Even though West Germany had already won the World Cup in 1954 and would reach the final again in 1966, the Bundesliga wasn’t actually formed until 1963. Prior to that, West German club football was divided into five regional Oberligen (Premier Leagues), with the winners and runner-ups then progressing to two mini leagues of four and five teams, with the winners of each league then contesting the German Football Championship.
Formation Of The Bundesliga
In 1963, the German Football Federation elected to follow the format used in England, Spain and Italy of a national league structure rather than a network of regional leagues. Initially sixteen teams from the five Oberligen were invited to join and contest the new Bundesliga. Every team would play each other home and away, guaranteeing that top clubs from different regions faced each other at least twice in a season.
The first Bundesliga winners were FC Köln (Cologne), Meidericher SV (now known as MSV Duisburg) were runners-up, and Hamburger SV’s Uwe Seeler was top scorer.
Bayern Munich & Borussia Mönchengladbach Dominate
Two teams dominated the early years of the Bundesliga, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich. Amazingly neither team had made much of an impact on German club football previously, but both would flourish within the new league format. Under the stewardship of the great Hennes Weisweiler – one of the true founding fathers of modern football - Borussia Mönchengladbach would win three Bundesliga titles between 1970 and 1975, then two more with his successor Udo Lattek, another doyen of modern football managers.
During this same time period (1963-77), Bayern Munich would win their first four Bundesliga titles. Coached by the aforementioned Udo Lattek, Bayern also became a great side in the European club competition, mimicking AFC Ajax’s achievement of three straight European Cup wins (1970-73) by winning the European Cup in ’74, ‘75 and ’76.
Interestingly, in the 1974 World Cup final in Munich, a West Germany team made up of mainly Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach players defeated a Dutch team starring players from Ajax and 1970 European Cup winners Feyernoord 2-1.
Bayern And Hamburg Win The European Cup
The Bayern Munch team of that era featured such legends as Franz Beckenbauer - the first defender with more skills than most midfielders, Sepp Maier – one of the most decorated goal keepers ever, Gerd Muller – the most prolific pure striker in football history, as well greats like Paul Breitner and Uli Hoenes. Not surprisingly, the Bayern Munich team of that time is ranked as the Greatest Club Side Of All Time by multiple football magazines and websites.
While Borussia Mönchengladbach have yet to add to their early tally of Bundesliga wins, Bayern Munich have become prolific champions, although they have failed to dominate in Europe as they did in the mid-70s. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Hamburger SV (Hamburg) emerged as a major force, signing Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan, winning the Bundesliga three times and lifting the European Cup in 1983, one of only three German teams to do so.
By the mid-1980s, Bayern Munich had established themselves as by far the dominant team in West Germany. Sides like Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen would have title-winning seasons, but none could sustain any level of consistency.
The Emergence Of Borussia Dortmund
Although a founder member of the Bundesliga in 1963, it took Borussia Dortmund many years of underachievement which included several spells of relegation before they established themselves as the no.1 threat to Bayern Munich’s continued dominance that they are to this day.
In 1995 Dortmund claimed their first ever Bundesliga title, and retained it the following season, beating Bayern into second. In 1997, Dortmund became only the third German team to win Europe’s top club competition, now known as the Champions League, defeating Juventus 3-1 in the final with goals from Karl-Heinz Riedle (2) and Lars Ricken cancelling out Alejandro Del Piero’s lone effort.
Dortmund would win the Bundesliga again in 2002, and twice more in 2011 and 2012 under the guidance of the massively talented manager Jurgen Klopp, now at Liverpool FC. Additionally they would finish in 2nd place in 2013, 2014 and 2016. With a vast 81,000 capacity stadium and fanatical fan base, not to mention an excellent youth setup, Dortmund remain the team best placed to consistently be the team most likely to take advantage of any dip in form by Bayern.
Bayern Become As Big As Barcelona
Taking a leaf from the book of another footballing behemoth in Real Madrid, in the past couple of decades Bayern have strengthened their brand by buying up the best players in the Bundesliga, employing the best managers – foreign as well as German – and striving to dominate at home and win in Europe.
Bayern were within seconds of a fourth European Cup/Champions League trophy in 1999, only to lose to two late strikes from Manchester United. Undeterred, Bayern were back in the final two seasons later, this time emerging victorious against Valencia. More finals beckoned, as well as more disappointments; there was no shame in losing to Jose Mourinho’s great Inter Milan in 2010, but that wasn’t the case when they were beaten by a poor Chelsea side in their own Allianz Arena in the 2012 final.
Jupp Heynckes Takes Bayern To The Treble
However the best was yet to come for Bayern. Jupp Heynckes’s team peaked in 2013, and players like Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery played at a level previously unseen. Bayern’s season was best summed up with their 7-0 aggregate destruction of Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals.
Bayern would go on to win the treble for the first time in their history, defeating Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final, their fifth win in that event.
Bayern marked their intent of remaining at the top by recruiting Pep Guardiola as their manager ahead of the 2014-15 season, and the Spaniard went on to win three-straight Bundesliga titles. Guardiola left at the end of his contract, and was replaced by another top-flight manager in Carlo Ancelotti in 2016, although the Italian was sacked after a year, despite ensuring a record fifth-straight Bundesliga for the club. Jupp Heynckes was installed as Bayern manager for the fifth time in his career, and the team immediately began winning again, and once again looked like certs to retain their Bundesliga title.