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Jacob Sweetman: Long divisions in the Champions League

The Sportsdesk looks forward to the Champions League final this Saturday, May 25, between German heavyweights Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, tries to avoid all of the obvious cliches, and fails miserably.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Long divisions in the Champions League
Photo by Mickaël Roure (Wikimedia Commons)

It makes sense that the UEFA Champions League final is being held at Wembley stadium on Saturday, May 25. Not at the old Wembley, whose shabby, draughty expanses were so iconic and whose memories stretched back to the very beginnings of when football was becoming a worldwide phenomenon (via the White Horse final, England’s humping by Hungary and a certain decision by a certain Azerbaijani linesman in a certain World Cup Final), but at the new Wembley: modern football’s greatest folly and largest sacrificial altar.

It makes sense that it is at the new Wembley because the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund has in places almost been billed as a battle for the soul of German football, a schizophrenic clash between cultures, rich vs. poor, good vs. evil, old vs. new, miners vs. economists. This is, of course, utter bollocks, but, for those of us who normally support neither side, as a narrative it is pretty compelling. Football is at its best when we can read more into it than is normally necessary. As the pubs and gardens and the living rooms and Spätis of Berlin fill up on Saturday evening to watch the two best sides in Europe this year take to a stadium shorn of banners and filled to its wildly overpriced rafters with members of the sponsors who are laughably named the UEFA family, it will be a case of deciding, as Woody Guthrie said, “Which side are you on, boy.”

Here, in Berlin, most neutrals will have already decided that they will be supporting Dortmund, whose coach, Jürgen Klopp, is a charming and likeable scruffy throwback to an age before managers wore suits, and whose side is filled with young tykes that play with a TNT-fuelled dynamism and an irrepressible optimism in front of a fanatical support that is the envy of the world’s game. However, The fact that Bayern have just finished the season top of the Bundesliga, having played some of the finest football these shores have seen for decades, matters little when one looks at their sausage flogging, tax dodging, attack dog boss Uli Hoeneß. People don’t like Bayern because they are massive, people don’t like Bayern because they are successful. People don’t like Bayern because they are arrogant, but surely this misses a vital point: to whit, if anyone has earned their arrogance it is the Bavarian behemoths. But we don’t see the grey areas in football; we see the black and the white.

When the news leaked out on the day after Dortmund’s astonishingly breathless last minute comeback against Malaga in the quarter finals that Bayern were to be buying Germany’s great white hope, Mario Götze, off their closest rivals, it was seen simply as a means of undermining Dortmund whilst getting the press to forget about the pursuit of Hoeneß. Naturally it stuck in people’s craws a little, but one mustn’t forget that it is very similar to what Dortmund did last year when they bought that other great young star, Marco Reus, off a Mönchengladbach side who were, at the time, chasing a recently unprecedented Champions League place themselves.

It is easily forgotten that when Dortmund were so close to going out of business under the weight of their own enormous debts and star-laden hubris it was Bayern who bailed them out to the tune of a couple of million quid. It is easily forgotten that in Jupp Heynckes, Bayern will be lead out onto the field by a genuine guy, a, as we weirdly say in the game, “football man”, who has quietly crafted a team of ruthless attacking beauty, and a system that has allowed the likes of Thomas Müller to rise above their natural level to flourish at the very pinnacle of the game.

But we don’t care about the grey; we want the black and the white in football, especially when it comes to an iconic match such as this. We want good to triumph over evil or in this case yellow to triumph over red. Despite the fact that they have lost in two of the last three finals we still believe in the “Bayern Dusel”, a concept that determines that whatever happens on the pitch, the Bavarians will win anyway.

The Sportsdesk is no different. I love the hyperbole of a phony war, I love the bullshit imagery of good vs. evil and I will be revelling in the fact that one of the coaches will have a scruffy beard, wonky tie and a grin so large it could light up the billion euro Wembley stadium itself. Whatever the realities of the situation, I’ll still buy into the hype, and remember back to 1999 as I watched Manchester United’s improbably comeback against Bayern in an Amsterdam boozer, filled with Germans who were all muttering that no Bayern fans really came from Bavaria in an uncanny echo of what everybody back home said about United.

I’ll grab another beer and watch the city divide itself again and again and again.