What Bundesliga Boredom? Meet Germany’s Leicester — They Can Overtake Bayern Tomorrow

FC Bayern Munich has been champion of the Bundesliga for 10 years in a row.

But in 2023, a sensational Bundesliga excitement is brewing in the German capital. Union Berlin is just a point behind Bayern Munich with one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

Promoted to Germany’s first division for the first time in 2019, Union is 2nd in the Bundesliga table. If they beat bottom-placed Schalke this Sunday, the Berliners will overtake Bayern and take the top spot.

3 reasons Union Berlin can become Germany’s Leicester, end Bundesliga boredom – and win the championship trophy this May.

Oliver Ruhnert’s Moneyball commitments for Union Berlin

Two factors that determine the price tags in the European transfer market are the age and performance of the target players. For example, Chelsea’s recent acquisition of Argentinian world champions Enzo Fernandez, 22, cost American-owned PremierPINC League club $129 million.

Union Berlin takes a different approach. Sports Director Oliver Ruhnert rarely signs Champions League or even Europa League players; In fact, he rarely signs players younger than 23.

Instead, Ruhnert looks at talents in second-rate European leagues such as Belgium, Poland or the Netherlands, on the fringes of the global football circus.

Nine years ago, Amsterdam-born striker Sheraldo Becker, 28, failed to make the leap from Ajax Amsterdam’s famed academy to the first team. So he trotted around in the Dutch league for many years, playing for PEC Zwolle and ADO Den Haag.

In the summer of 2019, Ruhnert then brought Becker to Berlin on a free transfer. This season the forward has scored 8 goals and provided 7 assists in 27 games. According to Transfermarkt, a football transfer data site, Becker is now valued at $16 million.

Last summer, the American international Jordan Siebatcheu came to Berlin from the Swiss club Young Boys Bern for 6 million dollars. With a height of 1.91 m and a rapid pace, he lit up Unions Stadion An der Alten Försterei at the beginning of the season and provided 3 goals and 3 assists in his first ten Bundesliga games.

Kevin Behrens, 32, another Union Berlin striker, has already scored three goals in the 2023 calendar year. He played in Germany’s 4th division Regionalliga Südwest until 2018.

The Swiss coach Urs Fischer is Union’s insider tip

At press conferences, Urs Fischer, 56, leans into his Swiss-German dialect. That gives it a somewhat rural flair in an otherwise cosmopolitan league. During job interviews, the coach is relaxed. Just don’t ask him if Union Berlin is a Bundesliga title contender.

Despite never falling out of the top five clubs in the Bundesliga table in the 2022/23 season, Fischer says week in and week out that Union’s aim is to stay up. (For context: 18 clubs compete in the Bundesliga and a maximum of three clubs are relegated to the 2nd Bundesliga.)

By managing public expectations, Fischer is able to lead his team privately. The coach likes to rotate his starting XI from game to game to stay competitive in training – and happy in the dressing room.

As a result, it is very difficult for other teams to play against Union. How do you do a tactical analysis of the opponent when you don’t even know which players the coach will use?

This season, Union has won against Champions League participants Borussia Dortmund (2-0) and RB Leipzig (2-1) and drew its home game against Bayern (1-1).

Working class of FC Union, East Berlin supporters

There is a glamorous football club in Berlin. it is not Union. Crosstown rivals Hertha BSC play in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, which has a capacity of 80,000. Jürgen Klinsmann and Felix Magath, two former world-class players and managers at FC Bayern Munich, have coached the West Berliners for the past five years.

German businessman Lars Windhorst, who made his fortune in electronics in the 1990s, has pumped $401 million into Hertha BSC since 2019. His investment has not paid off. While Hertha is fighting for relegation at the bottom of the table, Union is fighting for the top of the table.

Hertha BSC and Union Berlin are cultural opposites. Based in West Berlin, Hertha takes cues from progressive American pitch politics like Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protest, and aspires to be a “Big City Club” as sexy and successful as Berlin itself.

Union first made a name for itself in the communist East Germany. The association is deeply rooted in the southeast Berlin district of Köpenick and has its origins in the local iron and steel industry. To this day, it has retained a distinct working-class character.

Union Berlin’s home stadium can only seat 22,000 fans, the majority of them in standing room with no seats. The smallest venue in the Bundesliga, the stadium at the Alte Forsterei, borders on the Wuhlheide, a Berlin forest.

The tiny stadium was partially renovated in the early 2000s by Union fans who volunteered as amateur construction workers.

Union attracted national attention during the 2014 World Cup when it invited the public to take their sofas and armchairs onto the stadium field and watch the games live on big screens. (Germany became world champion.)

Since Union Berlin’s first promotion to the Bundesliga in 2019, the Hertha-Union derby has become one of the biggest sporting rivalries in Germany. It’s easy to see why.

This Sunday, February 19, 2023, Union Berlin host FC Schalke 04. Kick-offs are at 9:30am ET (New York), 2:30pm GMT (London) and 3:30pm CET (Berlin). ESPN+ and FuboTV will broadcast the match.

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