Bayern Munich has won the Bundesliga for 10 consecutive years.
In 2023, however, a fundamental Bundesliga upset is brewing in the German capital. Union Berlin, who have one of the lowest wage bills in the league, trail Bayern Munich by one point.
Promoted to Germany’s top flight in 2019, the Union are 2nd in the Bundesliga table. If they win against bottom-of-the-table Schalke this Sunday, the Berlin club will overtake Bayern to go top.
3 reasons why Union Berlin can become Germany’s Leicester, end Bundesliga boredom – and lift the Meisterschale trophy this May.
Silver Ball signings Oliver Ruhnert for Union Berlin
Two factors that determine price tags in the European transfer market are the age and performance of the target players. For example, Chelsea’s recent acquisition of Argentine World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez, 22, cost the American-owned Premier.
Union Berlin has a different approach. Sporting 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 talent in second-tier 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, was unable to make the leap from Ajax Amsterdam’s famed academy to their first team. So he trotted around the Dutch league for many years, playing for PEC Zwolle and ADO Den Haag.
Then, in the summer of 2019, Ruhnert brought Becker to Berlin on a free transfer. This season, the striker has scored 8 goals and assisted 7 goals in 27 games. According to Transfermarkt, a soccer data transfer website, Becker now has a market value of $16 million.
Last summer, American international Jordan Siebatcheu arrived in Berlin from Swiss side Young Boys Bern for a fee of $6 million. Standing 6’3″ tall (1.91m) and blessed with blazing pace, he lit up Union’s Stadion An der Alten Forsterei early in the season, providing 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 calendar year 2023. He played in Germany’s 4th division Regionalliga Sudwest until 2018.
Switzerland Coach Urs Fischer is the Union’s Secret Sauce
During a press conference, Urs Fischer, 56, breaks into his Swiss German accent. It gives him a little rural flair in another cosmopolitan league. The coach is at ease during an interview. Don’t ask him if Union Berlin is a Bundesliga title contender.
Despite never dropping out of the top 5 clubs in the Bundesliga table in the 2022-23 season, Fischer says week after week that the Union’s aim is to avoid relegation. (For context, there are 18 clubs competing in the Bundesliga and a maximum of three clubs are decentralized to Bundesliga 2.)
By managing expectations in public, Fischer can manage his team in private. The coach likes to rotate his starting lineup from game to game, which fosters competitiveness in training — and happiness in the dressing room.
As a result, it is very difficult for other teams to play Union. How do you do a tactical analysis of your opponent when you don’t even know which players the coach will field?
This season, the Union won against Champions League rivals Borussia Dortmund (2-0) and RB Leipzig (2-1) and tied its home game against Bayern (1-1).
Working Class Union FC, East Berlin Supporters
There is one glamorous football club in Berlin. it is not a Union. Crosstown rival Hertha BSC play in the historic Olympiastadion in Berlin with a capacity of 80,000 seats. Jurgen Klinsmann and Felix Magath, two former first-class players and Bayern Munich managers, coached the West-Berlin club for the past five years.
The German businessman Lars Windhorst, who made his fortune in electronics in the nineties, invested $ 401 million in Hertha BSC as of 2019. His investment did not pay off. While Hertha is fighting relegation at the tail end of the table, Union competes for the top spot.
Hertha BSC and Union Berlin are cultural opposites. Hertha is based in West Berlin, guides itself on progressive American politics on the field like Colin Kaepernick’s NFL protest, and strives to be a “Big City Club” as sexy and successful as Berlin itself.
Union first got its name in Communist East Germany. The club is deeply rooted in the South East Kopenick part of Berlin and has its origins in the local iron and steel industry. To this day, it retains a distinct working-class character.
Union Berlin’s home grounds only have room for 22,000 fans, the majority of them in standing sections without seats. The smallest venue in the Bundesliga, Stadion an der Alten Forsterei – Stadium at the old forest – borders the Wuhlheide, a forest in Berlin.
The tiny stadium was renovated in the early 2000s, partly by Union fans who volunteered as amateur construction workers.
The Union attracted national attention during the 2014 World Cup, when it invited the public to bring their sofas and armchairs onto the stadium pitch and watch the games live on big screens. (Germany won the World Cup.)
Since Union Berlin’s first ever promotion to the Bundesliga in 2019, the Hertha v Union derby has emerged as one of Germany’s top sporting rivalries. It’s easy to see why.
Union Berlin will host FC Schalke 04 this Sunday, February 19, 2023. Kick-off is at 9:30AM ET (New York), 2:30PM GMT (London) and 3:30PM CET (Berlin). The game is being broadcast by ESPN+ and FuboTV.