Dortmund and Bayern Dominate Champions League, but Don't Expect a Repeat in 2014
Following the draw for the Champions League semifinals, it was well known that April 23 and 24 would be huge dates for the modern development of German football. Bundesliga powerhouses Bayern Munich and Dortmund were paired with Barcelona and Real Madrid in a true measure of the quality of football in Spain and Germany.
To say that the Bundesliga sides passed their tests on the pitch would be a resounding understatement. Bayern dominated Barcelona for 90 minutes on Tuesday, hammering the Catalan giants by a 4-0 margin. On Wednesday, Dortmund battered Real 4-1.
Full time: Germany 8-1 Spain.
Based on both the results and run of play in both matches, it's very, very difficult to imagine anything other than an all-German final, which would be the first in Champions League history. Sadly for the Bundesliga, however, such a phenomenon is unlikely to repeat itself in the coming years—perhaps ever.
The simple truth is that while Dortmund may be big enough to compete with Real Madrid, they are powerless against a ruthless and vengeful Bayern who have taken no chances in decimating the squad that claimed back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
As great as this week's events were for German teams during the run of play, off-pitch events were devastating for the Bundesliga. Bayern's purchases of Dortmund stars Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski were made official and confirmed by the agent of FCB coach Jupp Heynckes.
Whether or not Lewandowski moves to Bayern (neither club has officially backed up agent Enrique Reyes' statements), there is a clear hegemony in the league.
Bayern's name and financial resources by far exceed those of any other club in Germany, and the forced sale of Gotze—the crown jewel of German football—by Dortmund to a rival club that activated a buy-out clause just went to further prove that other clubs are only as strong as the Munich giants allow them to be. Lewandowski would be the coup de grace.
Dortmund will receive a sum in the region of €60 million for their Champions League performance, and that figure will more than double from the sales of Gotze and Lewandowski, but it would be a mistake to assume that the club will spend wildly on summer reinforcements. That's not what this club is about. They can't operate that way—the difference can be seen in the performance of a united and humble Dortmund side against a collection of superstars in Real.
Signing several superstars would essentially amount to BVB allowing Bayern to dictate their philosophy and path. That will not happen.
Dortmund will certainly make several signings this summer and can expect to have a strong squad in the long term. They are in outstanding shape financially, have an excellent academy and an ever-growing international profile. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller aside, their eldest starter in Wednesday's match was 27, and the majority of their stars have long-term contracts. But will they be good enough to reach the Champions League final next season, or in the coming years?
Before moving on, it first must be understood just how difficult it is to reach a Champions League final. Real Madrid, home of dozens of superstars over the years, haven't played on such a stage since 2002. Even in four years with Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad and three under coaching mastermind Jose Mourinho, it seems Real will have to wait even longer to achieve this goal.
To reach the final, a squad must be carefully and meticulously built in the offseason. The players must then learn to work with one another and adapt to their respective roles within the coach's system, which could take several months or more if it happens at all.
Even then, luck can stand in the way of a team's bid for an appearance in a final.
Bayern have been able to retain all their stars over the last several years, selectively adding quality in key areas. Javi Martinez is a prime example of a player who, despite his €40 million buy-out clause, was signed to tweak the starting lineup enough to deliver a decisive edge over other elite teams.
Dortmund, due to their having a smaller name and less money, have not had the same success. They had no choice but to sell Nuri Sahin to Real in 2011, because the player had previously signed only on the condition that his contract include a release clause of €10 million. When Sahin agreed to a switch, they were powerless to stop it.
A similar situation happened with Gotze, who only agreed to extend his stay until 2016 under the condition his exit clause existed in the amount of €37 million.
When Sahin left, Dortmund signed a qualified replacement in Ilkay Gundogan. But it took more than half the season for the newcomer to adapt to his new role, by which time BVB were eliminated from the Champions League.
Now with Gotze and likely Lewandowski leaving, coach Jurgen Klopp faces an exceptionally difficult task in signing and integrating their replacements. He won't have very long to do so, with Europe's elite club competition resuming in September.
As qualified as Klopp is, it's all too foreseeable that Dortmund will go the way of Arsenal in always having a strong squad, but never keeping the same players long enough to fully achieve its potential. Even if the players are good enough, it's difficult to see BVB reaching another final.
It's sad for football that even incredible displays of passion such as that on Wednesday night cannot overcome the harsh reality that money and power dominate football. All players and clubs make calculated and sometimes cold decisions in their own self-interest. Bayern have certainly made theirs, and they will have unilaterally taken the Bundesliga's standard immediately following the current season.
Dortmund have one shot for Champions League glory. It's now or never.
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