Since Ottmar Hitzfeld’s great Borussia Dortmund side, led by European footballer of the year Matthias Sammer and Karl-Heinz Riedle, retained the Bundesliga in 1996, no side has managed to hang on to the title. Save for Bayern Munich, that is, whose titles have only been interspersed by single title victors – Kaiserslautern (98), Dortmund (02), Bremen (04), Stuttgart (07) and Wolfsburg (09). Such is the competitiveness of the Bundesliga.
But can this vibrant BVB side repeat the feat of their mid-90s predecessors and go on to retain (I’m assuming they don’t throw it away in even-worse-than-Leverkusen-style) their title next season?
One thing that sets the current league leaders apart from the aforementioned winners is their age. The change in Dortmund’s transfer policy over the decade is reaping stunning results. At the turn of the millennium, BVB’s mega-flop dealing almost led to insolvency. Michael Zorc changed direction and now focuses on buying young talent for pittance (Shinji Kagawa for €350k for instance) – a ploy that can only bode well for both finances and their ‘full-throttle’ football of future.
Looking at age from a statistical view point, based on the players who made the most appearances in a standard 4-4-2 system, the average age of Bayern’s five intermittent nuisances were:
Kaiserslautern (1997/8) – 30.27 years
Borussia Dortmund (2001/2) – 28.54 years
Werder Bremen (2003/4) – 28.54 years
Stuttgart (2006/7) – 26.27 years
Wolfsburg (2008/9) – 26.72 years
But compare these ages with BVB’s starting line-up last Saturday, when they demolished a Bayern side who had won ten straight home games in all competitions. That starting XI had an average age of just 22.27 years. Their solitary ‘veteran’ that day was Lucas Barrios at just 26.
One thing to note here is the trend since the turn of the millennium, where DFB introduced their youth-policy in the wake of Germany’s disastrous Euro 2000 campaign.
By no means were Stuttgart or Wolfsburg ageing sides. Both were full of talent, but they couldn’t convert their title-winning experience into a dynasty.
So why not? Bayern raise their game each season and no doubt come back stronger, but each time the reigning champion has failed to put up any sort of resistance to challenges to their crown:
Kaiserslautern (1998/9) – finished 5th – 21 points behind Bayern Munich in 1st
Borussia Dortmund (2002/3) – finished 3rd – 17 points behind Bayern Munich in 1st
Werder Bremen (2004/5) – finished 3rd – 18 points behind Bayern Munich in 1st
Stuttgart (2007/8) – finished 6th – 24 points behind Bayern Munich in 1st
Wolfsburg (2009/10) – finished 8th – 20 points behind Bayern Munich in 1st
Will BVB (2011/2) be any different? Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Köln tonight extended their lead at the top, for the time being at least, to 15 points. If they can keep hold of their key core for next season – Subotic, Hummels, Bender, Götze, Sahin and Barrios – they’ll have an excellent chance.