10 things on the Bundesliga
The German Bundesliga is one of the world’s premier soccer leagues, boasting some of the sport’s best teams and players, the highest average attendances in the game and so much more.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Bundesliga…
While England and Spain, for example, have had national top divisions going back almost a century or more, Germany was relatively late in this respect, although this in many ways came down to the country's political history.
It wasn't until the 1960s that a long-discussed national league was finally implemented. It came about on 28 July 1962 when the DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund – or German FA) voted at their annual convention in Dortmund by 103 to 26 to introduce a new top division from its regional leagues known as Oberliga, which represented the north, west, south, southwest and the capital Berlin. There were, of course, no eastern leagues since Germany had been partitioned into East and West Germany following World War 2. The Bundesliga was the league of West Germany.
The Bundesliga's first season began in August 1963 consisting of 16 teams. The right to feature was a complex system, requiring clubs to apply by December 1962. Their performances over the previous 10 years were taken into account and converted into points, while the five Oberliga champions from 1962/63 received an automatic slot.
One rule stipulated that no city could provide more than one club. This meant that once Hamburger SV, 1860 Munich and 1. FC Cologne won their respective leagues, St. Pauli, Bayern Munich and Viktoria Köln couldn't qualify regardless of their historic ranking. And this despite the fact Bayern were ahead of 1860 in the 10-year standings.
Following the introduction of the Bundesliga, the Oberliga were renamed to Regionalliga and formed the second tier.
In 1965/66 the league was expanded to 18 teams. It has since maintained that format for all but one year. In 1991/92 the league had a one-off season featuring 20 teams to accommodate Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden as the two East German representatives following German reunification in 1991. The division returned to 18 teams the following year.
In 1974 a professional second tier was introduced, known as Bundesliga 2. Reducing that level from five to two leagues, Bundesliga 2 had a north and south division of 20 teams each. In 1981 Bundesliga 2 merged into one single division of 20 clubs. It grew to 24 to accommodate German reunification before going down to 18 teams from 1994.
The Bundesliga's maiden champions in 1963/64 were Cologne, who won in some style by finishing six points clear of Meiderich back when only two points were awarded for a win. The Billy Goats lost just twice in their 30 games.
The first seven seasons saw seven different champions in Cologne, Werder Bremen, 1860 Munich, Eintracht Braunschweig, Nuremberg, Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Gladbach became the first team to defend the title when they won the league again in 1970/71 to spark an era of thrilling competition with Bayern. Between 1968/69 and 1976/77, the title was shared between those sides with the Foals claiming five Meisterschale to Bayern's four.
Since then, however, the Munich club have never gone more than three seasons without emerging as German champions. They have done so a record 31 times in the Bundesliga era, enjoying their greatest period of domestic success between 2012/13 and the present day. Previously no team had won the Bundesliga more than three years in succession. Bayern have done so 10 times in a row.
That run alone is more trophies than any other club has managed in the league, with Gladbach and Borussia Dortmund second in the title count with five apiece.
Bremen boast four, Hamburg and VfB Stuttgart have three each, Cologne and Kaiserslautern have a couple, while 1860, Braunschweig, Nuremberg and Wolfsburg have all been one-hit wonders.
No player has as many winner's medals as Thomas Müller. The famously unmarkable attacker has amassed a haul of 11 Bundesliga titles, starting with his breakthrough season as a professional in 2009/10. Robert Lewandowski has the most titles won for more than one club, with 10 between Bayern and Dortmund.
Watch: An analysis of tireless Thomas Müller
Among coaches, no one can match the achievement of Udo Lattek, who won eight Bundesliga titles in various spells in charge of Bayern and Gladbach in the 70s and 80s. Ottmar Hitzfeld follows with seven for Bayern and Dortmund.
The youngest person to coach a team to the title was Matthias Sammer when he led BVB to glory in 2001/02 at the age of 34, four months shy of his 35th birthday. He beat Julian Nagelsmann by a couple of months, the current Bayern coach having won his first league title in 2021/22, likewise aged 34. At the other end of the spectrum, Jupp Heynckes was the oldest when Bayern lifted the Meisterschale in 2017/18 just weeks after his 73rd birthday. That fourth title came 29 years after his first.
Max Merkel holds a unique place in history as the first coach to win the Bundesliga twice, doing so with 1860 Munich in 1965/66 and then Nuremberg in 1967/68. Hennes Weisweiler was the first to win two back-to-back, with Gladbach in 1969/70 and 1970/71.
3) Top scorers
Quite frankly there is only one man at this party in over half a century of Bundesliga action. Gerd Müller's haul of 365 goals from just 427 games will likely never be beaten. Every single one of those came for Bayern, at a rate of one every 105 minutes, before the man known as "Der Bomber" left for the USA at the age of 33.
Second on the list, by quite some distance, is Lewandowski. The forward is of course, the top scorer among non-Germans since he overtook Peruvian Claudio Pizarro in March 2019. He plundered an astonishing 312 goals in 384 Bundesliga games at a clip of one every 100 minutes on average before departing Bayern in summer 2022.
Completing the podium is Klaus Fischer. He averaged a goal every other game over the course of a remarkable 535-game career, netting 268 times in the Bundesliga for 1860 Munich, Schalke, Cologne and Bochum between the 60s and 80s.
The remaining top 10 is completed by Jupp Heynckes (220), Manfred Burgsmüller (213 goals), Pizarro (197), Ulf Kirsten (182), Stefan Kuntz (179), Klaus Allofs and Dieter Müller (both 177).
At the age of 40 years, seven months and 15 days, Pizarro is also the league's oldest goalscorer ever, having netted in Bremen's 2-1 win over RB Leipzig on 18 May 2019.
Watch: Every single one of Lewandowski’s Bundesliga goals
4) Goals galore
Such scoring prowess perhaps makes it little surprise that the Bundesliga often boasts the best goals-per-game rate among Europe's top five leagues.
In the 2021/22 season, for example, the Bundesliga saw the most goals per game across Europe's top divisions. Germany's 306 top-flight fixtures produced a total of 954 goals at a rate of 3.12 per match. No other league broke the three-goal mark. Serie A ranked second (2.87) followed by the Premier League (2.82), Ligue 1 (2.81) and La Liga (2.50). That marked the fourth time in the last five seasons that the Bundesliga produced the most goals per game across Europe's top divisions.
In fact, no Bundesliga season has ever finished with an average below 2.58, which it did in 1989/90. The most goal-filled campaign in history saw 3.58 per match in 1983/84, while the rate at the halfway stage of 2019/20 was up at 3.25 per game.
With all this talk of scoring goals, what about the players stopping them? Despite such a high rate of netting, Bundesliga goalkeepers have consistently shone at the back. No league boasts more winners of the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper award than the Bundesliga (nine), while Bayern are the club with the most recipients (also nine) since Jean-Marie Pfaff claimed the inaugural award for them in 1987.
5) Youth promotion
Bringing through young players is more than just about squad development in the Bundesliga, it is in fact an obligation.
Section 3 of the DFL's Licence Regulations (Lizenzierungsordnung) states that all Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs must run their own academy under the goal of maintaining a world-class flow of young talent into the Bundesliga and national team, meaning a minimum of 12 players eligible for Germany must be in the squads between U16 and U19 level, as well as 60 per cent of those youth players under contract.
Watch: The Schalke academy dream team
The rule regarding youth academies began in the 2000s as the DFB looked to the future. The move saw giant local clubs such as Bayern, Schalke and Stuttgart produce a number of high-class youngsters who went on to earn a breakthrough in the Bundesliga, get minutes and experience under their belt before eventually representing Germany.
Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller (all Bayern), Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Mesut Özil, Benedikt Höwedes (all Schalke) and Sami Khedira (Stuttgart) would form the backbone of Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup triumph after coming through such club facilities.
More recently, these now famed academies have produced Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane (both Schalke), Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry (all Stuttgart), as well as Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz from Bayer Leverkusen and Matthias Ginter from Freiburg.
It's that constant ability to bring through the next top-class generation of players, combined with some classic German efficiency, that has seen Germany become one of global football's powerhouses.
No nation has reached the final four of the World Cup more times than Die Mannschaft, having done so 13 times in 20 appearances at the competition. No team has reached the final more than Germany (eight appearances), going on to win it four times – a European record.
Germany are also the most successful team in UEFA European Championship history with three titles, together with Spain.
6) Packed house
Success, goals and, above all, affordable prices tend to lead to full stadiums. That is what the Bundesliga offers.
The average Bundesliga attendance in 2018/19 was more than 43,000. That was over 5,000 more than the Premier League and almost double that of France's top division. Of all the male sports leagues in the world, only the NFL packs on average more people into its stadiums.
For 2019/20, the average cost of a season ticket worked out at €11 per match. These were hot property and sold out almost instantly when they went on sale.
Even at the other end of the scale, where one of the most expensive season tickets at Cologne's always bouncing RheinEnergieStadion can amount to almost €800, the average per game still works out some €10 lower than the equivalent league average in England's top flight.
Watch: Hertha’s tifo to mark the 30th anniversary of German reunification
On top of that, match tickets include the free use of local public transport to and from the game. And, unlike in England, alcohol can be drunk out on the terraces (usually in recyclable, multi-use cups as clubs look to reduce their carbon footprint).
Whether that mid-match drink contributes to the electric atmosphere inside the grounds is up for debate, but Germans have certainly proven they know how to get value for money and make the most of their 90 minutes in the stands.
Fan groups also form a crucial part of the matchday experience as they will often produce pre-match displays in the stands called a "tifo", a practice that originated in southern Europe. These choreographies, consisting of several thousand people, are an awe-inspiring backdrop to a football match, designed to both intimidate the opposition and gee up the home team.
It's for that reason that a large number of international visitors are often seen at Bundesliga matches. Sampling the renowned atmosphere and watching top-quality football, all on a budget, adds up to a trip well worth the effort.
Followers of the Bundesliga will often come across the concept of the "50+1 rule". This DFL regulation is another reason why fans feel so close to their club, as it stipulates that a club must own the majority of its own voting rights.
This means that club members – the fans – retain control of how their club is run. To do this, a club must own 50 per cent of its shares plus at least one more share.
The background behind this system is because football clubs had to be run as not-for-profit organisations until 1998. Following that, clubs were allowed to become public or private limited companies, but those companies still had to be majority owned by the club’s parent company (the member company).
For example, the Bayern Munich first team is run by a company called FC Bayern München AG. This is 75 per cent owned by the membership club FC Bayern München eV. Long-term partners Adidas, Audi and Allianz each own 8.33 per cent of the AG. Bayern could therefore sell anything up to 25 per cent of its remaining stake to raise further capital and still maintain compliance with the rule.
As ever, there are exceptions. This is most commonly when a person or company has substantially funded a club continuously for at least 20 years. In this case, a controlling stake is permitted.
Three main examples of this are Bayer Leverkusen, who are owned by local pharmaceutical company Bayer; Wolfsburg, who are owned by automobile manufacturer Volkswagen; and Hoffenheim, who are controlled by former youth player and co-founder of software company SAP, Dietmar Hopp.
8) The Federal League
To someone who can't speak German, the name "Bundesliga" may throw up the odd difficulty. Despite what is sometimes heard, it is simply pronounced "Bun-des-liga", no "sh" in the middle.
Eagle-eyed observers will note the "-liga" element, obviously showing that the Bundesliga is a league. But "Bundes-" is giving little away to those less versed in the language of Goethe.
Those familiar with German culture, though, will have come across those six letters relatively frequently: Bundestag, Bundesland, Bundesrepublik Deutschland, just to name a few.
Watch: Animated Bundesliga Commentary
It simply means "federal", or because of its implied reference to Germany, can just be translated as "German". Hence, Bundestag is the (federal) German parliament, a Bundesland is one of Germany's 16 (federal) states and the Bundesrepublik Deutschland is the country's official name, written in English as Federal Republic of Germany.
So, while there's no need to translate the name "Bundesliga", its meaning would technically be "federal league".
The naming followed a common process as the country's first nationwide league. It replaced the Oberligas, which itself had followed Bezirksligas and Gauligas (as an FYI, the plural of Liga in German is Ligen). Here, "Ober-" meant the top level, while "Gau" is a county or region, and a "Bezirk" is a district or a region, although both covered large areas.
9) At the forefront of technology
A stated aim of the Bundesliga's governing organisation, the DFL, is to make the league the most innovative football league in the world.
Although the Bundesliga did not introduce goal-line technology until 2015/16, some three years after its global approval, the DFL has stood by its use and confirmed there were 36 decisions based on the Hawk-Eye goal-line technology in its first three seasons.
The Bundesliga wasn't going to be slow to react to the game's next big technological advancement, though, when it became the first European league to introduce VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in 2017/18.
Watch: How does VAR work
It was equally quick to react to initial teething problems, including the need for fans inside the stadiums, not just those watching on TV, to be clearly informed of the process. Decision messages have since been displayed on big screens at the grounds.
There's also a belief that the Bundesliga has come to terms with VAR better than other leagues. On-field referees are more willing to make use of the pitch-side monitors and confer with colleagues over the headsets, while officials have also quickly come to terms with the concept of "clear and obvious" when deciding whether to overturn an on-field decision.
Yet it isn't just on the pitch where the Bundesliga leads the way in football.
In 2018, the league announced that virtual advertising would regularly be available for international broadcasts, meaning that viewers outside of German-speaking countries would see adverts relevant to them and not those seen inside the ground. This is done through a digital overlay of the transmission signal.
Later that year, the DFL teamed up with the BILD newspaper group to employ augmented reality in its publications. It would allow readers to access videos via printed media by scanning certain photos with their phones. "This innovation combines traditional reading habits with the opportunities presented by digital media," said former DFL CEO Christian Seifert.
In 2019, the DFL revealed its cooperation with Vodafone to bring 5G to the Bundesliga. Originally rolled out at the Volkswagen Arena for Wolfsburg's match with Hoffenheim, the technology is paired with a new real-time app that allows spectators to see match stats and the players' individual statistics on their phone as the action is happening in front of them. The services were later expanded to include visual tracking. "5G is the beginning of a new era, and the Bundesliga is taking the first step," Seifert declared.
The end of the decade also brought about a global first as the DFL produced a social media-friendly broadcast of Wolfsburg's match with Werder in a 9:16 format, as well as the traditional 16:9 used on most TVs, computers and tablets. The experiment was a reaction to an increased preference to watch videos, including football matches, on mobile devices. It even maintained the standard of producing in Ultra HD. The five cameras used for production were in addition to the usual 25 used in Bundesliga productions, including one in the corner flag which was specially developed within the DFL Group.
And the DFL has continued its march into the future, announcing a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in early 2020, making the Bundesliga the world's first football league to do so. AWS is now the league's official technology provider and delivers more in-depth insight into every broadcast of Bundesliga games.
AWS provides state-of-the-art technology to take football to the next level with real-time stats for greater viewer insight, personalised content to help better understand the game and more across a number of platforms and devices wherever you are in the world.
The Bundesliga was also at the forefront of how to reintroduce competitive football in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. On 11 March, Gladbach hosted Cologne in the Bundesliga's first "ghost game", with no supporters present, and within days the country had gone into full lockdown.
Thanks to a detailed and effective hygiene concept, comprising strict health and safety guidelines, it was possible to resume the campaign on 16 May, weeks earlier than the rest of Europe's top leagues, and indeed other sporting competitions around the world.
10) Other records
While champions and goalscorers were mentioned earlier, there are plenty more records of note in the Bundesliga.
Although Pizarro is the oldest player to score in the league, he's still a few years off being the oldest player to appear. That honour goes to Klaus Fichtel, who featured for Schalke at 43 years and six months in May 1988.
Watch: Claudio Pizarro's Bundesliga Mixtape
At the other end of the spectrum, Borussia Dortmund starlet Youssoufa Moukoko is the youngest player ever to make his debut, doing so at 16 years and one day in November 2020. When he netted his first goal a few weeks later he also became the youngest scorer in Bundesliga history at 16 years and 28 days.
No one, though, has tasted more Bundesliga football than Karl-Heinz 'Charly' Körbel. The centre-back played over 53,000 minutes across 602 matches, plus two games in the relegation play-off, in a career spanning over 18 years – all for Eintracht Frankfurt.
In contrast to Körbel's longevity at a single club, no one played for more teams in the Bundesliga than Michael Spies. The attacking midfielder featured for hometown club Stuttgart as well as Karlsruhe, Gladbach, Hansa Rostock, Hamburg, Dynamo Dresden and Wolfsburg.
While seven players have scored a hat-trick on their Bundesliga debut, none have made the impact of Erling Haaland at Dortmund, who netted his three goals in the space of 23 second-half minutes after coming off the bench at Augsburg in 2019/20.
It's quick, but not by Lewandowski standards. In 2015/16 he netted the fastest hat-trick, four-goal and five-goal hauls in Bundesliga history, reaching the latter mark inside just nine minutes against Wolfsburg.
Watch: Lewandowski’s five goals in nine minutes
That was one of 17 times a player has netted five goals in a single Bundesliga game, of which four were by Gerd Müller. Only one person has ever claimed a double hat-trick, though. It wasn't Gerd but Dieter Müller who smashed six past Werder Bremen for Cologne in 1977/78. Remarkably, there were no TV cameras present at the game.
Talking of fast, no player in league history has been clocked at a greater speed than former Mainz defender Jeremiah St. Juste. The centre-back was recorded at 22.76 mph, even quicker than notable speedsters Moussa Diaby and Alphonso Davies.
No player has had a shorter time on the pitch before a red card than Frankfurt's Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who clearly had holiday plans when he received his marching orders just 43 seconds after coming on as a sub on the final day of 2010/11. The earliest red in a game had previously gone to Youssef Mohamad after only 93 seconds into Cologne's opening game of that season at home to Kaiserslautern.
The earliest dismissal for two yellow cards was Mame Biram Diouf for Hannover after 12 minutes on Matchday 10 of 2013/14. In terms of time spent on the pitch, Sejad Salihovic received the second of his yellows three minutes and 51 seconds after coming on for Hoffenheim on Matchday 2 of 2012/13.
The shortest time between two cautions leading to a red was three seconds for Kevin de Bruyne in Wolfsburg's 1-1 draw with Augsburg in 2013/14.
Twenty-three players have been shown a red on their debut. The quickest of those was Jose Rodriguez for Mainz just five minutes after coming on in a win away at Augsburg.
No players have been sent off more times than Jens Nowotny and Luiz Gustavo, who were given their marching orders on eight occasions.
One of a number of men sent off seven times includes Stefan Effenberg, who holds the honour of the most cards in league history with 121, including a record 114 yellows.
No one has been subbed off more times than Gladbach's Patrick Herrmann. He claimed the record outright when he was replaced for the 141st time in his 260th game in Gladbach's loss at Schalke on Matchday 18 of 2019/20.
It's a coach's responsibility to make substitutions, and few will have made as many as Thomas Schaaf. His tenure of 14 years and five days at Bremen is the longest by a coach at a club playing continuously in the Bundesliga and meant he either played or coached in 786 games for the club, which is a record for a single club.
The record for most matches as a player and coach, however, goes to Jupp Heynckes, who clocked up 1,037 appearances on the pitch or touchline over 36 seasons.
He isn't the oldest man to coach a Bundesliga team, though. That honour went to Fred Schulz when he took charge of Bremen for the final time on the last day of 1977/78 at 74 years and 184 days.
While Julian Nagelsmann was the youngest full-time head coach in the league when he took over at Hoffenheim at 28 years and 205 days, the youngest all told was Bernd Stöber, who was just 24 when he oversaw one game for Saarbrücken against Cologne on Matchday 10 of 1976/77.
Some players may wish their coach could sub them off after putting the ball into their own net. No one has done so more often in the league than Nikolce Noveski of Mainz and Manfred Kaltz of Hamburg, who both did so six times in the Bundesliga. Noveski is even one of six people to have bagged a brace of own goals.