Last Saturday Wembley Stadium played host to the Champions League Final, Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund. The first ever all-German clash. It was a great game, unlike most finals, which are crabby and cautious. Both teams went for it. Dortmund on top for the first twenty five minutes, but then Bayern asserting their favouritism, and eventually coming out 2-1 winners.
It was the best of German football. Right now they seem to be able to combine the possession football of the Spanish greats – Barcelona to the fore – with the directness of English football at its best. No sides break out from defence faster than the Germans, as England were reminded at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the Germans trounced us 4-1.
Dortmund tore into Bayern at the beginning, but Bayern’s brilliant goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, kept them at bay. And then eventually, Bayern started to find those gaps, those opportunities. At the centre of their success were their two narky wide men. The Dutchman Arjen Robben and the Frenchman, Franck Ribery. Neither ever stop moaning, flailing their limbs, generally looking like they are having a terrible time. But they are lethal players, always probing the opposition defences, and eventually finding their way through. They were instrumental in Bayern’s victory. Their first goal was the result of a clever pass from Ribery to Robben, who cut along the left by-line (not his normal space) and put the ball across to central striker, Mandzukic, who popped the ball into an empty net. Dortmund equalised, with a penalty, when the poetically named Brazilian defender for Bayern, Dante, stuck his boot into the chest of Dortmund’s striker, Robert Lewandowski. He had been yellowed already, so this should have been a sending off, but he got away with it.
It looked like the game was heading for extra time. We would have welcomed that. It was an excellent match: more would have been good. Even penalties. Intriguing. Germany vs Germany. It could have gone on forever.
But it was not to be. On 88 minutes, the ball came to Ribery, closely marked. He managed a half-right back heel which spun to Robben. Robben took it on, evaded a Dortmund tackle, and slipped the ball past the goalkeeper. 2-1!
It stayed that way, and Bayern, twice Final losers in the last three years, had won the game.
Deserved, but only just. This was a battle of two great teams, playing football the right way.
For Dortmund Marco Reus was eye catching. Playing off the main striker, Lewandowski, the European sensation, after his four goals against Real Madrid in the semi. Reus was everywhere, a constant threat. And the English commentators seemed to have changed their pronunciation of his name. It had been “Rey-us”. Now it seemed to be “Royce”. I think the former sounds better.
Reus did the job that Thomas Muller does for Bayern. In a less extravagant way. Sometimes you hardly notice him. Then he just pops up and scores the crucial goal. He glides through the space that no-one can control. The Guardian journalist, Barney Ronay, wrote a great article about Muller recently, in which he said the Germans had conjured one of those great compound nouns for him. Der Raumdeuter. The space-investigator. I love that!
Actually, in the final, Muller seemed to be forced out to the right wing a lot, although he almost snuck in for a goal, prevented only by a magnificent goal line clearance by Subotic for Dortmund. Had he scored it would have been the ultimate bit of raumdeutering.
Reminds me of Martin Peters, West Ham midfielder, scorer of one of England’s four goals to beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final. Always ghosting in, ten years ahead of his time, according to the England manager, Alf Ramsey.
So now we love Germany. Superb, exciting football. A proper coaching system for the youngsters. Clubs 51% owned by the supporters. Cheap tickets, massive crowds. Football for the people.
Oh for some of that in the Premier League…
It’s assumed now that it’s time for a German ascendancy in the Champions League. Especially after the way that Bayern took Barcelona apart in the semi final. 7-0 over two legs. But is it? Dortmund are already being pulled apart. Bayern have bought their best player, Mario Gotze. He didn’t play in the final. An injury. Convenient. And they are expected to get Lewandowski as well. They’ll be some team – and they have Pep Guardiola, ex-Barcelona, joining them as manager. It seems too good to be true.
Money talks at the elite level. Bayern will stay strong. Dortmund will weaken. Barcelona will regroup – they have already bought Brazilian superstar Neymar. Madrid are after Bale and Suarez, maybe the two best players in the English Premier League. In England, Chelsea and Man City will probably buy big this close season, and probably Man Utd too. Even Arsenal! We could easily be back to Spanish or English dominance next season.
But it was good to see the Germans do it this season. They play football, and run football, the right way.
On a personal note, I’m reminded of an experience I had in 1997, when we went for a holiday at a sports camp in Lanzarote. It was a lot of fun. One day I went along to a football session. Most of the people on my side were German. I assumed my normal position at right back. Early in the game I got the ball and launched it up the wing, into the channel. No-one went for it. I got some odd stares. The game continued. It was all short passing triangles. My English long ball style just didn’t compute. I adapted and enjoyed the game. And learned a lesson.
It showed that even at our lowly level, the culture of the game was so different in our two countries. And it showed why, at the top level, when English teams lose possession so easily by trying the big passes all the time, they struggle to dominate.
Pass to someone on your own team. It must be the Mantra!
Photos all from Google Images.
Love that last one, which was in the Guardian last Saturday. Our British obsession with Germans and beach towels…