The Scottish, Dutch and French leagues kicked off a fortnight ago, last week the English and Spanish started and this weekend sees the start of the leagues in Germany and Italy. Two questions have been dominating the build-up, can Dortmund retain the Bundesliga for the second time and complete a hat-trick of wins and how will Juventus do without Antonio Conte who has been banned for acting as their manager for ten months following the Italian Federation's verdict that he was part of the latest match fixing scandal to hit Italy.
Dortmund won the Bundesliga and the Pokal (German Cup) last season and have added to their squad by signing Marco Reus but have sold Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Kagawa was an important player for the Champions last season linking up with Polish centre forward Robert Lewandowski to good effect. Dortmund's main rivals are Bayern Munich who have added strength in depth to what was already the strongest looking squad in the Bundesliga. The signing of Claudio Pizarro (or rather the resigning) is an astute move, Pizarro has scored more goals in German football than any other non-German born striker and he is ranked joint 11th on the all time goalscoring lists for German league football. If he can manage to score three goals, and take his total to 163, he will replace German legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the Top Ten, still some way behind Gerd Muller who managed 365 goals in 427 games, that's 205 more goals than Pizzaro in only 92 more games. Incidentally Pizarro's current club manager, Jupp Heynckes is third on the all-time lists with 220 goals. They have also added the Crotian centre forward Mario Mandzukic who looked impressive in the Euros and who scored a real poachers goal in last weeks cup win at Regensberg, there is something old fashioned about seeing a player take on the opposition keeper, go round him and put the ball into an empty net from an acute angle. Add to those two the Swiss attacking midfield player Shaqiri (whose every touch is greeted in our house with cries of 'Shaqiri Shaqiri - oh my hips don't lie' and the wonderfully named defender Dante and you can see why Bayern and Dortmund are joint favourites for the title.
The German public are hungry for club football despite the tears that flowed during the Euros and the shock of seeing Bayern Munich lose at home to Chelsea in the Champions League final, tonight is the 50th anniversary of the first season of the Bundesliga, quite a sober thought when you realise they won the 1954 World Cup without having a national league.
In Germany season ticket sales are capped to ensure that 'casual' fans get a fair crack at watching their team without having to shell out in advance, this summer sales of season tickets have reached record levels and nine of the Bundesliga clubs have already sold their allocation for the season. Dortmund have sold all 54,000 of their season tickets and that still leaves room for a further 26,000 who fancy turning up on alternate Friday nights between now and May. Personally I'd like to see Dortmund get to the knock out stage of the Champions League and retain their Bundesliga title but I have a feeling that they are still a couple of quality players away from being able to compete with the best from Spain, Italy and England.
Just to prove that romance isn't dead in the modern game Fortuna Dusseldorf return to the top division of the German football tree. Dusseldorf play their home games at the Esprit Arena, a ground that has a retractable roof, holds 54,600 for football matches and also plays hosts to concerts and fairs. Dusseldorf were relegated from the Bundesliga in 1997 after more than twenty years and it was followed by a succession of relegations until they found themselves down in the fourth tier of German football. Unlike English football the fourth division of German football is not a professional league and Dusseldorf could have been relegated even further were it not for the fact that two clubs above them in the 2000-01 season were refused Bundesliga licences because of financial problems. That was the turning point in the club's history and their promotion to the Bundesliga from 2.Bundesliga means they are the only club in German history to be relegated four divisions and then promoted four divisions.