"Dortmund have played a super season, but they will only get honoured by me when they play a super season in the Bundesliga and in Europe too. Only when they manage to harmonise these two things, and when they show that they can compete in Europe, then I will take my hat off to them."
- Uli Hoeness, Bayern Munich President, quoted on April 16, 2012.
As Mr.Hoeness packs his bag and leaves his house for London this Saturday, he'd do good to remember picking up his hat on the way out — because Bayern Munich are going into the Champions League final against fellow German club Borussia Dortmund — and in Europe, anything can happen.
In fact, Dortmund have emerged as their biggest rivals in modern football — a rivalry which, while not as big, is certainly as competitive as the El Clasico. And not just that. If you go by current performances and trends, Bayern vs Dortmund is as exciting as Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Inter Milan vs AC Milan, PSG vs Marseille or Manchester United vs Liverpool.
Dortmund's traditional Ruhr Valley Derby against Schalke has taken a back seat to their clashes with Bayern. And while the Bundesliga is clearly one of the most unpredictable leagues in Europe, the last three years have seen these two clubs breakaway from the rest of the teams.
Bayern Munich are, in many ways, like Real Madrid. They have an unbelievable history, laced with the hat-trick of European Cups in the 70s, and 22 league titles — a legacy that eventually developed into a commercial hegemony that sees them dominate other German clubs in terms of financial power.
Despite Munich suggesting that they aren't that 'rich' (which is clearly not the case), their squad makeup suggests the opposite: Manuel Neuer, Dante, Jerome Boateng, Daniel van Buyten, Rafinha, Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez, Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez have all been bought for considerable transfer fees.
Phillip Lahm, David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller have spent considerable time in their academies to be called home grown talent. It's not an out-and-out Galacticos policy at Bayern currently, but the €37 million done deal with Mario Gotze, the €40 million they paid for Javi Martinez last season and the continuous links to other big names promise a buying policy that can match any top European club.
On the other hand lie Borussia Dortmund — the rebels who won back-to-back leagues with a team made up of promising youngsters and cheap, clever buys. To think that the club was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in 2005 is almost unthinkable.
Their recent rise to prominence was a slap in the face of Bayern's expensively assembled team and triggered a change in style from Luis van Gaal's all-out attack tactics to Jupp Heynckes' pressing style.
From Dortmund's squad — Matts Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek, Felipe Santana, Sebastien Kehl, Sven Bender, Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski have been bought for minimal amounts while Roman Weidenfeller, Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin and Kevin Grosskreutz all came to the club young — either bought for almost nothing from other clubs or developed by Dortmund's famed youth academy.
In the semifinals of the tournament, Dortmund's starting XI was worth just £36 million compared to Real Madrid's, which was worth £265 million. And it was not a lucky win, Dortmund were the better team over two legs.
For a long time, Barcelona were overshadowed by the riches of Real Madrid... and the burden of their phenomenal trophy count. There were the spurts of success they saw, but Madrid was always seen as the team to beat. Tables have turned now, of course, but it has taken painstaking effort and planning from the Catalans to achieve their 'most feared side in the world' tag.
Whether Dortmund can continue to defy the odds and achieve success on a regular basis against Bayern Munich will define this rivalry over the next decade. Dortmund may collapse in the face of adversity and a selling policy which has seen Nuri Sahin (now returned), Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze depart in the last three seasons. Or, they may keep rising — clawing at Bayern Munich and denying them easy accolades.
Bayern beat Barcelona and Dortmund beat Madrid en route to the final, and while the future holds a lot of intrigue, have no doubt in your minds that you will witness a fixture as immense as the El Clasico on Saturday night.
And even if Dortmund lose, it would be gracious of Uli Hoeness to finally tip that hat.