Most German teams are following Dortmund's lead and putting their faith in youth, but can anyone stop big-spending Bayern?
It'll be sold out, of course, watched by more countries than ever and kick off a new season that will undoubtedly entertain with the traditional mix of goal-gluts, managerial pandemonium and beyond-silly off-the-pitch antics. In total, close to half a million season tickets have been sold already, a new record. But Friday night's curtain-raiser between champions Dortmund and a Hamburger SV side that's so radically reconstructed that you might as well call it Jocelyn has not been accompanied by quite the hype we have become used to in recent years. There is little of the punch-drunk euphoria that greeted the Bundesliga's return after the 2010 World Cup, more a sense of relief that weekends matter again.
Two factors are chiefly responsible for this relatively sober comeback of Germany's favourite pastime. First, the sheer number of big club crises and axed managers in 2010-11 have exhausted the league. As a result of all that disorder, the clubs were forced to ring in the changes early. New managers (Jupp Heynckes, Bayern; Robin Dutt, Leverkusen; Marcus Sorg, SC Freiburg; Stale Solbakken, Köln; Holger Stanislawski, Hoffenheim;) were hired well before the summer started and the key, most expensive transfers (Manuel Neuer, €22m to Bayern, André Schürrle, €8m to Leverkusen) were front-loaded.
Nothing of note has happened in recent weeks to add some drama up to the build-up - most sporting directors ceased making telephone calls of any sort some time last month. With four more weeks to go in the transfer window, only Werder Bremen, desperate to offload some stars, and Felix Magath still have unfinished business. The Wolfsburg manager is in typical wheeler-dealer mode again, looking to shed and buy a few more dozen players before Volkswagen's corporate quantity surveyor starts showing an interest.
The second reason has all to do with the herd effect. German football seems to have collectively followed Dortmund's lead, both in terms of their youth policy and their moderate expenditure. Borussia's triumph with the youngest ever squad has given sporting directors across the board the confidence – or an excuse – to promote shedloads of teenager to the first team, in the hope that more Mario Götzes or Schürrles will emerge. So just when you thought that the fallen giants (Werder, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Schalke) would invest heavily to remind yesteryear's army of roaring "Gräue Mäuse" ("grey mice" aka unfashionable clubs) of their true position in the food chain and fight for that newly available fourth Champions League spot, they've all been reading from one of Gordon Brown's old chancellor speeches, stressing prudence, prudence, prudence.
No one has spent any significant money in net terms. Ten clubs have even made a profit this summer, among them Dortmund, who brilliantly succeeded in keeping almost their whole squad together despite plenty of predictions to the contrary. The new, characteristically smart additions of Moritz Leitner (Augsburg), Ilkay Gündogan (Nürnberg) and Ivan Perisic (Bruge) will provide much-need depth to Jürgen Klopp's squad but their wage bill has only moderately increased from €35m to €40m in the process. It could easily be cut back again, if they miss out on the Champions League next season. "We need to be very conservative and humble," said their president Hans-Joachim Watzke.
Their opponents in the Westfalenstadion on Friday night, Hamburg, have gone even further. New sporting director Frank Arnesen's first, second, third and fourth actions in the job have been to plunder Chelsea's youth academy. Bringing in Jeffrey Bruma, Gökhan Töre, Jacopo Sala and Michael Mancienne – whose last name is being pronounced in a bewildering number of ways by German commentators – smacks either of supreme confidence in his former charges or a distinct lack of imagination. Coach Michael Oenning seems to have a tough time deciding which one it is. Without top earners like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Frank "Goethe" Rost, Piotr Trochowski and Ze Roberto, the squad is certainly cheaper but probably best described as work in progress. "It might take us most of the first half of the season to see where we are," Oenning said rather ominously.
Financially, it's all been so sensible that it almost hurts. Thank god for Bayern then, who followed up their by now customary trophy-less odd year with a customary spending spree. Their gross outlay of €44m (€39m net) accounts for nearly a third of the Bundesliga's gross spend (€137m; €100m net). Neuer will be worth his inflated fee if he stays around for a decade or so and the right-back Rafinha (Genua) was a no-brainer at €5.5m but whether Jérôme Boateng really is the answer to a decade worth of problems at centre-back remains to be seen. Upstairs, by the way, the president Uli Hoeness has become closer involved again in an effort to support his friend Jupp Heynckes while Karl-Heinz "Che" Rummenigge is busy plotting a coup against Sepp Blatter.
Bayern do not look good enough to fulfill Reinhard Rauball's dream of a first international club title since 2001, however. Before Mainz were dumped out of the Europa League by the mighty Metan Medias on Thursday night, the league chairman boldly stated that (second-placed) La Liga was now "within sight" as far as the Uefa coefficient was concerned and also stressed "the increasing appeal" of the German game. "We've had four different champions in five years," he said, before gallantly glossing over the fact that two genuine stars, Dortmund's Nuri Sahin and Arturo Vidal (Leverkusen) have left the league. "It would be narrow-minded to think that they'd all have to play with us in today's globalised world," Rauball added, "and it's positive that someone like Neuer has been kept while prominent names like Boateng and Rafinha have returned." Somewhere in the distance, a bunch of oversized Strohhalme were being snapped in half.
But then again, a lack of big names – Werder's Sokratis Papastathopoulos doesn't count, sadly – matters a little less in a league that has taken to producing young talents in impressive quantity. As George Orwell – or was it Reiner Calmund? – once memorably said: In an age of universally overvalued players, making them yourself ain't half bad an idea.
Do say: "I'd be very interested to see whether their high-pressing game works in Europe, Jonathan."
Don't say: "When is Mario Götze moving to Arsenal?"
Do say: "Schürrle.... What a player!"
Don't say: "I fully expect Michael Ballack to lead them to a triple of Champions League, championship and German cup this season"
Also don't say: "Love the fact they play without a shirt sponsor - classy!"
Do say: "Rafinha as right-back enables Philipp Lahm to play as an inverted left-back, where he's much better"
Don't say: "I'm sure the board will give Jupp Heynckes all the time in the world to succeed"
Do say: "Maybe it's a good job they didn't get into the Champions League – just think about the coefficient!"
Don't say: "I hope Didier Ya Konan gets to play the drums again soon"
Do say: "For Mainz, it will be about mid-table but for their manager Tuchel, it's about putting himself in the shop window this year"
Don't say: "I bet they'll be great in the Europa League this season"
Do say: "Can't see them doing that well again after losing Julian Schieber, Mehmet Ekici and Ilkay Gündogan"
Don't say: "Defender Andreas Wolf – now at Werder – will be sorely missed in terms of his cultured distribution and lovely build-up play".
Do say: "Did you know? Israeli players Itay Shechter and Gil Vermouth signed their contracts after the club served them some kosher food"
Don't say: The name of Lautern's sporting director in polite society.
Do say: "So just how do you pronounce Mancienne, Bela?"
Don't say: "It's a good job they brought in Frank Arnesen. Without him, would they have never unearthed all these wonderful talents from the Chelsea reserves"
Do say: "Why on earth did no bigger club come in for their striker Papiss Demba Cissé? He's like a good Darren Bent"
Don't say: "What does new manager Marcus Sorg know about building a squad?" (He's got a degree in structural physics, actually)
Do say: "Lukas Podolski should really think twice about getting on the wrong side of coach Sol Solbakken, a guy who was once - true fact - clinically dead for eight minutes."
Don't say: "Very odd that the Cologne press would make such a deal about Poldi losing the armband. Seems a bit exaggerated, doesn't it?"
Do say: "Billionaire Dietmar Hopp is obviously so afraid of the Financial Fair Play regulations that he's ensured the team will finish nowhere near Europe"
Don't say: "This friendly, sugar daddy-backed club epitomises the Bundesliga's enlightened business model"
Do say: "I bet that come spring, their new Mexican defender Maza won't let any strikers pass over"
Don't say: "€9m for Träsch? I thought you could only do that kind of deal in the Premier League"
Do say: "Thomas Schaaf will never change these three things: a) his moustache b) his facial expression c) his commitment to a midfield diamond"
Don't say: "My perfect woman needs to have tattoos, black hair and silicon" (unless you're Marko Arnautovic, that is
Do say: "Even with Christoph Metzelder on the pitch, they might grab a Champions League spot"
Don't say: "Ralf Rangnick and Raúl: obviously a match made in heaven"
Do say: "I wonder if Felix Magath will sign Ali Karimi again"
Don't say: "This friendly, Volkswagen-owned club really epitomises the Bundesliga's enlightened business model"
Do say: "Winger Marco Reus must surely realise that he's far too good for this team"
Don't say: "Am I the only who finds manager Lucien Favre's praise for 'polyvalent' players a little unsettling?"
Do say: "Staying up with this squad will be a miracle"
Don't say: "What they're missing is a good sporting director - like Dieter Hoeness, for example"
Do say: "It doesn't bode well for the new boys that manager Jos Luhukay and striker Michael Thurk have fallen out before the first ball was kicked"
Don't say: Anything bad about them. That would be mean.