Few neutrals who watched Hamburg’s last ditch Relegation playoff survival at Karlsruhe on Monday would argue that it was cracking stuff. It was drama that outstrips anything drafted by even the sharpest Hollywood writing team.
The end of season Bundesliga Relegation Playoff pits the third from bottom of the first division against that third placed second team in a two legged game to decide who plays in the 1st division next season. For the second year in a row, Hamburg were the top tier club and once again they prevailed, this time thanks to an extra time winner in the second leg at Karlsruhe.
But there was a controversial turning point in the second leg when the referee, Manual Grafe, gave a free kick to Hamburg deep into injury time for a marginal handball. HSV consequently scored and forced the game into extra time.
The result left a bitter taste in the mouth for the KSC players and supporters who felt hard done by. Many neutrals (at least on my Twitter timeline) were also left frustrated that a team as consistently dismal as Hamburg are still in the top flight. As exciting as it was it's difficult to escape the feeling that this play off appears to be rewarded a bad football team.
There have been seven relegation playoffs since its return to the calendar in 2009. Five of those games have gone the way of the first division club. You could say that two of these clubs, TSG Hoffenheim and Borussia Mönchengladbach have gone on to make a significant contribution to the Bundesliga after their brush with death. Borussia have certainly produced a brilliant side that hopefully will grace the Champions League next season.
But the downside is that second division clubs are being prevented from progressing in the top tier. Of the five losing contenders, only Augsburg were able to bounce back from playoff defeat in 2010. Bochum, Kaiserslautern, Greuther Fürth and now Karlsruhe have worked hard and played well to earn their third place finish only to find all their good work undone by a two legged match.70% of #Bundesliga relegation play-offs have gone in favour of the topflight team (12 of 17). #KSCHSV #Relegation pic.twitter.com/9KXzwEHIFE— Big Grabowski (@BigGrabowski) June 1, 2015
Moreover, there is a danger that smaller clubs are being denied the experience of playing in the first division. KSC had a relatively young squad who, no doubt would have struggled had they been promoted but the experience would have been of great value to the players, coaches and the club. The same could be said for last season's losers, Greuther Fürth, who would have bounced back after one season down in the second division and might have made more of a fist of things second time around.
You may argue that the Bundesliga 2 teams should pull their finger out and win these game. And of course you would be right. But often these teams are made up of younger less experienced players than their Bundesliga 1 counterparts. It seems unreasonable to put their entire season on the line against more experienced professionals.
Besides, it seems unsporting to give bad teams another chance. HSV have been dogshit for the last two seasons and there's no reason to think that they won’t be just as bad next season. I think KSC deserved their chance and it’s a shame that their fantastic season was effectively decided by a questionable call from a referee.
So perhaps it's time the DFL did away with the playoff. As entertaining as they are for the neutral, they have often rewarded bad teams and bad football. The desire to extend the season for a little while longer is tempting but a four team second division playoff would be just as fun and more sporting. Especially if you seeded the higher placed teams at the end of the season. It also has the virtue of sending the crap teams down and not leaving them with the illusion that they have actually achieved something at the end of the season.