Why Bayern vs. Dortmund Would Be a Better Final Than Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
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Ahead of Friday's Champions League semifinals draw, all possible fixtures were mouthwatering. With La Liga's Real Madrid and Barcelona in contention along with the Bundesliga's Bayern Munich and Dortmund, there was a 33 percent chance of seeing "Clasico" and "Klassiker" semifinals. The other 67 percent accounted for mixed semifinals, with teams from each country separated from one another before the possible final.
Higher probability prevailed in the draw, with Real being paired with BVB and Bayern with Barca. And in the aftermath, many fans have hailed the prospect of a Classico final between Real and Barcelona at Wembley.
But as tantalizing of a fixture as it may be, it wouldn't be good for football.
In 2010, El Clasico was the most-anticipated match in all of European football. It was a clash of the superstars, with Barca, comfortably the best club in the world at the time, meeting a newly-assembled but immensely talented Real. And at the time, it was a rare treat.
Since 2010, El Clasico has lost some of its luster. The contestants are much closer in terms of quality, but it's no longer a rarity: Since 2010-11, we've seen Real and Barca face off 17 times.
The rivalry is much more predictable now that it is played so often, and the fixtures as of late have become less hotly contested.
However, Spanish football has been enormously successful in recent years. But that success has led to misconceptions; glossed over some unsavory truths; and, critically, led popular opinion to suggest that the only relevant football in Europe is played in La Liga.
Many want to believe that every midfielder to come from the Barcelona academy is the next Xavi or Iniesta—this is not necessarily true. Many willingly ignore the league's skewed television deal, which gives the top two clubs triple the revenue distribution of the next two sides (credit to The Swiss Ramble), or the €752 million in unpaid taxes that clubs owe to a Spanish government whose leniency has artificially inflated clubs' spending power.
But most importantly, the world has become so entranced by Spanish football that even footballers' collective opinion holds that a lineup of the world's best players would consist of 11 players from the Spanish Primera.
Indeed, the 2012 FIFPro World XI that was announced in January included 10 Barcelona and Real Madrid players, plus Atletico's Radamel Falcao.
Surely, one or two players abroad earned the right to be in the FIFPro World XI. But the fact that none was nominated means that a plurality of world footballers have been reduced to La Liga fanboys.
This is not to take anything away from the achievements of Spanish football in recent years. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the manner in which results have been obtained, the fact is that Spain and Barcelona have again and again taken their chances and let little stand in their way.
It's the perceptions that fans, analysts and players have acquired that is the problem.
It usually takes either a prolonged trend or an emphatic result for popular opinion to change in football. Bayern deservedly overcame Real in last season's Champions League semifinal, yet many have been reluctant to place the Germans ahead of Los Blancos this season. And even though Barcelona have won just one of their Champions League knockout games this season, they are still regarded by many as the world's best team and decisive favorites to lift the trophy.
The only way to begin to give hope to football outside of Spain is for Bayern and Dortmund to overcome Barcelona and Real Madrid. That will be a clear sign, not necessarily one decisively placing the Bundesliga ahead of La Liga, but certainly proving there is good and relevant football played outside Spain.
Unlike El Clasico, a final between Bayern and Dortmund would be new to the vast majority of European football fans.The two sides play attractive and passionate football, and have proven themselves against some of Europe's best-regarded teams this season.
Were they to meet in the final, it would be the perfect stage to showcase just how good football outside Spain can be.
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