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Tony Sanneh's Bundesliga Preview

With the success of the national team in the World Cup, there is a revitalized faith and excitement in German football as the Bundesliga season approaches.  The German press and fans already consider themselves strong contenders in 2006, but let’s keep things in the present.

Training for most sides began July 1.  Preseason can be extremely taxing, with twice-daily sessions and warm-up matches typically three times a week (and they only count as one session!)  The teams with national team players also have the most depth, so they’ve had the chance to give their players more rest.  All in all, I think from the beginning of the season things are going to go fast.  Teams are ready to play.

Like most other leagues, the Bundesliga has been affected by the financial troubles facing football.  It’s a little different in Germany, since most player contracts are incentive-based and the payrolls are managed different, but the result has been a much quieter transfer market than in years past, especially involving foreign players.  The significant foreign signing of the offseason was the transfer of Brazilian national Luizao to Hertha Berlin. Domestically, Bayern Munich has once again scored the pot of gold by snatching German internationals Michael Ballack and Sebastian Deisler from Bayer Leverkusen.

Most of the experts are predicting Bayern and Borussia Dortmund as the frontrunners.  Looking down the list, it’s pretty cluttered in the middle. While there are no really weak teams, the top five or six sides are definitely above the rest.  Teams like Hamburg and Wolfsburg look great on paper, but have typically struggled once they roll the ball out.  If they play well, they have a chance to move to the top tier.

Bayer Leverkusen, after once again losing out on the league trophy in the final matchday, have lost their two best players and will field a totally new team.  Ironic that a team that finishes second in their domestic league AND the UEFA Champions League should be dismantled, but such is the pressure to succeed in Germany.

Of the newly promoted sides, I’d say Bochum is the most promising.  They return to the top flight after one season in the second Bundesliga, and have a potent attack.  They’ve also added Cameroonian defender Raymond Kalla, who has played in the last three World Cups for the Indomitable Lions.  Hannover 96 has the potential to be a dangerous team (especially with those Americans!), while I see Bielefeld struggling.

As for our team, we want to improve on last season.  We have a deeper team, but we’re concerned about scoring goals.   We are a lot deeper in the midfield and in the defense, so hopefully if we can play the whole season like we did the second half of last season, we’ll be in good shape.  We want to be a team that after the first three months of the season, everyone says ‘this team is going to be around in the end.’  We don’t even want to be mentioned as a team that could be relegated.

Finally, a curious change in the rules department.  We’ve been instructed that beginning this season, in order for a handball to be called in the penalty area, a player must blatantly go after the ball.  I don’t know if they are worried about their conscience or if they wanted to make it public, but that’s the law.

I’m looking forward to an exciting season.  Hope you come along for the ride…

Here’s some predictions for the 2002-03 Bundesliga season.

Deutschemeisterschaft (Champions):  Bayern Munich – They’ve made some outstanding additions to their team, and if they can play together should finish on top of the table.  Dortmund and Hertha Berlin are right behind.

Relegation Zone: Energie Cottbus, Hansa Rostock and Armenia Bielefeld.

Top scorer: Ewerthon, Borussia Dortmund - .The Brazilian forward joined Dortmund from Corinthians last season. He’s strong, fast, and has a tremendous ability to finish.

Goalkeeper: Oliver Kahn, Bayern Munich – What else can be said about the Golden Ball winner from the 2002 World Cup?  Continues to set the standard in Germany and around the world.

Question Mark: Bayer Leverkusen – With the high turnover, the loss of key players, and the seeming curse hanging over their heads, Leverkusen could face what some call a “rebuilding year.”