There’s something that’s irresistible about Saturday’s match-up in the Champions League final at Wembley, what German football fans refer to as, “Fussballtempel”.
There is their intoxicating brand of football. Bayern Munich’s 7-0 slaughter in the semi-finals of Barcelona, a team their coach Jupp Heynckes still refers to as the best team in the world, hints at a shift in the balance of power from Catalonia to Bavaria; Borussia Dortmund has entranced neutral fans with the verve of its counter-attacking style of play, epitomised by Robert Lewandowski’s 59-minute, four-goal plunder of Real Madrid a few weeks ago.
There’s also hostility between the clubs on the ground. Relations have deteriorated between Germany’s “Der Klassiker” outfits over the last month. They clashed in the league three weeks ago. It was a meaningless match, Bayern already having secured the title in record time with six matches left.
There were several dust-ups during the 1-1 draw. Bayern’s Brazilian defender Rafinah was sent off for elbowing Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski; Dortmund’s coach Jürgen Klopp tussled pitchside with Bayern Munich’s sporting director, Matthias Sammer.
Before the game, Dortmund’s hierarchy decided to forgo the traditional pre-match lunch with its counterparts from Munich. “Why should we pretend that everything is peace, happiness and pancakes when it isn’t? A handshake will be enough,” said its chief executive, Hans-Joachim Watzke.
Bayern Munich’s filching of Mario Götze, the youngest player to be capped by Germany since Uwe Seeler in 1954, and the reported approaches to Lewandowski, has infuriated Dortmund. The Götze saga is known as “der Transfer-Hammer” in the German press. Bayern Munich paid his €37 million buyout clause, a record between Bundesliga clubs. Dortmund’s fans are crying betrayal. The player has been in the club’s ranks since he was nine. During the testy, early May league clash, they wielded a banner: “The pursuit of money shows how much heart one has — Fuck you, Götze.”
Even Dortmund’s players have seen it in tribal terms. “To lose someone who knows exactly how we think, who has come through at the club, and still prefers another club, that was hard to take. As [Shinji] Kagawa left [to Manchester United], or if Lewandowski leaves, then you kind of understand that, as they are not from Germany, but this has hit us personally,” said central defender Mats Hummels.
The emergence of Germany’s leading football clubs über alles has caught some people off guard, Dortmund’s in particular; the side finished bottom of its Champions League group last season and was only three places from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone when its charismatic manager Klopp took over in the summer of 2008.
Before Dortmund played Málaga in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, a German newspaper asked: “Can Jürgen Klopp become any more popular?” The 45-year-old is a phenomenon, not only for the fact that, unusually, he was deployed as both a striker and a central defender during his playing career with Mainz 05.
He coached Mainz 05 to the Bundesliga’s top flight for the first time in the club’s history before taking over at Dortmund. He was already well known because of his work as a football pundit on German TV, where his ready laugh and unusual pronouncements endeared him to viewers. He tries to be philosophical about the fact big clubs covet his players.
“Of course you want to keep what you have got in life,” he said, “but there are no guarantees. Other mothers have handsome sons, too, and they can play as well! If there’s time to get nervous, I’ll tell you. So chill.”
Bayern Munich, whose annual revenue is twice that of Dortmund’s, abandoned its frugal ways after failing to qualify for the 2007-2008 Champions League, splashing out on several marquee players, including Franck Ribery (€25 million in 2007); Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez (€60m in 2009); and in out-pricing Barça last summer for Javi Martínez.
Dortmund in contrast has been leaking its star players — Götze being the latest — since it staved off bankruptcy in 2005; it had ran up a debt of €130m and was forced to accept a loan from Bayern to stay afloat.
A rescue package from 400 investors, who each ploughed between €5,000 and €100,000 into the club, the motivational powers of “Kloppo” and a focus on exciting youth team products, among them Götze and Marco Reus, led the club to back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012. The average age of its likely starting XI in the final will be 24, compared to 27 for Bayern.
Klopp said he noticed one of his young, overawed players sneaking a picture of an Arsenal player during the pre-match pitch walk-around when Dortmund played at Emirates Stadium last season in the Champions League. Having been beaten only once in its last eight encounters with Bayern it’s unlikely Dortmund will be as intimidated in London this time out.