Much of the buildup for Saturday's Champions League final has focused on Chelsea's rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo and their miraculous semifinal win against Barcelona, but Bayern Munich's story is just as compelling.
For the second year running, Germany's richest, most popular and most successful football club were outgunned in the Bundesliga by Borussia Dortmund.
Revenge was on offer in the German Cup final, but Bayern were once again humbled, swept aside 5-2 by a Dortmund side inspired by Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa.
Said Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes, as per The National: "Congratulations to Borussia. They deserved it today. They used our weaknesses. I don't need to explain what they were."
While there may be occasional weaknesses on the pitch for Bayern, there are none to be found in their bank accounts. According to Forbes, Germany's superpower is the fifth-most valuable club on the planet—behind only Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Arsenal.
Bayern generated $466 million in revenue for the 2010-11 season, which is more than double the $197 million mustered by Dortmund, and was bettered only by United ($532 million), Barcelona ($653 million) and Madrid ($695 million).
And then there's their comparatively small debt. Bayern's amounts for just 13 percent of their value, whereas Barcelona's debt is at 54 percent, United with 32 percent, and Chelsea at 22 percent.
Bayern's ownership structure plays a big part in their financial stability. Like all Bundesliga teams, Bayern's majority shareholders are their fans, who own 82 percent of the club and make decisions such as the ticket prices.
Here's football finance expert David Conn, writing in The Guardian:
Bayern reach Saturday's Champions League final having sought to maintain a balance between being supporter-owned and having the commercial clout to compete for and keep the world's best players.
Alongside the 82 percent of Bayern owned by 130,000 club members, nine percent stakes are held by two mighty German companies, Adidas and Audi, which also sponsor the club.
As Conn points out, Bayern's business model is the antithesis of that in operation at Chelsea.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness is clearly not a fan of Chelsea's ownership structure, nor Abramovich for that matter. Here's what he told the Daily Mail this week:
I get angry every week when I go to buy petrol. The oil mafia takes money out of my pocket to invest it in footballers. For me this stinks to high heaven and I include Mr. Abramovich in all this.
We need to beat clubs like Chelsea on the field of play. Chelsea are a club with their backs to the wall as a result of their patchy league season. If they lose they won’t be in the competition next year.
If Bayern win it, we will make around £20 million. That is what the game is all about: sporting success based on sound economic sense. Mr. Abramovich has put £900m into Chelsea. If he pulls the plug on them, you’ll be able to pick the club up for the price of a puzzle magazine from a newsstand.
Hoeness echoes a sentiment felt by many others, but let's be honest, Chelsea would be nowhere near a Champions League final if not for Abramovich deciding they were worth both his time and considerable resources. Without Russian money, they'd be treading water in the Premier League—or worse.
Some have even suggested the club was on the verge of financial collapse when Abramovich swooped in—literally. Legend has it he chose Chelsea on a whim after spotting Stamford Bridge on a helicopter shopping trip over London.
Chelsea chose success over mediocrity. Guilty as charged.
Nine years on, Abramovich has already helped deliver three Premier League titles and four FA Cup wins to southwest London.
The success of his team has coincided with a commercial explosion. Television markets are expanding and the global interest in the Premier League has soared. As a result, there are many in the U.S. who will know far more about Chelsea than they do about Bayern.
When you consider Bayern have won 22 league titles to Chelsea's four, and four European crowns to Chelsea's none, it's a skewed perspective.
But Abramovich won't be satisfied until he wins club football's biggest prize—the Champions League.
That is the weight of expectancy that falls on Chelsea this Saturday. Roberto Di Matteo and his team will enter the Allianz Arena knowing that only victory can quench the ambition of their owner.
All that money. All those semifinals and the lingering heartbreak of the 2008 defeat to Manchester United in Moscow. All of it will be worthwhile if Chelsea can reach the fabled promised land in Munich.
Bayern's motivation has nothing to do with money. Their currency is pride.
For Heynckes' team, a place in Bayern's rich history beckons. Not since 2001 have the Germans been champions of Europe. And for a club of their stature, the wait has felt like a lifetime. What better chance than Saturday, in their home stadium, to be back where they feel they belong?
Bayern might have missed out on the league title and the German Cup, but with victory against Chelsea, bragging rights will be emphatically restored. They will make a statement that will be heard throughout the world.
Suddenly, this Bayern team will be talked of as one who can rule the continent again—just as Franz Beckenbauer's men did in the 1970s, winning three straight European Cups in 1974, '75 and '76.
“You need an international title if you want to become a golden generation," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm this week.
Win in Munich, and Bayern will be reborn. Lose, and the club will end the season trophy-less.
Destiny beckons Lahm and his teammates at the Allianz Arena, just as it does for Di Matteo and Chelsea.
And despite their differences, there could hardly be more at stake for both teams. And such is the defining nature of the contest: You wouldn't bet against the winners being back in the final in 12 months' time.
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