Munich - It's back. The Bundesliga returns tonight as title holders Borussia Dortmund entertain Werder Bremen at the sold-out Signal Iduna Park. But this isn't your ordinary curtain raiser; no, this is the 50th anniversary of the Bundesliga - a league currently going through a boom like no other.
BVB and Bayern are favourites
As fate would have it, tonight's mammoth clash is a repeat of the Bundesliga's first-ever fixture, exactly 49 years ago to the day. And, true to tradition, Bundesliga President Dr. Reinhard Rauball will officially usher in the new campaign in the very place where the BVB President stood just three months ago to hand Borussia their second title on the bounce.
It's no surprise to see the Schwarz-Gelben, off the back of a record-breaking season tally of 81 points, installed as title favourites alongside the league's all-time record champions Bayern Munich. Still, never one to run before he can jump, Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp is refusing to let his side get ahead of themselves. "Who'll finish on top? I don't know. I don't think anyone knows. There's one team for whom success is the only option, and that's FC Bayern Munich. I'm just pleased we're up there", said last season's coach of the year.
It's not surprising to hear such cautious words from the Dortmund camp as Bayern, with scores to be settled and a Supercup win already in the bag, prepare for another gruelling tussle at the top. "If a team wins back-to-back titles, you can't deny them their favourites' tag. But of course we want to get at Borussia Dortmund, and we will risk everything to bring the title back to Munich", said coach Jupp Heynckes. Not everyone in the Bayern team is as gung-ho, mind - chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as recently as Tuesday warned of a "tough" season for the record champions.
"Anyone can beat anyone"
As last season demonstrated, though, nothing can be taken for granted in the top-flight of German football, words echoed by the league's president. "One of the strengths of the Bundesliga is that anyone can beat anyone," said Dr. Rauball. Indeed, it's testament to the quality of the league that, almost out of nowhere, teams like Borussia Mönchengladbach can go from relegation contenders to the top four in barely 18 months.
The Bundesliga boom is also spilling over into the stands, with a new attendance record by no means out of the question. Affordable ticket prices mean stadia are virtually always packed to the rafters with a mix of families, friends and die-hard supporters. The outlook for further financial growth is good too, with future television deals set to bring in millions for the Bundesliga clubs and further enhance the league's growing global reputation and popularity. In fact, the estimated turnover of the 18 Bundesliga clubs is expected to be in the region of two billion Euros when, just 50 years ago, the total budget of the 16 founding clubs amounted to just 25 million Marks.
One thing missing
Numbers keep rising across the board, but Germany's top flight still stands behind England in the turnover rankings for Europe's leading clubs. Yet with games broadcast worldwide, the Bundesliga stands ahead of Spain and Italy, with figures set to sky rocket before too long. After all, the Bundesliga has transformed itself into a huge global brand with massive pulling power.
One thing missing from the modern-day CV, though, is a European crown. Bayern Munich - the league's last winners of a major European title in 2001 - have come close in recent years, losing to Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League final and most recently against Chelsea on their own patch last term. Schalke 04, against the odds, went all the way to the semi-finals in 2011, with the league accordingly handed a fourth qualifying place for Europe's elite competition at the expense of Italy's Serie A, and the signs are that an international crown isn't that far away.
Borussia, Bayern, Schalke and, with a bit of luck, Borussia Mönchengaldbach will all be challenging for European honours this season, but not before an 80,645-strong Signal Iduna Park opens a new chapter in the Bundesliga's brilliant history later tonight.