TWO of the biggest and most successful clubs in European football, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, have developed an intense, longstanding rivalry, the latest chapter of which will be written in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
Rich, dominant and often despised in their own countries, they have proved no more popular with each other down the years, when their frequent meetings have been as controversial and, at times, shameful as they have been thrilling. Not for nothing do Real fans call Bayern La Bestia Negra (the Black Beast).
Some rivalries are local, such as the one between Bayern and TSV 1860 or Real and Atletico. Others are shaped by domestic competition, Bayern and Borussia Dortmund or Real and Barcelona for example. Then there is the cross-border variety, based on the principle that the most consistent clubs are bound to end up facing each other more than most.
Real and Bayern are accustomed to locking horns at this level. Between them, they have won the Champions League – or the European Cup, as it was formerly known – 14 times. This will be their sixth semi-final confrontation. While they have never played each other in a final, they have met 20 times in the competition, most recently in the last four two years ago, when Bayern won on penalties.
Their latest encounter is not shaping up to be one of the most combustible, thanks partly to the respectful coaches – Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola – but the clubs, their players and their supporters have a shared history that always offers a provocative backdrop.
The seeds of an uneasy relationship were sown in 1976, when they contested their first semi-final. Roberto Martinez, Madrid’s Argentine striker, broke his nose in a clash with Sepp Maier, the Bayern goalkeeper, and a Madrid fan – later to go down in history as The Madman of the Bernabeu – ran on to the pitch and attacked both Gerd Muller and the Austrian referee. A 3-1 aggregate victory, in which Muller scored all three for Bayern, helped them on their way to a third straight European Cup.
The relationship between the clubs would deteriorate further four years later, when Bayern beat Real 9-1 in a friendly. “I’d rather lose by nine once than by one nine times,” said the Madrid manager, Vujadin Boskov, whose club inexplicably invited Bayern to their pre-season tournament the following summer. In the semi-final against Dinamo Tbilisi, Klaus Augenthaler was sent off for making obscene gestures to the Spanish crowd, at which point the entire Bayern team left the pitch in protest, forcing the game to be abandoned.
Perhaps the worst episode was in 1987, when Scottish referee Bob Valentine was at the centre of an incident so ugly that it embarrassed European football. In Germany for the first leg, Madrid lost four goals, together with their temper. Furious with Valentine’s decision to award a penalty for Francisco Buyo’s challenge on Hans Dorfner, some of their players – most notably Juanito – took matters into their own hands. The Spanish winger, whose previous misdemeanours included assaulting a referee and spitting on an opponent, was so angry with a tackle by Lothar Matthaus that he stamped on the German’s back and kicked him in the head.
Neither was the atmosphere much better in the return leg, won 1-0 by Real. Augenthaler was shown a red card, and the game was held up after Spanish fans threw missiles at Jean-Marie Pfaff, the Bayern goalkeeper.
There have been some classic encounters since then, not least Bayern’s 4-2 win at the Bernabeu in 2000 – the first in a flood of meetings early in the new millennium – but there was no sign of detente in the era of the “galacticos”. Before one Champions League match, Claudio Pizarro, the Bayern striker, promised to “put five past these clowns”, which started something of a media war between the nations’ newspapers. In the tit-for-tat that followed, Madrid were portrayed as a “circus act” of showboating posers, Bayern a pack of snarling bad guys, led by Oliver Kahn, their pantomime villain.
More recently, there has been Mark van Bommel’s offensive goal celebration in 2007 and an outbreak of petty sniping behind the scenes. Uli Hoeness, the Bayern president, criticised Madrid’s “reckless” spending, while Franz Beckenbauer said that Jose Mourinho, then the Madrid coach, was rude and uneducated. “The fact that he wears cashmere sweaters doesn’t mean he belongs with gentlemen,” said Beckenbauer.
Mercifully – or not, depending on your point of view – some of the old flash points have gone. Hoeness, self-styled champion of financial fair play, has been jailed for tax evasion. Mourinho is now with Chelsea, who have a semi-final against Atletico Madrid to think about.
A year ago, as Mourinho’s days in Spain came to an end, he was sent off (and beaten) in a Copa del Rey final against the same opponents.
Which is not to say that we will be short of intriguing subplots on Wednesday night. Arjen Robben, man of the match in last season’s Champions League final – when Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund – will be aiming to prove that Real Madrid were wrong to force him out in 2009. And Pep Guardiola returns to Spain as coach of the German champions. During his four years in charge of Barcelona, he won nine of his 15 matches against Madrid. Only twice were his team beaten.
If he is to preside over another victory in the Spanish capital, he will need to pull his side out of their recent slump. After winning the Bundesliga with a record seven matches to spare, they won only two of their next six outings. Without the injured Thiago Alcantara, their passing game has not been its usual self. Bernd Schuster, the former Real Madrid coach, went so far as to call them “uninspired and dreary”.
Madrid are in fine fettle after Gareth Bale’s stunning goal defeated Barcelona in last week’s Copa del Rey final. Eliminated at this stage in each of the last three seasons, they are still aching for that elusive tenth Champions League win – their first since 2002 – but here they are, wondering, again, if this could be their year. Adding to the optimism is the possible return from injury of Cristiano Ronaldo.
They know what needs to be done. On the last two occasions that Madrid won the European Cup, Bayern Munich were their semi-final opponents. If they are to regain their place at the summit of European football, they must first dispense with their age-old rivals.