WHEN Bayern Munich wrapped up the Bundesliga with six games of the domestic season left to run, Jupp Heynckes became the oldest manager ever to win the German championship, a record that is merely one of many that Bayern have smashed to smithereens of late.
The six-game cushion made them the earliest winners of the league in history, the winning sequence of 14 straight victories being the longest there has ever been in the Bundesliga. They had more consecutive away victories than any other team before them, they had the longest spell without conceding a goal, they had the best ever goal difference, the most points and the most wins. They may yet win a treble that has never been won before in Germany, a legacy that Pep Guardiola will have to deal with when he arrives as Heynckes’ replacement in the coming weeks. Good luck, Pep.
What makes Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley so intoxicating is not just the delicious irony of two German teams competing for the ultimate prize in the citadel of English football but the fact that Bayern, though justifiable hot favourites, will meet a team that will have no fear of them. How could Dortmund fear anybody when they have the ball of fire that is Jürgen Klopp as their manager, when they have already eliminated Manchester City and Real Madrid from this competition, when the last time they faced Bayern in a cup final – the German equivalent last season – they routed them 5-2, the remarkable Robert Lewandowski scoring a hat-trick?
On one hand you have Bayern doing the almost unfathomable by playing Juventus in the quarter-final and Barcelona in the semi-final and ending the four matches with an aggregate score of 11-0. On the other hand you have Dortmund coming back from the dead in their quarter-final with Malaga with two goals in injury time that took them to the semi with Real and the Lewandowski-inspired first-leg 4-1 annihilation of Jose Mourinho’s team. For Dortmund you have Lewandowski who has ten goals and two assists in his 12 Champions League games this season, and the great creators, Marco Reus who has four goals and two assists and Mario Götze who has two and five; for Bayern you have the intelligence and power of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, the ruthlessness of Thomas Müller – eight goals and two assists – and the cleverness of Arjen Robben. The cast of class around them is remarkable and it gives this final an electrifying air.
On Wednesday afternoon, in a William Hill betting office on Easter Road, you didn’t need to look very hard to find the odds for the Champions League final – the bookmaker can’t see past Bayern – nor did you have to go hunting for people with an inside information on the teams involved.
Alan McInally spoke about his old club, coached by his former manager, the 68-year-old Heynckes, who stands on the threshold of immortality nine years after being sacked by Schalke and dismissed as a dinosaur. Murdo MacLeod, meanwhile, represented the underdogs of Dortmund, the club he graced for three years at the end of the 1980s. MacLeod has not long returned from Dortmund, a sojourn that involved a chat with Klopp, the 45-year-old firebrand behind Kloppism, the sense of adventure that has created a force that has, in two seasons out of the last three, laid waste to Bayern domestically.
An all-German final with sub-plots so plentiful that they’d make your head spin. Dortmund usurped Bayern in the Bundesliga for the last two seasons before Bayern, full of umbrage at the upstarts, slapped them down this season, not only winning back the championship but also luring Dortmund’s great schemer Götze to Munich for next season with talk of them also making a move for Lewandowski. Insult added to injury. Bayern are paying ¤37 million for Götze, a German record and a present for Guardiola who sees the 20-year-old as his Lionel Messi or as Matthias Sammer, sporting director at Bayern, calls Götze – the “talent of the century”.
But there’s more. In their second meeting in the league earlier this month Bayern’s Rafinha elbowed Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski and got himself sent off, an incident that later sparked a coming-together on the touchline of Klopp and Sammer. Sammer is formerly of Dortmund, of course.
“You’d better believe there’s a bit of aggro,” says McInally. “You’ve got the north-south divide, you’ve got Götze going to Bayern and the fact that people aren’t happy that it leaked out and you’ve got Sammer at Bayern when he used to be at Dortmund.”
It’s all there, says MacLeod. “Traditionally, Bayern have all the money and any good player coming through would get snapped up. They bought all the best players, bar one [he points, and smiles, at McInally]. And they’re still doing it; Götze and maybe Lewandowski.”
McInally again: “Every single person in a ten-mile radius outwith Munich wants Dortmund to win.”
No, says MacLeod. “It’s not a case of the rest of Germany supporting Dortmund, it’s the rest of the world. Borussia Dortmund are the working class football team and the working-class fans. They work hard in a working-class city. Most of the football clubs of the world are in working-class cities and the fans will side with Dortmund.”
McInally spent the early part of last week in Munich, speaking to Heynckes and some of his players and, no doubt, reminiscing about what might have been in his day when he got to two European Cup semi-finals and lost them both. The manager and the Scot met on Tuesday and McInally says that Heynckes still blames him for a missing a great headed chance in the first leg of the semi-final of 1990, Milan going through on away goals after extra-time in the second leg.
“He was still going on about it – ‘It was your fault!’ That was tongue–in-cheek a bit, but he was in great form. The following year we got beaten by Red Star Belgrade, so we kind of hit the bar.”
Heynckes may have mellowed in what is now his third spell at Bayern but the desire remains the same. “He’s not been ill, but he’s 68. He was pretty relaxed about the whole thing [being replaced by Guardiola]. You can tell his attitude really changes when the training started. He’s proper into it again. His complete and utter preparation for everything makes him such an excellent manager.
“He has a young core there. He’s been lucky to an extent that when Toni Kroos got injured he was forced to play Robben on the right and he’s moved Müller in where I think he’s better. They’ve been even more aggressive going forward like that and I think they’re more dangerous from either side. That’s got them to where they are. Right now Guardiola is thinking ‘I’ve just taken on the hardest job in the world’. Because if they do beat Dortmund, there’s every likelihood they’ll beat Stuttgart in the [German] cup final. Taking any big club on is a difficult task but to take on the best team in Europe after they’ve maybe won a treble – that’s Guardiola immediately under pressure.”
MacLeod is equally effusive about his old club and about their young manager. Klopp, he says, has the kind of personality that lifts the entire organisation, a character that is beloved by his players, many of whom he has moulded into world class operators since his move from Second Division Mainz in 2008. Dortmund’s in-your-face thunder is in keeping with Klopp’s own image. He is a high-energy, almost manic bloke.
“I know they struggled against Malaga in the quarter-final,” says MacLeod. “When I was over there people were thanking me for the Scottish referee [Craig Thomson] allowing all that extra time. But that’s football. The Real Madrid game [4-1 with Lewandowski scoring all four] was just incredible. Lewandowski is one of those players who is willing to play up on his own, but is willing to drop back and help his midfield, receive the ball and move things on again. His fitness level and attitude to the game is just fantastic. He is not a superstar striker who says ‘Put the ball there and I’ll put it in the net’. He works for the team. Dortmund have a team of workers that all fight for one another, they are a young team that never knows when it is beaten and that could be the secret to winning the trophy. You watch Bayern hammer Barcelona home and away and you can’t help think ‘Who’s going to beat them?’ But this is a Dortmund side with the right attitude.”
McInally reckons it’ll be 2-1 Munich but says that Philipp Lahm, the great Bayern full-back, thinks they’ll win 2-0. MacLeod goes the other way. “I’m sure if you’re the Dortmund coach you’ll be looking at how many finals Bayern have been to and not performed.” They’ve lost three big finals in the last three years, two of them Champions League finals. Bayern may be magnificent, but they’re not invincible, not in the eyes of the force of nature that is Klopp – and his team of dervishes.
ONE NATION FINALS
2000: Real Madrid 3 Valencia 0
Real won their eighth European Cup against first-time finalists Valencia in the first, and so far only, all-Spanish final. Fernando Morientes headed Madrid into a first-half lead before Steve McManaman volleyed in a superb second. The midfielder became the first Englishman to win the competition at a foreign club, and the victory was rounded off by a late Raul goal.
2003: Juventus 0 Milan 0 (Milan win 3-2 on pens)
An intense Italian tactical battle so cagey that the post game talking points centred around goalkeeper infringements in the penalty shoot-out. Dida saved three for Milan, Gianluigi Buffon stopped two for Juventus and the Rossoneri took home the trophy after Buffon could do nothing to stop Andriy Shevchenko’s decisive kick.
2008: Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1 (United win 6-5 on pens)
Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard both scored in the first half before Ronaldo missed in the shoot-out but he was reprieved when John Terry slipped and his penalty struck the post. Nicolas Anelka saw his effort saved and United won an all-English final.