There are under 100 days remaining until the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals kickoff, and despite their current ranking as World Number One, German fans are oddly anxious. FC Bayern Munich supporters, on the other hand, are feeling a bit too relaxed. Though spring has not yet set in, Bayern are rapidly closing in on a record 6th consecutive Bundesliga title. Meanwhile, pundits assail the administrators of German professional football over the stagnation of the league—as embodied by Bayern’s dominance.
Some openly question whether the time has finally come to leave behind the 50+1 rule (a rule that keeps private investors from making changes in the club without taking into account the wish of supporters). But is a guillotine-like separation from the past really a solution? And if so, a solution to what problem exactly?
A tale of two Mannschaften
The German men’s national team has been a juggernaut in their campaign to defend the 2014 World Cup title. But it would take a truly uninformed optimist to believe that Russia 2018 will be a breeze for die Mannschaft. In fact, any reasonably smart money would say that Belgium are more likely to be a semi-finalist than Germany are to win their second consecutive title.
Additionally, both Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo will likely be representing their nations for the final time. Either (or both) could easily become emotional crowd-pleasing favorites. Imagine a German side, full of former champions and fresh-faced world football superstars, facing down Leo or CR7 for the final match in Moscow.
Lurking as always, Brazil will undoubtedly be revenge-minded, as well.
And then there is Bayern. The current Bundesliga season has made the three-quarters turn and the monster from Munich is barely 10 points out from claiming the title yet again.
With eight matchdays remaining, the reigning champs can win it all outright with three more victories. (They have won seven and drawn one since the winter break.) But it might not even take that. Any combination of three match days in which FCB get any points at all—while the four teams chasing them get zero—would clinch it for Jupp Henckyes’ Mannschaft.
And Easter is still two weeks away.
A far, far better thing…?
In early February of this year, the major investor in Hannover 96, Martin Kind, withdrew his application for exception to the 50+1 rule. That primary ownership regulation of German football has been the elephant in the room for a number of years now. Despite Kind’s move, and given the apparent stagnation (at least at the topmost level of German football), the beast has now gone full-on rogue.
No less than Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (German all-time great and current FCB chairman) put the elimination of 50+1 on the table last fall. And the drumbeat, both for and against the rule, has steadily grown louder ever since. If for no other reason than the advent of RB Leipzig, which famously flouted the rule and found success.
It may also be due to the dissembling of Borussia Dortmund. Despite being the second most prestigious club in German football, BVB has been unable to catch up to Bayern. It seems doomed to remain a “selling club” unless something changes.
As it stands now, the world-class players that many Bundesliga fans would love to cheer on, are oftentimes moving on to better things. It would be unfair to ask those players to put their heads on the chopping block simply on the basis of club loyalty. They are professionals who can, if they’re lucky, look forward to an all-too-brief career. They have to make the most of their skills while they have them.
Winter of despair, or spring of hope for Bundesliga?
On the one hand, it is hard to fault old-school fans for wanting to keep their beloved clubs from turning into corporations. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how that could be done without sacrificing the worldwide appeal of the league. Bayern’s success is, in many ways, proof of that fact.
Superclubs are popular; underdogs are interesting. Domestic dominance yields international popularity; international popularity invites international investment.
Following the decision by Kind to withdraw his application for exemption, the administrators of German professional football, the DFL, called for an open discussion on the merits of 50+1 late last month.
And Easter is still two weeks away.