Frankfurt - Tuesday, 24 June heralds the unveiling of the 2014/15 Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 match schedules and, straightforward as the fixture list may read on publication, it is in fact the end product of an extremely complex and labour-intensive process.
Götz Bender has overseen the entire operation for the past 12 years and ahead of the latest release, the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH's director of matchday planning gave bundesliga.com a revealing insight into just how it is all put together.
When he started in the job, the schedule was produced manually using the so-called 'English key', whereby each club was allocated a number between one and 18 and slotted into a pre-existing template. The fixture list was generated automatically from there, with no possibility of any subsequent individual tinkering.
"We soon realised that model was not fully fit for purpose in the Bundesliga," Bender explained. The DFL accordingly had its own software developed, giving it the capacity to produce individual match schedules.
'Try to do justice by everyone'
The programme ensures an optimal fixture listing for Germany's top two divisions, with the various and sometimes divergent requirements of local communties, police, international associations, clubs and stadium owners all factored in. "We always try to do justice by everyone, although sometimes it's simply impossible. In those cases, we just have to prioritise," Bender explained.
Alongside obvious constraints, such as staggering the kick-off times of home games for near-neighbouring clubs, the planning has to be coordinated with all the international tournament and friendly action, as well as taking into account such diverse factors as national holidays and additional big-stadium events.
Europa League complications
The UEFA Europa League presents its own particular complications for Bender and his colleagues, with UEFA having set aside Thursdays for the competition. In order to guarantee two full days post-match rest, any German teams involved thus have to play their next Bundesliga game the following Sunday. The schedule only allows for two Sunday meetings per matchday, however, which, with up to four teams potentially involved, could well prove too little.
As it stands, VfL Wolfsburg are the only team guaranteed a spot in the UEFA Europa League group stages, but they could be joined down the line by any combination of Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and 1. FSV Mainz 05. "We're planning on the assumption that those clubs will be involved. Where possible, we've got them playing each other after a Europa League Thursday to try and avoid scheduling problems," Bender expanded.
While computer-aided technology makes the whole process possible in the first place, the human factor is still essential to its completion. "A car can do a lot, but it still needs a driver," said Bender by way of analogy. A pivotal part of his job involves fine-tuning of the software-generated schedule, and indeed hundreds of variant fixture lists are checked and discarded before the final version is arrived at. Planning for 2014/15 has been underway since early in the year, but the action really hots up for Bender's team once it has been determined which clubs have been promoted and relegated.
Friday's unveiling of the schedule is by no means the end of the matter either. The framework may now be in place, but the individual matchday kick-off times still have to be finalised. Once again, the wishes of all concerned parties are taken into account as far as possible, although the sole actual regulation is that each club may only be allocated three home and away games each in the late Saturday (18:30 CEST) kick-off slot.
All in aid of "another great season"
"We try to apportion the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday fixtures evenly. We're cogniscant of the wishes of our partners, but the DFL has the last word on scheduling matters," Bender clarified. The journey time involved for travelling supporters is yet another consideration and, "Obviously we try to ensure away fans don't have to go too far on a Sunday. Sometimes it's unavoidable though due to the complexity of the overall scheduling."
The vagaries of international competition present the main stumbling block to putting out an all-encompassing fixture list before the season gets underway. "We always try to finalise the matchday schedule four weeks in advance at the latest and as a rule we manage that," said Bender. When the Champions League and Europa League go into their respective knock-out phases early in the New Year, however, long-term planning pretty much goes out the window. So what's the final word from Götz Bender ahead of Friday's much-anticipated release? "One thing I'm certain of - we're going to have another great season, with 612 absolutely cracking games to look forward to."