The top clubs are showing a lack of ambition so complete that it's surely unparalleled in 49 years of Bundesliga football
The Germany manager Joachim Löw had a number of interesting games to chose from this weekend. But he decided to attend SC Freiburg's 2-1 win over Schalke on Saturday. The 52-year-old prefers to watch games in his adopted home town, to be sure, but choosing a game that featured only one his Euro 2012 hopefuls (Benedikt Höwedes) – bar a surprise return of the goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand to the fold – was still a little puzzling in the light of other, more high-class fare on offer.
Maybe Löw simply hadn't been told in time that the S04' Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar wouldn't be able to play after knocking heads with Chris Smalling at Wembley. He wanted to view more matches featuring opposition players, he said following Germany's 2-1 defeat to the French in midweek. Or perhaps Löw is so assured about the capabilities of his squad that he doesn't really need to watch any more games professionally at all before June. And why, indeed, bother? On the evidence of match day 24, the Germany team will not only enjoy the usual benefit of a Bundesliga winter-break but the highly unusual and somewhat controversial decision by the top clubs to stop playing two months earlier than normal. The DFL will do its best to deny this publicly this but you've read it here first: the season is finished. All results must be void and there will be no champion. Sorry.
The aftermath of the matches involving the so-called Fantastischen Vier, three-quarters of which were only fantastically inept to keep pace with the league leaders Dortmund, make this dramatic move necessary, unfortunately. All four clubs at the top have now declared themselves firmly not interested in winning the title, a lack of ambition so complete that it's surely unparalleled in 49 years of Bundesliga football. You often read about leagues where nobody wants to win it, but that's usually understood as a sarky reference to inconsistency not an actual absence of motivation. In this case, they really seem to mean it though. And if the teams involved don't feel it's worth it, why should we? A competition that no one wants to win stops being a competition altogether before long. So let's stop now, before the Meisterschaft suffers the fate of the European Cup Winners' Cup.
Maybe those threatened with relegation can still continue in a mini league, or the second division can fill the gap in the TV schedules until Löw's young pretenders to Spain's throne get going.
The fingers of blame for this sad state of affairs must naturally point at Bayern Munich. The Bavarians, busy talking up their own credentials only a couple of months ago – "we will always have better potential than Dortmund," said Bastian Schweinsteiger – have acted out the lonely role of perennial loudmouths with admirable persuasion in recent decades but now seem tired of their own claims. They threw in the towel after the 2-0 defeat at Leverkusen, even before BVB extended their lead to seven points in the evening kick-off against Mainz.
"There is no need to talk about the championship anymore," said the sporting director Christian Nerlinger, a study in barely repressed anger and desperation. "We need to look behind us," added the midfielder Toni Kroos. "Coming second is our priority." A disastrous run that has yielded a mere 11 points in seven games in 2012 makes that kind humility advisable, but writing off a trophy this early is still unprecedented as far as the brash southerners are concerned. "A few weeks ago, all of this seemed about as realistic as barbecue freak Uli Hoeness giving up on grilled sausages for life," mused Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The irony of this capitulation is that Bayern weren't quite as pants on the Franck Ribéry underwear scale as in earlier defeats this side of the winter break. You could say that Jupp Heynckes's men had actually played half-decently in the first half. But the by now familiar combination of woeful finishing, lack of composure in midfield, playing with one man down – Mario Gomez has only existed as an abstract concept on the team sheet in recent weeks – as well as Manuel Neuer's third high-profile mistake this season enabled Leverkusen to chalk up their third win on the trot with two late goals: Stefan Kiessling on 79 minutes, Karim Bellarabi on 90. The next few weeks will be more about Heynckes's future – or lack thereof – than trophies. "There will be talks with the manager, at the right time," Nerlinger declared ominously.
Bayern, however, are not the sole culprits for this premature end to the title race. Borussia Mönchengladbach, 1-0 losers away to Nürnberg in a game where Lucien Favre's cautious approach back-fired, and Schalke were never serious contenders to begin with, so their refusal to engage in championship talk is understandable.
The same cannot be said about Dortmund though. To be fair, their 2-1 win over Mainz, a team that gave the Black & Yellows a taste of their own pressing medicine, was brilliant in many ways. Dortmund wasted quite a few chances but played with the kind of inevitable, devastating urgency that no other side can muster at the moment. Eight wins on the trot, no defeats in 18, and no one in sight to stop them: they're in a class of their own, once again. There's only one thing that rankles. It rankles a lot, actually. Neutral observers live in constant fear of their unspeakably awful post-match interviews.
Jürgen Klopp's wide-eyed insistence that he's not in the slightest bit concerned with winning the league stopped being charming and self-deprecating approximately 18 months ago, yet the 44-year-old persists with this tiresome routine like a stand-up comedian stuck on the same half-funny line on stage. "I haven't thought about it at all, why should I?" he asked rhetorically on Saturday. "I'm telling you the truth, it really doesn't concern me." Then there's midfielder Kevin Großkreutz, a player who's always available for interviews but never says anything substantial at all. He sneeringly chides his interlocutors for asking the very same question every week ("Do you want to win the championship?") without being the least bit aware of his own part in this piece of absurd theatre.
As much as one can understand why Dortmund would be sticking to their PR strategy of last season, their over-the-top kookiness is annoying, frankly. The DFL is surely fed-up, too: it reflects badly on the brand if the best side in the country proclaim themselves constantly unfussed about winning the Schale (championship bowl). Just to call Klopp's bluff, it should wind up the season now and declare that there will no winner. Or perhaps it could just hand out the trophy randomly, to anyone of the clubs who confirm in writing that they would like to have it. Maybe Löw can even swing it to so that Freiburg get it.
• Sometimes, a mere red card is not enough. The Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero will be lucky to escape an eight-game ban for a foul that was described as "insane" by Jürgen Klopp: the Peruvian took a run-up of 50m, then jumped feet first into the legs of the Stuttgart keeper Sven Ulreich, who was innocently shepherding the ball out of play near the corner flag. Guerrero's best puppy dog eyes and "what I did do?" gestures failed to persuade the referee Peter Sippel. The Swabians, already 3-0 up at the time, added a fourth through Martin Harnik in the 90the minute to make it a triumphant return for the coach Bruno Labbadia. Hamburg's "transitional" season looks little more daunting now.
• Kaiserslautern fought tooth and nail but came away with only a goalless draw against Felix Magath's Wolfsburg. The manner of the passionate performance was sufficient to keep their coach Marco Kurz in the job a little longer and the supporters apologised to the Israeli striker Itay Shechter for last week's anti-semitic insults with banners and applause. What seemed like a decent afternoon turned quite sour, however, when the Red Devils' rivals all picked up points.
• Hertha won their first game since October to escape the relegation zone. Against their manager's former team Werder Bremen, Otto Rehhagel's men showed a bit of grit and application – enough to put paid to the visitors' recent revival. A slightly mishit volley from Nikita Rukavytsya secured all three points but as anticipated, Rehhagel's post-match press conference provided more entertainment. The veteran coach held court, merrily quoting German philosophers – including his wife Beate – and deepened his friendship with Voice, the guide dog of a blind journalist. He also joked that he didn't know how to pronounce some of his players' names. "I call him Paradise," he said about Fanol Perdedaj, before going out to dine with the German foreign secretary. Guido Westerwelle will have been very pleased Otto found space in the diary for him.
Results: Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Mainz 05, Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Bayern Munich, Kaiserslautern 0-0 Wolfsburg, Hannover 2-2 Augsburg, Hertha BSC 1-0 Werder Bremen, Hamburger SV 0-4 Stuttgart, Freiburg 2-1 Schalke, Nürnberg 1-0 Gladbach, Hoffenheim 1-1 Köln.