do you think either can pull it off?
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