Since the column debuted in September, I’ve devoted this space to a single, all-encompassing topic each week. Now, with the international break serving as the perfect time for reflection, I’ve decided to get a few things off my chest.
I absolutely adore David Alaba as a footballer. The Austrian stole the show last season as a classy central defender when Bayern Munich really needed him. But Alaba and his agent Pini Zahavi have been living in a parallel universe while the rest of the world is making sacrifices.
Alaba is out of contract at the end of the season, but talks over a new deal have collapsed. Bayern reportedly offered Alaba a five-year deal with an annual salary of around €11 million, which could have gone up to €15m with bonuses. But the player’s representatives rejected it. Sometimes you need to be able to read the room and hear the mood music.
In normal times, Alaba might be able to make a case to jump ahead of all Bayern’s top earners, knowing that others will then soon leap clear of his salary. But these are not normal times. It’s not too late for Alaba to send the right signal to fans in a pandemic. Compromise and humility are necessary in football as well as life.
What a riveting game and brilliant advert for the Bundesliga we were treated to, yet anyone who doesn’t pay close attention to the Bundesliga will still be left assuming it was the same old story.
Germans often make much of Bayern-Dusel (or “Bayern luck”), but there was nothing lucky about their 3-2 win. Bayern quite simply remain a bit more clinical than BVB, and a little can go a long way when it comes to finishing top of the Bundesliga eight straight years in a row.
Jan Aage Fjortoft explains why young players might force a move if Dortmund don’t start to win trophies.
I found Dortmund’s football clever and packing a considerable punch last Saturday night, but Bayern prevailed thanks in part to being more streetwise. The difference between the clubs is still that Borussia Dortmund can’t be regarded as a long-term residence for its foremost players. Rather, it’s a place to be educated and polished at the very highest level of immersion and competition before moving on.
Bayern, by contrast, is a permanent address where you put down roots and enjoy your peak years. Unless that gap can somehow be bridged, a changing of the guard is difficult to envisage on any kind of permanent basis.
Last week’s “G-15” in Frankfurt, involving 14 Bundesliga clubs and second-division leaders Hamburg, was set up to discuss the future distribution of TV and marketing money in German professional football.
Something wrong with that picture? Absolutely. Where were VfB Stuttgart, FC Augsburg, Mainz and Arminia Bielefeld, and what sins did they commit so as not to be invited? Solidarity has traditionally been a strength of German football. The optics of deciding that certain top-flight clubs, there on footballing merit, are arguably not worthy, represent a slippery slope.
Leverkusen vs Gladbach
As dramatic as Der Klassiker was on Saturday, you can argue that the 4-3 Rheinische Derby meeting on Sunday actually topped it. Starring roles were performed by two-goal scorers Lucas Alario and Lars Stindl, the Gladbach captain. Rarely in one game do we get to witness such an array of all-out rapid fire attack in a match featuring such high-quality sides.
– Replay: Leverkusen 4-3 Gladbach, (U.S. only)
Mats Hummels has complained that there have been too many penalties awarded in the Bundesliga. Indeed, 10 were given on Matchday 7, approaching the record of 12 for a single Spieltag set in 1971-72. But I’m not ready to lambast Bundesliga referees, who can still call themselves some of the best in the world.
Officials don’t make the laws: they only interpret them in accordance with guidance from VAR.
“European Union” making noise
FC Union Berlin find themselves in fifth place, a Europa League spot, after a 3-1 win at TSG Hoffenheim and a 5-0 thrashing of Bielefeld. The Koepenicker, gritty and reliant on set pieces and an aerial attacking game in their maiden Bundesliga season last term, have evolved.
In Max Kruse, coach Urs Fischer has one of the most naturally talented German footballers of the modern generation. Kruse’s famously nocturnal lifestyle and tendency not to learn from mistakes off the pitch make him polarising, but on the field he can make light work of any side, improving others around him. Just ask teammates Robert Andrich, Christopher Lenz or Sheraldo Becker, whose form curves are sharply on the up.
Hoffenheim depend on Kramaric
The Kraichgauer have been hit harder than any Bundesliga club by COVID-19 infections and players not on international duty are all in quarantine until further notice. Star striker Andrej Kramaric, one of the first to test positive after the international break in October, has been badly missed. With him in the side, Hoffenheim have taken six points from three games, scoring eight goals. Without Kramaric, they’ve managed a paltry one point from four matches, netting only three goals.
Karneval, but no party
The city of Cologne normally looks forward to Nov. 11, the start of the Karneval season. But a combination of the pandemic and an Effzeh squad low on confidence means this is not vibrant life in the cathedral city as we know it.
FC Cologne have now gone 17 Bundesliga matches without a win, a run of futility stretching back to last March. Three of their last four games have been 1-1 draws and the other was a narrow defeat at Bayern’s hands, so perhaps the trend is their friend. But the brand of football is limited and uninspiring.
General manager Horst Heldt says there is no discussion internally about the future of coach Markus Gisdol, who worked wonders lifting Cologne up the table after his appointment at the tail end of last season. But the next test, a home meeting with in-form Union this Sunday, could be very telling and akin to a must-win for Gisdol. Time is running out in the Domstadt.