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By Matthew Handley
The artificial lighting of the Allianz Arena fades into the deep crimson of Bayern Munich, as Philipp Lahm holds the Champions League trophy aloft. Robben, Ribéry et al, the stars who have fired Bayern past Napoli, Manchester City, Real Madrid and now Chelsea, can celebrate after eleven years of disappointment. Amid the celebrations, though, Lahm, along with Schweinsteiger, Neuer and their German international colleagues, already have one eye on further glory at Euro 2012…
Bayern’s star-studded line-up and destructive European form makes it easy to forget that twice in a row Bayern have come second to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga standings. Despite selling star player Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid last summer, Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund have this season set a record points total. Third-placed Schalke weren’t bad either: 29-goal Klaas-Jan Huntelaar topped the scoring charts, supported by the evergreen Raúl. The relegation of a genuinely world-class player in Köln’s Lukas Podolski testifies to the league’s strength in depth, while UEFA has already recognised the Bundesliga’s resurgence; next season, four German clubs will enter the Champions League, at the expense of one from Italy’s Serie A.
In January, Newcastle United paid £10 million to sign Papiss Cissé from Freiburg, while Swansea agreed a loan deal for Hoffenheim midfielder Gylfi Sigurðsson. Nothing special was expected from this pair of relative unknowns, signed from mid-table Bundesliga clubs, yet they have been two of the outstanding players of English football in 2012, showing that there is real quality in the German league beyond Robben and Ribéry. Next season promises even more, with the arrivals of Podolski to Arsenal and Marko Marin to Chelsea already confirmed.
But the greatest tribute to the Bundesliga’s quality is those who choose to stay. Dortmund’s 19-year-old playmaker, Mario Götze, recently extended his contract until 2016, having resisted interest from Arsenal and Manchester United. Another youngster in Joachim Löw’s plans this summer is attacking midfielder Marco Reus, who will leave Gladbach in the summer, having rejected foreign clubs to sign for Dortmund.
Benefiting from a sound financial structure and the requirement that all clubs must be part-owned by fans, the Bundesliga has the cheapest tickets and highest attendances among Europe’s top leagues. The only obstacle to improving its reputation is its teams’ lack of success in Europe; beyond this week’s final, Dortmund, eliminated in the group stages this year, have the potential to progress further in the Champions League in the future. If Jupp Heynckes’ men do win on home turf, and the national side are successful in Poland and Ukraine, we can reasonably forecast a decade of German footballing dominance.
PHOTO// Storm Crypt