There were no torrents of beer being thrown, no families invited on to the pitch and no full stands. As Bayern Munich were presented with the Bundesliga trophy for the eighth time in a row on Saturday, it was not even at the home but at vanquished Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Arena.
Bayern’s players made their own amusement, with Lucas Hernandez dummying his lift of the trophy to widespread laughter and Leon Goretzka’s teammates ambushing him and rolling up his sleeves, exposing his recently augmented biceps.
Bayern’s pleasure was real and their collective restraint reflected the fact their season is not over, with Saturday’s German Cup final against Bayer Leverkusen and the Champions League still to come as they take aim at the treble.
Still, it was indicative of the sense of relief that “the only kind of Bundesliga possible for now” – as the DFL’s chief exectuive, Christian Seifert, put it in his on-pitch address – had sailed relatively smoothly to its climax by the end of June.
It says much about the times that rather than being a necessary ceremonial box to tick before getting to the real celebrations, Seifert’s congratulatory speech was a central pillar of the order of service. He has been front and centre in recent months, the face and voice introducing the hygiene concept designed to get the Bundesliga to a slightly less than natural end.
The safe completion of the season feels for many to be the “extraordinary achievement” that Seifert proclaimed it has been – although Dynamo Dresden would disagree. They were relegated from the second division on Sunday, in the face of a delay to their campaign that condensed an already busy calendar following a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad. At its peak, Dynamo’s schedule packed seven games into 19 days.
In March, a video conference call between Germany’s professional clubs revealed 13 were looking at bankruptcy if they could not bank the TV money they had budgeted for. As many as seven second-tier clubs claimed they would hit the wall by the end of May without funds forthcoming. “I know all the teams have tried to perform their best in the most complicated of conditions over the last few weeks,” Seifert said. “In doing so, you have helped all 36 DFL clubs survive this phase of the crisis.” Relief really is the word.
Having blazed a trail for Europe’s big leagues by coming back first, the Bundesliga will be expected to do the same in terms of the path it takes towards the next stage of recovery. It has already signed the first major domestic post-pandemic TV deal, covering the period from 2021 to 2025, and though it saw an overall drop of €240m (£220m) from the previous contract. All but preserving the status quo in netting €1.1bn (£1bn) annually was seen by the DFL as a decent result in the circumstances.
With the worst having been staved off, the stakeholders want to be listened to next. Last week Unser Fußball (Our Football) was announced, an initiative signed by 1,000 supporter groups demanding clubs commit to fairer competition and make a greater commitment to social responsibility and sustainability.
Some of those aims have support within the game. The Augsburg club president, Klaus Hofmann, wrote in the programme for his team’s game with RB Leipzig that a redistribution of TV rights urgently needs to be discussed. “Football has to decide whether it wants to be a sporting competition again or if it just wants to be an entertainment industry,” Hofmann said.
Players want a greater voice too, with an alliance steered by leading professionals from the men’s and women’s game. Mats Hummels and Wolfsburg’s Alexandra Popp are among those already in talks with the authorities as a complement, rather than a competitor to the existing players’ union. “We’ve been passed over too often of late,” Hummels said, “so it’s even more necessary that we can actively make our voices heard in the future.”
Many players felt they should have been asked for more input on the league’s Covid-19 regulations. With the backing of figures such as the Bayern manager, Hansi Flick, they will expect a say in the planning of next season’s fixtures, with appropriate rest time factored in.
When that season does arrive, probably in mid-September, Bayern will be renewed and reinforced. Thomas Müller’s fiercely struck fourth goal to round off Saturday’s win was Bayern’s 100th in the Bundesliga this season. The increasing roles of Goretzka and Alphonso Davies suggest the beginning of an era rather than the end of one.
“It will be difficult for the others,” mused the former president Uli Hoeness on Blickpunkt Sport, “because Bayern are well equipped for the future even in this crisis.”
Borussia Dortmund still look next best, sticking with the current blueprint after confirming Lucien Favre will remain in charge. He has already made a big signing in PSG’s Thomas Meunier to replace Achraf Hakimi.
The Dortmund chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke, showed a bullish mood when he warned potential buyers “there isn’t any corona discount” on Jadon Sancho. He also bit back at the Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold, who complained that Dortmund’s limp 4-0 home defeat by Hoffenheim had condemned his team to the Europa League qualifiers. “If I had lost 4-0 myself, I’d just shut up,” Watzke snapped.
Werder Bremen were certainly the beneficiary of good sportsmanship, with already-safe Union Berlin’s 3-0 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf giving the 2004 double-winners the opportunity to leapfrog Uwe Rösler’s team into the relegation play-off spot and send them down automatically. They took that chance in eye-popping style, winning a first Bundesliga home game in nearly 10 months by walloping a spent Cologne 6-1.
Florian Kohfeldt’s team face a winnable two-leg play-off against surprise package Heidenheim, who made it into third in 2. Bundesliga despite a 3-0 final-day defeat at champions Arminia Bielefeld. Heidenheim’s defeat meant fallen giants Hamburg needed to beat mid-table Sandhausen at home to sneak into the play-offs. HSV imploded, losing 5-1 to stay in the second tier.
Stuttgart, who bade farewell to the retiring Mario Gómez, accompany Arminia back to the top flight. Both teams will already be looking at who may occupy the relegation spots instead of them next term. Schalke ended the season on a 16-match winless run after a humiliating 4-0 defeat at Freiburg and badly need to get their house in order. Over 1,000 fans protested against disgraced chairman Clemens Tönnies outside Veltins Arena on Saturday and reports suggest they are to set a €2.5m (£2.3m) annual salary cap on individual players. They will make a decision on whether to continue with manager David Wagner this week.
Borussia Mönchengladbach, one of the division’s most aesthetically pleasing sides under Marco Rose, made it to the Champions League at Leverkusen’s expense and can be trusted to use the extra money wisely under the sporting director, Max Eberl. Many believe that the Bundesliga’s prudence will enable its top clubs to emerge stronger from the crisis compared with its European neighbours. The fans and players, it seems, are determined to keep them on the straight and narrow in that quest.