One of the many benefits of having a league that runs through the summer (alongside beautiful July games in Seattle and mostly not competing with the NFL) is that when the season is over I don't have to sit around twiddling my thumbs and transfer speculating. Instead I can turn my attention to the Continent, where the top leagues in the world are in full swing.
Up to now I've followed the general American trend of primarily following English football (helped no doubt by the common language) with a little bit of attention for La Liga and Serie A. And while I now have a stable of favorites throughout the English pyramid (Everton, Swansea, Leyton Orient) and teams I loosely follow in Scotland (Hearts), Spain (Barca), and Italy (Fiorentina), one league that I think deserves more attention (from me and every other football fan) is the Bundesliga.
While the German league doesn't have the crown jewel clubs that dot the rest of the continent and routinely compete in the Champions League final, it does have two things that should be the envy of every other league in Europe: parity and financial stability.
Parity is probably the number one problem with the rest of the top European leagues. Other than Germany (and to some extent France) they are all dominated by a small handful of teams. Take the Portuguese Primeira Liga for example, where only five teams have ever won the league in 75 tries, and only three (Porto, Benfica, and Sporting) have won more than once. The EPL has become nearly as bad in recent years, with only three clubs winning titles since Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton won it for Blackburn in 1995. And while Germany certainly has a dominant team in Bayern, who've been winning the league about half the time, they've alternated titles with a rotating cast of contenders. Going backward: Wolfsburg, then Stuttgart, then Werder Bremen, then Dortmund, then FCK. And so far this season Bayern sit at 9th, while the table is topped by Dortmund and Mainz, who were promoted just last season.
Financially, we all know the EPL is a mess. Portsmouth, a team that won the FA Cup and went on to compete in Europe just two years ago, was a hair's breadth away from simply disappearing as a club last season due to financial collapse. Liverpool, considered until recently one of the Big 4, was so overwhelmed with the debt loaded onto it by its American owners that it had to essentially be given away to Red Sox owner John Henry in order to save it from the same fate. Manchester United, the most successful side in the league's history, is burdened with massive interest payments due to the similar levels of debt loaded onto it by its (also American) owner Malcolm Glazer. And now the dream of every English club supporter is not to have a stable, successful business, but for the club to become the playtoy of a wealthy foreign investor who's willing to lose money hand over fist to bring in the best players, as has happened with Chelsea and Manchester City. Aware of the threat that these exorbitant debts are having on club stability, UEFA is introducing "financial fair play" rules that will need to be met by any team that wants to participate in a UEFA club competition (including Champions League).
But these problems are mostly foreign to the Bundesliga. German clubs are governed by the "50+1 rule", which guarantees that a majority of the club is owned by its members, meaning the fans (with some exceptions. It's complicated). Along with the Bundesliga's pretty strict financial controls (including the percentage of revenue that can be spent on player salaries), German clubs are substantially more stable financially than their brethren in other countries. Not perfect, as Schalke fans will tell you, but it's a model that MLS fans will be familiar with and which has led to considerable stability in this country in a sport that's always fighting for survival at the national level.
Since I endorse these features of the league, it'd only be right if I actually picked a team to follow. After all, following a league without having a rooting interest in a team is sort of a bland. So I'm taking recommendations from the Sounder at Heart community, which I'm sure is full of knowledgeable European soccer fans. To start off, Bayern is right out. I'm not interested in being a frontrunner and I'm not going to root for a team just because they win a lot. Plus Ribéry is ew. With that in mind, here are some teams that interest me:
Pros: Clocks in at an intimidating 24 letters, by far the longest name in the league. Features US midfield stalwart and nepotism recipient Michael Bradley. Once featured (and was captained by) a fella by the name of Kasey Keller
Pros: Unofficial logo is a skull and crossbones. Brown home kits. Just promoted and I like the idea of joining up with a club that's newly in the league. Have a rabid, Sounders-esque following. "The organisation has adopted an outspoken stance against racism, fascism, sexism, and homophobia and has embodied this position in its constitution.".
Pros: Features Americans Steve Cherundolo (as captain) and DaMarcus Beasley. Their kit features a smiley. Oktoberfest Hannover.
Any recommendations? Bundesliga clubs that you follow? Something I haven't considered? Have at it in the comments.