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What's the score with the Bundesliga?

Disclaimer: If you have been following these columns for a number of years, you might be bored by what you'll find below. I cannot be held responsible for this inconvenience, because it's time for the traditional end-of-season column which never offers anything new.

Postscript: Then again, the very fact that nothing ever changes with regards to the end-of-season column is, at least from my point of view, quite interesting in itself. So why not stick around for some brainstorming?

I can't remember when it happened, but at some point during the past season, the nice people at Soccernet introduced the 'comments' feature at the foot of the page. It should come in very handy now, because we've yet again reached the moment when I need your help, or at least your suggestions.

In the past seven years, the end-of-season column has always dealt with certain numerical statistics which have raised questions. Some of you actually went to the trouble of sending e-mails with possible answers, but now that it's so easy to leave a comment, I'm hoping for far more theories.

But, just in case you're a newcomer, I should perhaps start at the beginning. Every May or June, I have a peek at the number of goals scored in the big European leagues: the English Premier League, Spain's Primera Division, Italian Serie A, France's Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga. And then I translate that into goals scored per game.

The result is always the same. The Bundesliga has the most goals per 90 minutes of football and France is, by and large, always in last place.

For the campaign just past, the figures read as follows:

The habitually stingy French have offered their fans 2.25 goals per game, an even worse showing than last year but not quite as bad as 2005 and 2006. The English are in fourth place with 2.47 goals per game, less than last season but pretty much the same average they racked up in 2006 and 2007.

Serie A comes third with 2.60 goals per game. That's an improvement over the past two seasons but nothing out of the ordinary for the Italians. Spain is in second place, because the past Primera Division campaign produced a pretty good 2.89 goals per game. In fact, the Spanish league hasn't been this generous since 2001 (when the figure was 2.88).

And now, yawn, here's first place. Of course it goes to the Bundesliga, which has won this particular competition in every single season since 1989! This time around, however, the race was a lot closer than usual, though a mark of 2.92 goals per game was eventually enough to hold Spain at bay.

Well, I guess now it's your turn. Because I no longer have any rational explanation for why this exercise in mathematics always leads to the same result. I mean, you should have your ups and down, shouldn't you? For instance, an argument could be that the past season in Germany had all those high-scoring games involving Hoffenheim or Bremen while Barcelona enjoyed an outstanding season in Spain, with 105 goals scored, and that this explains why those two countries come out on top.

But if the results were down to individual teams or players having particularly productive seasons, the Bundesliga shouldn't lead the pack year in, year out. Nor should the French be dead last with stubborn, almost infuriating regularity.

The same goes for another argument I received by e-mail years ago. This claimed that the Bundesliga is on top because it is weak. This idea was supported by a reference to the Eredivisie. The Dutch league often beats even the Bundesliga in terms of goals per game, the argument went, because it is so unbalanced and the top teams will often score half a dozen against hapless opposition.

Now, I don't mind people calling the Bundesliga weak, as this is an assessment everyone's free to make and find substantiated by our showing in Europe. But the rest of the theory has too many holes in it to be taken seriously.

First, Germany also beat the other leagues, and decisively so, in 1997, when the national team were the reigning European champions, while a Bundesliga team won the Champions League and another Bundesliga team won the UEFA Cup.

Second, an unbalanced league won't necessarily produce more goals.

Last year, I also received an e-mail from a reader in England who explained the Premier League's goal draught by saying there is such a gulf between the top teams and the also-rans that the less glamorous teams put every limb behind the ball when meeting the top dogs.

Third, there's an ongoing debate over here in Germany about why we don't do too well in Europe and one theory you keep hearing is that we lack three or four sides which dominate domestic competition, as is the case in Spain, Italy and England. In other words, many observers think our league is too balanced for its own good.

So, how can we explain what is certainly a pattern and how can we explain that what meets the eye isn't really what is happening? What I mean by that is we can't rely on the perceived wisdoms or clichés that we all live with.

For instance, if forced to use a cliché, most fans would probably say that English football is offensive and Italian football is defensive. But in the past fourteen years, Italy outscored England nine times (and one year there was a draw). Those goals can't all be dubious penalties awarded to Juventus in stoppage time.

Or what about the opinion, regularly voiced by our national coach, that the German style is slower, more considered than the football played in England and Spain and that we have to change our approach because only fast one-touch football yields goals in the modern game?

If this were true, we'd be facing the bizarre situation that games between two slow sides repeatedly produce more goals than games between two fast sides. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Mr Löw is wrong, I merely scratch my head and wonder. A few years back, for instance, a reader sent in a note that said there were fewer goals in England because the ruthless pace is so taxing that the strikers lack concentration when presented with chances.

Hmm. I chewed that over for a while but found myself unable to swallow it. Firstly, does that mean the French league has the fastest pace in Europe, even more murderous than the Premier League's? Secondly, tired legs and lapses in concentration usually hurt you at the back, not up front. In the early 1970s, Günter Netzer used to loudly complain about the high-tempo game which coach Hennes Weisweiler demanded of his Gladbach teams, saying: "In the final stages of a game, we are so tired we leave gaps and concede silly goals."

Ah well, be that as it may. I guess what counts is that we can spend the following weeks looking forward to another Bundesliga season with tons of goals.


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