Europe in turmoil
Football is celebrating its best season in ages
By Florian Papenfuhs
December 4th, 2023, 8:55 p.m
Have you recently lost interest in football? Understandable, the same teams always win. But something turned the football world upside down last summer. The summary of a remarkable first half of the season.
Sepp Herberger once formulated a legendary sentence: “People go to football because they don’t know how it will end.” But that no longer seems to apply in modern times. Money often decides. The common football fan, who is the sponsor of the whole event, has had to endure a lot in recent years. Bayern cheering forever in the Bundesliga. FIFA itself. VAR decisions with the transparency of concrete or the hand rule worsened beyond recognition. The conflict that you actually want to be happy when your favorite team has qualified for the European Cup on the last match day, but at the same time you know that you now have to take out three more TV subscriptions. On top of that come the sportswashing offensives of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as headliners, so to speak, at the fan festival of alienation.
FC Bayern has been marching to the title in the Bundesliga for over ten years. About a year ago, the club started firing on all cylinders when it came to entertainment off the pitch (Neuer’s skiing accident, the separation from Nagelsmann, the separation from Salihamidžić, the separation from Kahn), but the media-wavering giant remains in place The Bundesliga was always so confident that it was enough for the title (and a 4-0 win against BVB). Even last year, when the record champions seemed already counted out.
Things don’t look much better in England. Pep Guardiola, the best coach in the world, and his club, which is completely devoted to him, are using endless resources to create a machine that only seems to simulate football. Even in the long-awaited premier class there is no match against Manchester City. In the 4-0 semi-final win in May, Real Madrid, the other long-term winner of the pot, came under the wheels badly. World football is a competition leveraged by money, in which nothing changes except the sum for the highest transfer fee.
What you’ve missed so far
But sometime in the summer of 2023, reality decides to take a moment’s pause. Because what happened in the past Rolling over the stadiums of Europe in months can only be the product of the imagination. If you have stayed away from the football circus for all of the reasons mentioned above, here is a partial list of all the unforeseen absurdities:
- In Spain, FC Girona (!) is second, tied with Real Madrid.
- The Bundesliga enjoys an existing title fight, led by a furious Bayer Leverkusen.
- Stuttgart striker Serhou Guirassy discovers his inner Gerd Müller and scores 16 goals.
- Curious: He is still not first in the top scorer list (because Harry Kane has 18 goals).
- Manchester United are last in their Champions League group after five match days – behind Bayern, Galatasaray Istanbul and FC Copenhagen.
- Bayern, on the other hand, are knocked out of the DFB Cup in the second round against Saarbrücken.
- The Gallic village of Union Berlin is in a relegation battle.
- FC Schalke 04 is in a relegation battle – in League Two.
- There is a football talk on Sky with Roman Weidenfeller and Riccardo Basile.
Ajax, Lyon, Union, Schalke – relegation battle
Half of the season has been played and it actually looks as if there could (!) be a new champion in all four top leagues in Europe. But it’s by no means worth watching just for sporting flights of fancy. Completely inexplicable drops in performance are also a trend. In the Netherlands, flagship club Ajax Amsterdam is off to its worst start to the season since 1965. Sports director Sven Mislintat was fired at the end of September, and the club has now recovered to some extent.
You certainly can’t say that about Olympique Lyon. The former French series champion is last. There is one win so far. And in Germany, experts, fans and those responsible alike are puzzling over the multiple crises at Schalke and in Köpenick. Between the Champions League games against Real Madrid and SSC Napoli, of all places, a season is creeping up in which what all outsiders have been expecting from Union since their promotion happens – a relegation battle. The indestructible Urs Fischer, a symbol of the fairytale rise of the past few years, is no longer a coach.
At Schalke, the overall structure is once again faltering due to the sporting decline. Coach Thomas Reis has been fired and sports director Peter Knäbel has been resigned for the summer. In the background, the eternal Clemens Tönnies is moderating his own return, so far unsuccessfully. The only bright spot was the currently injured rough diamond Assan Ouédraogo. An imminent departure for the 17-year-old seems a done deal.
Above all is Jude Bellingham
But more established players also know how to surprise. Serhou Guirassy, recommended to FC Bayern by Lothar Matthäus in the summer, scores and scores and scores as if it would be banned tomorrow. To be fair, as announced, Manuel Neuer seems to be able to simply ignore the fact that he hasn’t been on the field for almost a year.
And Alejandro Garnacho has kicked the turf several times before penalties, but recently probably this Goal of the year achieved. The beleaguered United fans deserve it. New Madrid’s Jude Bellingham hovers above everything. The ex-Dortmunder has taken the Royal fans by storm, literally. Carlo Ancelotti is designing a new role for him after his arrival; behind the two nominal strikers, Bellingham should have the freedom to repeatedly move into the penalty area. He scored 15 goals in 17 games. In Dortmund there were 24. In three years.
This means that Bellingham Real is shooting to the top of the table, but his Royal team are not completely without competition. Even ahead of FC Barcelona, FC Girona is the first pursuer, even on equal points. Only promoted last year, the club, which only plays at home in front of just under 15,000 people, has so far been able to keep up with the greats of Spanish football. And yes, the football fairy tale may also have something to do with the fact that the City Group is co-owner of Girona, and players with a Manchester City past always wear the red and white jersey.
Chelsea and United are stumbling through the league
The mother ship on the island, trained by Pep Guardiola, currently has a number of competitors for the championship title. The Citizens rank currently only in third place, between league leaders Arsenal and fourth-placed Aston Villa just four points apart. Neighbors Manchester United (7th) and Chelsea FC (10th), which has degenerated into a haphazard prestige project and which, despite illustrious transfer spending, cannot find their way under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, have nothing to do with the top of the table. Simply having money no longer seems to be enough in the Premier League.
It really can’t get much better. And maybe it won’t. Maybe in the end everything will be miserably boring again, Bayern win the championship with a goal in the 15th minute of stoppage time on the last matchday, Real Madrid win the Champions League and France win the European Championship. For now, the only constant is surprise. So an appeal to everyone who has turned their backs on the green grass in recent years: watch football again. At the moment, people don’t know how it will turn out.