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Sunday 1 May 2011

The Yellow Wall & the Merits of the Bundesliga

     Borussia Dortmund, the most exciting team in the most exciting league in Europe.  The goal scoring prowess and exotic flair of Lucas Barrios and Shinji Kagawa; the youthful exuberance of Mario Götze and Nuri Şahin, the staunch defense of Mats Hummels and Nevan Subotić; the wild orchestrations of Manager Jürgen Klopp; the famously impressive Südtribüne of yellow-clad fans; these are the things that come to mind at the mention of Borussia Dortmund.

     On Matchday 10, Dortmund reached the top of the table, having previously trailed behind the impossible start of 1. FSV Mainz 05, and haven’t looked back. They now stand on the precipice of an unforeseen championship that has captured the attention of the football world. The most impressive facet of this impending championship is surely the youth of the squad. The average age of the regular starters is slightly more than 22 years, even with the inclusion of 30 year old goalkeeper, Roman Weidenfeller. The poise and commitment shown by such a young group of players is even more exceptional given the one player no one is talking about at the moment, their injured captain, Sebastian Kehl.

     The 30 year old Kehl, a defensive midfielder, who has been out of the team since this time last season, has been seriously hampered by a recurring groin injury, which has affected much of his once promising career. Comparisons to Owen Hargreaves, both in on field style and off field obstacle, have been made, and one must wonder how his presence may have enhanced this Dortmund squad. Şahin and the recent National Team debutant, Sven Bender have fulfilled the roles of the deep lying midfielders in Dortmund 4-2-3-1, both have performed very well. Şahin, the more attacking player, presses forward and distributes from deep, while Sven, the more defensive of the Bender twins, holds the fort in front of the back line. Would Kehl’s inclusion keep out the youngster Bender, to the detriment of the club? Possibly, but surely a little elderly calm would help seal up this title in the final, crucial matches of the season. To see a team without its recognized leader achieve so much has truly been remarkable.

     Such a Cinderella story of league champions is enjoyable in a time when European football is in danger of becoming stale. Every country’s championship has become the providence of a select cabal of teams, the top four in England, the big two in Spain, the Northern axis in Italy, even the lesser leagues of Scotland and Portugal are dominated by a few clubs. The Bundesliga has become the most fascinating league to follow for the sheer unpredictability of it. True, Bayern Munich are the recognized giants of the German game, yet each year there is the chance that the Bayern hierarchy will fail, and some other contender will take the shield. In an interview with Goal – the Bundesliga magazine, DFL and Borussia Dortmund president, Dr. Reinhard Rauball put it best,

“The season finale will have multifaceted, highly interesting matchups on offer. The title race is as exciting as ever and the fight for Champions League and Europa League births as well and a large number of clubs are still involved in the relegation battle, it’s going to be full of suspense. If you follow the season, you’ve seen that a team like Borussia Monchengladbach, (who) are in last place, beat Bayer Leverkusen 6-3, it’s a clear sign that the outcome of no match is predictable and that anyone can beat anyone else in this league, and that’s what makes it fascinating and what sets us apart from other leagues. Third place in the UEFA rankings isn’t just a fluke it’s the result of the clubs hard work and continuous development in both the business and sporting side of things. Years ago you couldn’t have predicted we would over take a football nation and a league like Italy and so I think you can congratulate all the clubs and our next aim must be and can be to oust Spain from second place. “ 

     German football will receive a fourth UEFA Champions League spot, taken from the Italians in the 2012-13 season. German football is the most exciting league in Europe, for unpredictably and for competition amongst all the clubs in the league. Get watching, schnell.     

     Update – Dortmund have clinched their title with a 2 – 0 victory over Nürnberg on Saturday. Obviously the loss of their captain was not crucial, but was still an impressive obstacle overcome by such a young squad.

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