HALF his lifetime ago, Jupp Heynckes took his initial steps in football management.
It was 1979 and the masterful goalscorer of the Bundesliga had hung up his boots to coach his beloved Borussia Monchengladbach. He was young and vibrant and 34-years-old. In his first season – as in this, his last – he took his team to an all-German European final. In 1980 it was the UEFA Cup and victory for Eintracht Frankfurt. Today it’s Borussia Dortmund and there is barely a soul around who can see anything other than a victory for Bayern, the crowning glory of a sensational, record-shattering, season.
Yesterday at Wembley, Heynckes spoke of his own end at Bayern. He said that last weekend was his last-ever Bundesliga match and that this weekend is to be his last chance to “feel the (Champions League) trophy in my hands”. He has known the sensation only once, in 1998, when manager of Real Madrid. He has been to semi-finals and a final with Bayern and has lost them all, the most painful being the most recent, last year’s penalty shoot-out failure to Chelsea. All the riches in the football world and how impoverished the Germans felt that night.
“Perhaps the football Gods will be on our side,” said Heynckes. “I’ve always thought we could win this competition. We have an extraordinary team and they play as a unit. If we can draw on that, we’re going to win the match.”
Bayern’s air was that of a team that knows what remarkable things they have done to get here, the evisceration of a fine Juventus side in the quarter-final and the utter humiliation of the once-great, but suddenly jaded, Barcelona in the semi-final, four games that produced an aggregate score of 11-0 to the unstoppable Germans. Thomas Muller got four of those goals. He was asked what vulnerabilities, if any, his team has. “Maybe you should ask Dortmund what they’ve decided they are,” he replied. “I don’t have the feeling that we have any weaknesses. We’ve played a lot of games without conceding (a goal). We feel good.”
So, too, his captain, Philipp Lahm, who is playing in his third Champions League final in four years and his 73rd game in this competition, nearly three times the number of Dortmund’s most experienced players. “There isn’t a guarantee of winning the title,” said Lahm. “But if you look in the past and in recent years, this is a huge step forward. We’ve matured a lot and we’re developing really well. We’re at the right age and we’re maturing – so why not [win]?”
Why not indeed? They are huge favourites, have vast experience, are on a run of form that could bring them a treble – and immortality – and are up against a team that they have played four times this season and haven’t yet lost to. Bayern didn’t just take the league title back from Jurgen Klopp’s team, they yanked it out of their hands and pulled Dortmund’s arm from its socket in the process. They won the Bundesliga by an unprecedented 25 points. Add in the grievous loss Dortmund have suffered with the absence through injury of Mario Gotze, the €37m marvel who will, of course be playing his football in Munich next season.
Lahm asked why not and not long after posing the (rhetorical) question a clue to the answer walked into the room in the bowels of Wembley and sat himself down at the top table. Klopp is the anti-Heynckes, he is Jose Mourinho without the hubris; intelligent, charming, funny. He has built something special at Dortmund, moulded a team in his own charismatic, frenetic image. Even last night, as his players trained on the Wembley pitch, he was bouncing around the group, play-acting with them. He called them all together and within seconds there was a simultaneous roar of laughter from the squad at something he had said. These players were at ease, no question.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” he’d said earlier. “This is going to be an absolutely special game. We have already met four times this season, but this is not a normal game. At the moment it’s normal, but tomorrow we will feel the difference.”
Whatever about the difference today, the difference last night was stark. Heynckes was respectful, polite, serious and pretty low-key. Klopp’s personality filled the room
“If this is the only final I play in my career, this is the perfect stadium and the perfect opponent,” he said.
What did he make of the bookmakers’ odds, the fact that it seems that so many would like Dortmund to win but so few actually believe they will? “People have tried to reach Everest in the past and turned back with 10 metres to go, but at least they tried. This is our chance,” he replied.
What about the difference between the working-class city of Dortmund and the glamour of Munich? “People go to Munich, not Dortmund, because they have Oktoberfest, nice weather and the area is good for holidays,” he joked. “But in Dortmund there is a lot of heart. I don’t want to sell the club or the town short. It’s fun to live there. It’s not so beautiful, not so terribly beautiful, but you can have a holiday. It’s pretty emotional for us to compare ourselves to a place (Bayern) where success is pretty normal. Bayern have never finished lower than fourth in the Bundesliga. Along comes a club that history tells us could have ended in a fiasco (when Dortmund almost went broke) You might never have heard of the club again. The stadium could have been a monument. We have risen from the ashes. It’s a good story.
“Our team can win titles. They’ve proven it on several occasions and so they are not without a chance. Obviously we’re not the favourites. We have to play really well or we don’t stand a chance. We have to use our tactics to bring them down to our level and if we get them down to our level then we can beat them.”
This is more than a final, of course. The edge between the clubs does not begin and end with the audacious – and personal – wooing of Gotze to Munich, although Klopp spoke about hearing of the news of his midfield’s capture like it was the loss of a son rather than a footballer. Speaking last week he waxed about almost having a heart attack when the revelation was broken to him.
He readily paints a picture of good versus evil in the German game, Dortmund being the “club” and Bayern being the “company”. He has compared them to a villain in a James Bond movie, a baddie with a €368m turnover compared to their own €189m, a wage bill of €163m to Dortmund’s €79m, a behemoth with 196,000 members compared to Dortmund’s 75,000, with 3,250 supporters clubs worldwide compared to Dortmund’s 600.
“Right now,” he said of Bayern two months ago, “it’s a bit like what the Chinese do in economics or industry. Watch the others and plagiarise what they do. Take the same path, only with more money and other players. And for the moment, you will be better again.” Gotze is one of those players and maybe Dortmund’s magnificent striker, Robert Lewandowski, too. Against the backdrop of this final is the constant narrative of where Lewandowski, conqueror of Real Madrid with four goals in the first leg of the semi-final, is going to next. The smart money is on Bayern. It always is.
This David and Goliath theme is everywhere you look and both sides are happy to play their part, Dortmund comfortable in the role of the proud and honourable upstart and Bayern equally at ease in the guise of the colossus. Last year, Bayern president, Uli Hoeness stated that regardless of back-to-back Bundesligas for Dortmund they will never, ever be considered bigger than his own club. “Dortmund are a relatively regional thing – Bayern are global players,” said Hoeness. “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.”
Being in London this past week was to see supporters of both clubs in equal numbers, though. In a stadium that holds 90,000 only 25,000 fans per club are getting in with an estimated 100,000 more having made the trip just to be in the city on such a historic day. Dortmund had 500,000 applications for their 25,000 allocation. A small club? To Bayern, perhaps.
You can overdo the size thing, though. Klopp’s management and his player’s hunger and high-energy excellence has got them past Real Madrid in this competition already and then there is the question of luck. Both managers spoke of it. Klopp unquestionably had it with all those added minutes against Malaga, all that extra time that only Craig Thomson knew the origin of and those goals that kept the dream alive.
They’re still there, Dortmund. Underdogs for sure, but dangerous ones on a day of the ages for German football.