Opinion | Is the Relegation/Promotion playoff becoming redundant?

As the full-time whistle blew at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, the 10 men of Hamburg slumped to the ground as the Stuttgart celebrations began. Tim Walter’s side were outplayed, outfought and outscored. It truly was déjà vu for Der Dino and any other unfortunate 2. Bundesliga that has had to face the dreaded Bundesliga playoff.

Despite this only being the conclusion to the first leg with 90 minutes still left to play at the Volksparkstadion on Monday, it really does feel like another year in the 2. Bundesliga has already been confirmed for HSV. A miracle would be needed for Hamburg to overturn their first-leg deficit and this is becoming too much of a consistent issue in these playoff matches.

Since the DFL reincorporated the promotion and relegation playoff format 14 years ago, only three times have the 2. Bundesliga side managed to gain promotion to Germany’s top flight. The inaugural campaign would see Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus relinquish their top-flight status with a 5-0 aggregate defeat to FC Nürnberg. However, with the issues plaguing Cottbus on and off the pitch, this was far from a surprise. 

No Bundesliga club since then has even lost a game in the playoffs by more than one goal. A stat that on its own highlights the gulf in class between the two divisions and why this format may be fundamentally unfair. To contrast, on six occasions a Bundesliga club has beaten their lower-league opposition by a margin of two goals or more. 

However, one may expect that number to be higher and an argument that perhaps these games are more hotly contested than what is suggested could be made. But ultimately, the format is not working. Assuming that HSV fail to overturn their 3-0 deficit, then only 20% of the time would the 2. Bundesliga side have earned promotion.

It has become a second opportunity for an underperforming Bundesliga side to salvage their season at the expense of a 2. Bundesliga side that has fought at the top of the table all year. Nevertheless, the playoff format is a captivating way for the league campaign to draw to an end. It should not be made redundant, but instead, it could be altered. 

Three teams from the Bundesliga should face automatic relegation as it was before the 2008/09 season. Then the playoffs would be played between the 2. Bundesliga sides. One possible solution could come in the format of third vs fourth over a two-legged playoff for the right to play in the Bundesliga. However, a second idea could be based on the Championship format in England 

This is where the sides from third to sixth could battle it out for a one-off game at the Olympiastadion. Whoever comes out on top would earn direct promotion to the Bundesliga. While there may be a better solution, either option would still offer drama and tension that the current system is unfortunately not providing. 

GGFN | Will Shopland

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