Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich’s Champions League final clash on Saturday is the fifth meeting between the two sides in 2012-13 but the battle has been taking place off the pitch for months.
Sixteen years ago, BVB tried to steal Bayern’s crown with big spending and were duly rewarded with two Bundesliga titles and even did what Bayern had failed to do for 20 years – sealing European glory with the Champions League in 1997.
"I don't give a damn about Bayern - I've lost all connection with the club"
The Ruhr outfit shelled out countless sums on renowned German stars like Andreas Moller, Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter, while adding some international flavour in the shape of Paulo Sousa, Julio Cesar and later Marcio Amoroso, in a bid to build a legacy to challenge that of their rivals.
Until 2003, the plan was going well until their high salaries caught up with them and they were forced into taking a €2 million loan from Bayern to cover their wages. Then general manager Michael Meier claimed “Borussia Dortmund are solvent and in a better position than Bayern” in 2001. But two years later this certainly was no longer correct.
At this point, BVB were on the brink of bankruptcy and were only saved from extinction by good luck. They were in the gutter and had to work their way back to the top gradually.
The rivalry Dortmund and Bayern share is not just a duel between southern and western Germany or between giants and minnow – it’s a conflict of ideals. It’s a concept not lost on FCB president Uli Hoeness, who compared the two clubs back in September 2012.
"Dortmund are a regional thing - Bayern are global players"
“Dortmund are a relatively regional thing – Bayern are global players,” he sniped. Of course, it was not long before the then champions issued their retort. “I would like it if we could get some respect for what we have achieved in recent years,” CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said. “That’s evidently a bridge too far.”
And so, just months later, the “regional thing” take on the “global players” in the biggest game in club football. One of the men key to their revival, Mats Hummels, grew up at Sabener Strasse, but says he “doesn’t give a damn” about his former club, insisting he has lost “all connection” with them.
While Bayern are still clearly economically miles ahead of Dortmund, BVB have won two of the last three German titles. And when they come up against the Bavarian giants, they have shocked everyone.
The 1-0 DFB-Pokal quarter-final victory for Jupp Heynckes’ side back in February was the first major clash they have won in three years against Jurgen Klopp’s men. In the wake of that game, the former Mainz boss was in no doubt as to where their opponents’ game plan came from.
“Bayern are like the Chinese in industry – they look at what others are doing, copy it, then make more money the same way,” he said.
|"Bayern are like the Chinese in industry – they look at what others are doing, copy it, then make more money the same way"
- Jurgen Klopp
The subject of China harked back to Hoeness’ “global players” barb, when he claimed: “If you walk down the street in Beijing and ask people to name a German club the answer will always be Bayern and not Dortmund.”
Klopp retorted: “I don’t know whether people in China immediately think of Borussia Dortmund as a football club. I don’t think that’s important.”
One wonders what the mood in the Far East will be like among fans when they watch the Champions League final. BVB midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz, for one, does not think much of the Allianz Arena faithful. “It’s a different, quieter atmosphere there. Bayern have many success fans, as I call them,” he said in 2012.
Whether Grosskreutz will even feature at Wembley depends on the fitness of Bayern-bound star Mario Gotze, whose sale to the southern giants brought the clubs’ rivalry to a head.
"If you walk down the street in Beijing and ask people to name a German club the answer will always be Bayern and not Dortmund"
“As for Gotze, everything is legitimate. I was not particularly happy about the style,” Watzke said shortly afterwards, referring to how the Bavarians had failed to contact BVB before agreeing to meet the player's release clause. “Bayern have followed the same pattern to achieve success for quite a while and weakening rivals is part of their strategy.”
Klopp, who admitted that he was left speechless by the move added: “Someone does not want us to be successful. But we will do whatever it takes not to let that happen.”
So, for BVB, Saturday’s clash is about revenge for the Gotze transfer. For Bayern, it is to reaffirm their German dominance. “We were the better team. But it’s difficult to say this when you lose 5-2,” captain Philipp Lahm said after their heavy defeat to BVB in last season’s Pokal final.
Bayern were also visibly riled by Klopp, who “bet his arse” that they would enlist the help of future coach Pep Guardiola when they were drawn against his former club Barcelona in the semi-finals of the competition, with CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge replying: “Klopp’s arse will end up in our museum.”
Whatever happens on the pitch on Saturday, there is sure to be a monumental fallout after the game.