REUTERS - When Borussia Dortmund became the fifth different team to win the Bundesliga in eight seasons back in 2011, the league was widely proclaimed as the most open and competitive in Europe.
Three years on, many German fans are stifling the yawns as Bayern Munich run away with the title for the second year in a row with the other 17 teams floundering in their wake.
Last year, the Bavarians clinched the championship with a record six games to spare as part of an unprecedented treble which also included the German Cup and Champions League.
This time, they are threatening to improve on even that performance. Bayern have dropped only four points all season, have won their last 14 league games and have a 19-point lead.
Even more worryingly for the other teams, Bayern are set to get stronger at the expense of bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund.
In less than a year, Bayern have lured Dortmund's prize assets Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski, with the Poland striker joining from next season, to Munich, leaving their rivals demoralised and disorientated.
"They want to destroy us," Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said in January.
Everything has been achieved without the help of tax breaks from a friendly government or huge cash injections from an ambitious owner.
Over the years, Bayern have been a model of good management and UEFA's financial fair play policy, which is being introduced to force clubs to live within their means, looks set to make them stronger rather than weaker.
"The current situation does not do the Bundesliga any good," Watzke told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this week.
"In Germany, no club has managed to build a similar platform to Bayern Munich in the last 30 or 40 years.
"What Bayern have done is definitely not reprehensible," he added. "It's just what every business in Germany tries to do to their rivals.
"We can all see in the Bundesliga that the gap between them and the rest of us is extreme."
Watzke, however, is a rare voice of dissent. The general view is that Bayern's dominance will not last forever and that such cycles are part of the game.
"There is no reason for envy, we can just congratulate them. As long as we play against Bayern twice a year, the world is in order for us," Freiburg chairman Fritz Keller told Kicker magazine.
"Naturally, their domination this season is extreme but I don't see any danger that it will stay like this," added Klaus Allofs, sporting director of VfL Wolfsburg.
"The Bundesliga is still exciting and Bayern have always been among the teams that everyone else are chasing."
It is certainly not the first time the Bundesliga has become predictable. Between 1969 and 1977 only Borussia Moenchengladbach (five times) and Bayern (four) won the title.
The second half of the 1980s saw Bayern crowned champions five times in six seasons while the Munich side and Borussia Dortmund shared the title spoils between 1994 and 2003, apart from Kaiserslautern's surprise triumph in 1998.
The period between 2004 and 2011 was something of an exception as Werder Bremen, Bayern, VfB Stuttgart, VfL Wolfsburg and Dortmund all won the title.
But, as German football league chief executive Christian Seifert pointed out, that period also coincided with a barren run in the Champions League with no German triumphs between Bayern's titles in 2001 and 2013.
"In the Bundesliga, any team can beat any other team, it's only for the time being can nobody beat Bayern," he said on Sky.
"We should not underestimate the supporters. The Bundesliga lives off lots of sporting decisions, ranging from surprising defeats, to surprising wins, each with its own story.
"It's not just about who will win the championship. I don't think any Moenchengladbach fans have torn up their season tickets or cancelled their Sky subscriptions this season.
"At the moment, Bayern are running away. Sometimes it happens but it will not carry on like this in the coming years."
"For my first eight years in this role, I was asked why German teams didn't win the Champions League," he added. "Now we've won it and some people are still not happy."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Ken Ferris)
Trending On Reuters
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton set the pace in practice for the Italian Grand Prix on Friday with dominant Mercedes turning on the power and leaving their rivals trailing. Full Article