Time for Bayern to earn neutral love
It is not exactly a tale of the prince and the pauper, but the contrasts between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund (live, FOX, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET) are compelling enough to make it pretty clear which team most neutrals will lend their hearts to this weekend.
Bayern are the powerhouse of German football. They are the club that has won the most trophies, can outspend everybody to attract the cream of handpicked talent, dominates the scene, generates the most wealth and grabs the most publicity.
Although other clubs have their moments, the way Bayern tower above the rest was reinforced midway through the Champions League semifinals, when news leaked that they will purchase one of Dortmund's most prized possessions. Germany's major actors on the European stage were the talk of football, and at the that precise moment Bayern landed a heayweight blow on Borussia for all the world to see.
Mario Gotze, a prodigy in yellow and black who has played for BVB since he was an eight-year-old, could not resist the call once Bayern activated his $47 million release clause. The story made Borussia's engaging coach Jurgen Klopp compare Bayern to a James Bond villain. It is a classic case of strengthening yourself whilst weakening a rival - a double whammy. "Bayern told Mario it's now or never," lamented Klopp. Robert Lewandowski, the hulking striker whose four goals destroyed Real Madrid to help take Borussia to the final, is another who may tread that path from the Westfalenstadion to the Allianz Arena.
Although Dortmund are no slouches in the German game, they are – as everyone in Germany is – an underdog next to Bayern. Just look at the stats: German champions - Bayern 23, Borussia 8. The German Cup - Bayern 15, Borussia 3. European champions - Bayern 4, Borussia 1.
Borussia Dortmund, with their young, invigorating side, led by a coach so inspiring he could probably prompt complete strangers to walk through brick walls, have captured the imagination during this Champions League campaign. Their verve and fearlessness make it easy for anyone outside of Bavaria to warm to their feel-good factor.
But hang on, Bayern may wish to argue: What about us? Don't we deserve some neutral affection too?
Jupp Heynkes’ team dearly need to win at Wembley to salve some deep wounds inflicted in the Champions League. Bayern have been defeated in two of the last three finals. The scars are still sore, particularly from the most recent final, which they hosted in their own home stadium. Bayern were overwhelming favorites, they were dominant against a Chelsea side getting by on their bloody-minded resilience and their wits. They lost.
Bayern's regrets are plentiful. They were two minutes away from winning when Didier Drogba equalized. Then they could have won in extra time only for Arjen Robben to squander a penalty. It all imploded in the penalty shootout as Chelsea held their nerve. Bayern had to watch another team cavort with the trophy on their turf. It was almost beyond endurance.
This is not the first time that Bayern have felt compelled to rouse themselves from desperate disappointment to endeavor to make up for it as quickly as humanly possible.
In 1999, Bayern suffered a similarly devastating defeat in the Champions League final. Comfortable for almost the entire match against an underperforming Manchester United, they led 1-0 with the game almost up. Sir Alex Ferguson's team suddenly sprung to life to ambush them with two startlingly late injury time goals. The trophy Bayern had virtually wrapped their arms around on was ripped from their grasp.
Two years later, Bayern returned to the final, and their attitude was notably tweaked. They didn't play as if their priority was to win. They played not to lose – under any circumstances. They performed with a tangible passion to exorcise their demons.
Valencia were the opponents, and Bayern needed all their inner strength to get over a terrible start (they conceded an early goal and missed the chance to equalize with a penalty before half time). The final went to a penalty shootout. Sammy Kuffour, the elegant defender who had been so visibly heartbroken by the defeat to Manchester United, stood in the center circle and prayed throughout the ebb and flow of the penalty drama. Said Kuffour, afterwards: “I told my God: For the last two years I have been crying, crying, crying. Lord, no more tears please."
Bayern's goalkeeper, the charismatic Oliver Kahn, prowled around like a man possessed. He was so determined, he later described it as "entering a level of concentration I have never been before. I felt like I was on an undetected planet."
Wherever he went, it worked. Kahn emerged the goalkeeping hero. He summed up the resolve that pushed Bayern: "We were down, we were dead, we came back."
This weekend, against a familiar foe in Borussia, Bayern will be motivated by similar emotions. If they were to tumble at the last hurdle again, that would make them losers in the Champions League final three times in four years. Surely, that is too much to bear. Surely, they will not let that happen again.