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Does Bundesliga success equal Champions League failure?

By Chris Murphy for CNN
Bayern Munich boss Louis Van Gaal has struggled to get his message across to the players this season.
Bayern Munich boss Louis Van Gaal has struggled to get his message across to the players this season.
  • German teams are struggling in this season's Champions League
  • Coach Louis Van Gaal may pay the price if Bayern Munich fail in Europe
  • German Bundesliga in rude health, says journalist Raphael Honigstein
  • Honigstein insists there is a bright future ahead for German teams in Europe

(CNN) -- The Bundesliga may be in rude health but this season's Champions League looks like being another wretched one for German teams.

Not since Bayern Munich defeated Valencia on penalties in the 2001 final have Germany been able to boast a king of Europe, and it doesn't look like their miserable run in the competition will end anytime soon.

Bayern's current manager Louis Van Gaal is under fire for his side's stuttering performance in the Champions League and faces the humbling prospect of being knocked out in the group stages if his side can't fashion a way past Juventus in their final match.

The manager is defiant, insisting the do-or-die clash in Turin is "a final for Bayern but not for me," and has fallen out with several players, most recently, Italian striker Luca Toni, who hasn't played since early November.

The tournament's other two German clubs, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg, may yet emerge from their group unscathed, but if they do, it will owe more to the paucity of talent in the sides they are battling it out with.

The clubs themselves point to a lack of finances to explain their perpetual shortcomings in the world's biggest club competition, but German football expert Rafael Honigstein says that argument doesn't stand up.

He says an ultra-competitive domestic league, coupled with wasteful spending, are the reasons for the current malaise.

He told CNN: "For the last few seasons the argument has always been about a lack of money but Bayern are outspending some of their rivals, like Arsenal or Liverpool, both in wages and transfers.

"Bayern say they can't compete but it's not true. If you look at their turnover they are the fourth richest club in Europe, they are just not spending the money wisely.

Bayern say they can't compete but it's not true. If you look at their turnover, they are the fourth richest club in Europe. They are just not spending the money wisely.
--Raphael Honigstein

"They need to look at consistency at coaching level. Bayern are changing manager every year, they are becoming like Real Madrid, and that means the team can't gel. There's no strategy or long-term planning. They need to give a coach time and spend their money more wisely."

Apart from Bayern, the other German sides set their sights relatively low in the competition -- at qualifying for the knockout stages -- and continually find they can't compete strongly in Europe as well as domestically.

"It really is a case of Bayern and the rest at the moment," says Honigstein. "Schalke, Hamburg and Stuttgart have the potential to be a Bayern Munich but they are not there because of sporting reasons not financial ones. They need to spend their money better, too.

"There's much more competition in the Bundesliga, which is good for Germany but not for the teams in Europe, and because five or six sides can win the title that becomes the focus, even for Bayern after their recent run domestically, and they struggle to challenge on two fronts.

"The other teams can't get a long run in the competition and get used to it because they are in one year and out the next. These constant changes make it difficult for them to get anywhere.

"The Europa League is a fairer reflection of where the German clubs are at and Germany should have at least one finalist this year. Apart from Bayern, the Champions League requires a level that clubs just can't get to. They think money is the answer but it's not, it is better coaching and scouting."

If Bayern don't reach the Champions League final in the next three or four seasons they will have made some serious mistakes.
--Raphael Honigstein

Despite an eight-year drought in the Champions League, Honigstein says the main focus of most German football fans is domestic success.

"The fans want their club to do well in Europe and they enjoy traveling abroad and playing the top sides, but if clubs were to change their structure and raise tickets prices to try and get ahead in Europe the fans wouldn't accept that.

"Winning the title, that is what the fans dream about. Having said that, if Bayern haven't made progress in the Champions League in the next four seasons the fans will start to think, 'this is ridiculous'."

With the Bundesliga in rude health, and clubs on a more financially sound footing than in previous years, Honigstein believes a renaissance for German sides in Europe is not far away.

"I'm optimistic for the future," he said. "There don't need to be any changes domestically, the teams just need to work harder and better. The league has emerged from its real slump a few years ago and now they need to take the next step. The grounds are always full and the standard is good but they have to get better expertise in.

"This is a transitional period for German football. I think in five or six years it'll be a much better situation and I think a German side can definitely win the Champions League in that time. If Bayern don't reach the final in the next three or four seasons they will have made some serious mistakes."