by James Oddy

For the past few seasons, it has been almost sacrilege to suggest that any other league aside from the Premiership or La Liga isn’t the world’s greatest. England provides the goals and bombast and midfield lung busters. Spain provides the cream of the continental crop, all tiki taki possession football and Lionel Messi and Ronaldo doing the unthinkable. But what about Germany?

Italy’s time in the sun seems to have come and gone, replaced by Spain as the destination for the biggest stars and no longer feted by the British press. Yet the Bundesliga, despite having one of the world’s  elite clubs, Bayern Munich, and one of the best supported, Dortmund, has never been particularly fashionable. The Bundesliga, to my mind, combines the best of both the Spanish and English games. The technique and passing football displayed in Spain is present in many German club teams (not to mention the national team).  Yet the league can also find room for such throwbacks as Mario Gomez, who could be described as a traditional English centre forward, if not for the fact that he looks likely to win something at international level. That isn’t traditionally English.

This year Germany has featured an involving title race to match that of the Premiership and La Liga with everyone’s second team, Dortmund, pipping Bayern after an uncertain start. The late season game between the two clubs was not a classic, but it did feature the late drama of a missed penalty and an even later winner.  A particular highlight was Neven Subotic `Keowning` a confused looking Arjen Robben after his shoddy penalty attempt.

The race for Champions League qualification was just as involving, providing plenty of entertainment. Schalke, serial underachievers, produced some excellent, vibrant football spearheaded by a reborn Raul. His exquisite touch to score a second against Hanover was supposedly enough to make the clubs sporting directors fillings fall out. It also made a patriotic England fan like myself quake at the thought that even that couldn’t get Raul close to a national recall.

The fourth placed team, Borussia Monchengladbach, were my favourite team to watch in any of Europe’s big leagues. Like Schalke, after years of underachievement and a near relegation last year, they produced some genuinely stunning passing football combined with the youth and verve brought about by a young squad. However, the departures of key attacking man Marco Reus and defender Dante to Dortmund and Bayern respectively suggest that the club will have to reinvest wisely.

In particular, the Budesliga deserves more of an audience simply for providing an answer for England’s` continued international woes. For all our boasts of having the world’s most exciting leagues, look at the attack minded players spread out across the German top division – Joachim Low’s provisional squad for Euro 2012 includes names such as Andre Schrulle (Leverkusen), Thomas Muller (Bayern), Julian Draxler (Shalke) and Mario Goetze (Dortmund). All of these young players receive regular football, and are versatile, mobile and tactically astute. Add into that the fact that Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez are only 26 but share a combined 146 caps and you can see why Germany look the most likely team to knock Spain off their pedestal.

The German ownership model of allowing fans to have a real say and stake in the club surely promotes the desire to see home grown talent playing exciting, attractive football. In contrast, the English game is increasingly becoming pray to questionable and shady investment groups who may have their own bank balances rather than the progress of the club in mind. And, with well run, sustainable clubs committed to youth development, it has a tangible and positive effect on the national team.

Compare the Budesliga to the duopoly taking hold in Spain. While Bayern and Dortmund are the big guns, it`s not all that shocking to expect them to be usurped by any number of teams come next season. The likes of Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen will be looking forward to much improved seasons and could challenge. Hamburg, a sleeping giant, will hope to recover from a disastrous season of near relegation overseen by ex Chelsea man Frank Arnesen.  Their frustrating season was typified by striker Paolo Guerrero being banned for eight games after an outrageous foul on Stuttgart Keeper Sven Ulrich.  Yet the sheer size of the club, and it`s failures this season, simply highlight the strength in depth running throughout the league. Similarly, Hertha Berlin, the capital’s biggest club, will be wondering how a club with so much potential finds its self back in the second division.

Perhaps it`s because I’m simply awkward and enjoy going against perceived opinion, but to my mind, all these factors amount to a great quality league. On top of all that, it`s dirt cheap (comparatively), you can stand, and the `official` beer isn’t Budweiser. Now all we need is St Pauli to gain promotion and join in the fun.