On Tuesday afternoon, I was lucky enough to have a stroll around Wembley as it prepares for Saturday’s Champions League final and already, it buzzes with a sense of anticipation.
To host such a showpiece alone is enough to create a hunger but from the moment you stand looking over the stadium from the top of the steps at Wembley Park underground station, with the crests of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich set alongside an image of the trophy, you have the sense that this a clash that the whole world is waiting for.
It’s not just the sense of the football world turning on its axis that you get from two giants from the same country contesting a continental competition. It’s the sense that Saturday night will tell us where this compelling rivalry stands among European football’s best of modern times, and whether we’re at the end of it, or just the beginning.
Many would have you believe the former, and they have strong evidence to give their opinion weight. Saturday’s Bundesliga climax saw Dortmund slump to a late defeat against struggling Hoffenheim and Bayern get the best of a seven-goal thriller at Borussia Mönchengladbach, meaning the new champions finished a whopping 25 points of the ex-champions, who were second.
If we add the arrival of Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena next season, with a reportedly enormous transfer kitty at his disposal and Dortmund’s star turn Mario Götze already signed up, the result seems to be clear. Bayern will be untouchable again.
This conclusion, however, neglects the magic beyond reason that has made Dortmund such an essential part of Europe’s landscape in the era of coach Jürgen Klopp. Their ability to regenerate and renew has been a feature of their make-up. Many thought the 2011 exit of Nuri Sahin (at a relatively low €10m), the player who was the coach’s brain and tactical fulcrum on the field, would be a disaster. The Turkey midfielder returned 18 months later to find he was no longer an automatic pick for the first XI. Little had changed in the structure of the club, he told me after a game at Gladbach in February, “but all the players who were there before are so much better now.” The stayers have grown in stature even with stars like Shinji Kagawa leaving.
Bayern’s brilliance this season is, really, the ultimate compliment to Dortmund. The Bavarians were so driven to distraction by the Westfalen side’s own brilliance in their 2011 and 2012 title wins that they were forced to respond with as much heavy-handedness as they ever have to a challenger – in the transfer market and the dressing room.
Javi Martinez arrived for €40m to forge an outstanding midfielder partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger, while Schweini, Franck Ribery, Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos regrouped and upped their game even more. In these last few months since Kroos’ injury even Arjen Robben has followed suit, showing more drive and commitment than many thought the Dutchman was capable of.
And, of course, Bayern won’t stand still under Pep. Dortmund have already begun to make their plans to spend the €37m received for Götze, with the superb Kevin de Bruyne (on loan to Werder Bremen from Chelsea this season) an early candidate to fill the gap. These two may be shopping in different supermarkets, but they’ll still have the potential to share the same dancefloor. Here’s to them reprising the epic Bayern versus Gladbach face-offs of the ‘70s for a while to come.
Click here to view our new and exclusive Football Rivalries infographic, featuring Bayern and Dortmund.