Bayern Munich prove Bundesliga is best league in Europe
Chelsea's defeat of Barcelona, and Real Madrid's exit at the same Champions League stage, re-ignited the debate between supporters of the Premier League and La Liga over which is the best competition in Europe.
The answer is: neither of those. The best is the Bundesliga, home of the fourth semi-finalist, Bayern Munich.
Disagree? There is no better place in Europe to be a football fan. At an average £17 the tickets are usually much cheaper than elsewhere, especially England; supporters can stand on safe terracing; they can even drink a beer while watching. The stadiums are generally modern, with many of the main ones redeveloped or purpose-built for the 2006 World Cup. Oh, and away fans get free rail travel.
It is hardly surprising, then, that German football attracts the largest crowds in Europe despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that many clubs restrict season-ticket sales in order to share out the chance to attend games. Last season gates in Germany averaged 42,700, more than 7,000 higher than in England's top flight. In Spain, Italy and France it was 25,000 or lower.
This is not just the consequence of a couple of well-supported clubs such as Bayern and Borussia Dortmund (whose Yellow Wall standing terrace at the Westfalenstadion holds 26,000). Eight of the 20 best-supported teams in Europe were German, four were English.
What probably helps supporters to feel a tie to their clubs is the "50+1 rule"(a minimum 51 per cent of the stock must be held by members), which means they cannot be owned by individuals or companies, except for the historic exceptions of Wolfsburg (Volkswagen's club) and Bayer Leverkusen (Bayer pharmaceuticals). This rules out finding a sugar daddy like Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour, but also prevents a Portsmouth or Rangers scenario.
And what of the "product"? German football has come a long way from the days when every team played a sweeper and the ball was either passed methodically forward, or played early towards a Carsten Jancker-type striker. Most games are skilled yet fast-paced with the emphasis on attack. This is a combination of several factors. After Germany's appalling performance at Euro 2000 the national federation, the DFB, launched a player development programme. Jürgen Klinsmann took advantage of this to promote a cult of youth at the 2006 World Cup, coupled with an adventurous style of play which has since been adopted by the likes of Hoffenheim, Mainz and the champions Dortmund.
While the very best players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, still tend to go to Spain (where he lines up at Real Madrid with two of the Nationalmannschaft's stars of the 2010 World Cup, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira), Bayern's Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are as good as anyone on these shores.
Bayern may be a special case – their £300m commercial income dwarfs all domestic rivals, and is bigger than at Manchester United and Real Madrid – and have won eight of the last 14 titles, but five clubs have been Bundesliga champions in the last nine years. This competitiveness is another plus that English fans will envy. Last year Bayern won nothing and this year they have again had to give way to Dortmund.
Need another reason to be envious? Germany were finalists in five of the last 11 World and European festivals.