One of the greatest aspects of sports is the underdog taking on the favoured team. There’s no greater thrill than watching a smaller club take down a favourite. If you are rooting for the favourite, there is a special thrill in rooting for the favourite club, as you have a large community to draw energy from. Often, this is the best way to describe the Bundesliga, but this year’s title race between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig presents a new paradigm.
The Bundesliga has been predictable in recent years. For the past five years, the title race has come down to Bayern and another competitor. Except for two years ago, when it was Wolfsburg, that competitor was Borussia Dortmund. While Dortmund is in no way a small club – and certainly not without its own negatives – it is a great foil to Bayern Munich. It is also usually an outlet for those fans who despise Bayern and do not want to see them win.
We must stop quickly and appreciate how truly perfect Bayern are as “the big bad”. They buy the best players and hire the best managers. When they did not have the best player but your favorite club does, they buy him. See Lewandowski, Robert. They are the unofficial feeder team of the national team and the most decorated club by far in German football history.
Until this year, they were the most hated club in the Bundesliga. Now it is the other team chasing the title that are pushing them for that crown. Germany is well known for clubs being built on fan support and the local community. RB Leipzig were built the opposite way. They are the result of corporate desire to spread the brand. While rules prohibit them from modifying the corporate brand to make the club brand, it is obvious in the stadium and in their uniforms what the RB really stands for. If you hate the big name large corporations destroying the local brand, you probably despise RB Leipzig.
Yet there is another side to this club. Since the reunification of Germany, the Bundesliga has been poor to East German clubs. Even the best run and most famous started out with a disadvantage in money and management with the richer West, so few East Germany teams have had the ability to stay in the top flight, much less contend for a title. Leipzig is an industrial east German town. While its local clubs could in no way compete with top flight teams, this new corporate backed club can represent a part of the country that, to be frank, has no chance to compete in soccer without a massive influx of foreign money. RB Leipzig exposes an ugly truth in German soccer – the West dominates and has created a system where there is no alternative.
So, who does one support in the Bundesliga title race? There is no third team – the top two have done an excellent job securing the top slots for themselves. Do you pull for the team that buys what it wants whenever it wants, but represents in many ways the best of German football? Or do you pull for the club that represents the working-class part of the country, except it represents it by the grace of massive amounts of corporate money? For those who root for the upstarts, the “underdogs”, this is a no-win situation. The answer is how you approach this question – do you want the winner to represent Germany at its best or strike a blow for the working class through the means of the upper class?