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Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben takes a shot during a training session ahead of their Champions League Final match against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium in London, May 24, 2013. (EDDIE KEOGH/REUTERS)
Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben takes a shot during a training session ahead of their Champions League Final match against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium in London, May 24, 2013. (EDDIE KEOGH/REUTERS)

Preview

Champions League final is a clash of Teutonic titans Add to ...

The numbers really do seem to run together whenever a major international soccer competition takes centre stage. Television ratings, franchise values, sponsorship agreements – at times their sheer weight becomes overwhelming.

And that will be the case Saturday when for the first time two German club teams, Bayern Munich and Borussia-Dortmund, meet at London’s Wembley Stadium in the final of the UEFA Champions League. Last year’s final, in which Chelsea beat Bayern 4-3 on penalties in Munich, pulled in a world-wide peak viewing audience of 300 million.

This year, the teams that took part in the competition leading up to the final – which started in July with knock-out stage competition to select 10 club teams from the various European domestic leagues to join 22 seeded teams in the group stage – are expected to divvy up $1.17-billion (U.S.)

But the operative number for today’s final, the number that explains why this meeting between the lordly traditional rulers of German soccer – Bayern Munich – and their trendy underdog opponents is ‘two.’ As in €2-million – roughly, $2.3-million (U.S.) – which is the size of the loan that Bayern extended Dortmund in 2003 when the latter club teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and couldn’t meet its obligations.

Dortmund, which two years earlier made the ill-advised decision to make itself a publicly-traded company, would find itself in crisis again in 2005 and survived largely when its players agreed to a 20-per-cent pay cut. With a strong academy that has formed the underpinning of the team’s revival and some shrewd purchases on the open player market, Dortmund has won two of the past three Bundesliga titles and in that time has more than doubled its sponsorship revenue to the point where it is now the 13th highest-valued soccer franchise in the world.

How good has Dortmund become? So good that it is a 20-year-old midfielder named Mario Goetze, who was in Dortmund’s academy when he was 8, who recently set the transfer record for a German-born player – when Bayern paid $48-million (U.S.) to activate a clause in Goetze’s agreement with Dortmund. That, plus the fact that several of Bayern’s executives have a background with Dortmund, is one reason that Saturday’s game will be chock-full of emotion, even though Goetze’s injured hamstring will keep him out of action.

“This is a massive rivalry,” said Paul Stalteri, the Toronto-born defender who holds the record for appearances in the Canadian national men’s team (84 caps) and who played in the Bundesliga from 1998-2005 with Werder Bremen and returned to play for Borussia-Moenchengladbach in 2009-11. “These groups of fans would like nothing better than to have something to hold over the other.”

It is only the fourth time that the Champions League final will be played between teams from the same country and even though many of the key players on the pitch will be from outside Germany (Dortmund’s talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski is Polish, while Dutchman Arjen Robben, the Frenchman Franck Ribéry and Spaniard Javi Martinez will have a significant say in Bayern’s success) it will be taken to be another sign of the ascendancy of German soccer.

The current crop of German players has yet to win anything of major significance internationally, but the depth of top-level talent is breathtaking and the multiethnic composition of the German national team is seen as a statement of the new German state.

More to the point, club soccer in Germany has become a trendy talking point internationally, with effective financial-management guidelines in place including a 50-plus-one rule that guarantees fans’ representatives a majority representation on each club’s board and mitigates against one businessman or company running the club.

That doesn’t mean that major corporations can’t exercise influence through partnerships or sponsorships – Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen had corporate ownership grandfathered when they joined the Bundesliga, and Bayern Munich’s sponsorship list is a ‘who’s who’ of German financial and political life – but it has kept ticket prices remarkably cheap. You can see Bayern play for a little over $20 (U.S.).

Whether it’s sustainable is debatable at a time when the English Premier League, for example, will make more than $1.29-billion (U.S.) more from television revenues than the Bundesliga and is putting 67 per cent of revenue generated into player salaries compared to the Bundesliga’s 37 per cent, but for now German soccer is the envy of Europe.

“This is a chance to show the world that German club football is alive, that it has caught up with the competition,” Bayern honorary president Franz Beckenbauer, one of the greatest German soccer players in history, said to the Munchner Merkur newspaper.

Stalteri concurs.

“They say Dortmund received 250,000 requests for tickets,” said Stalteri, who on several occasions as an opponent played in Dortmund’s 80,720-seat Westfalenstadion – officially called Signal Iduna Park – and stared into the craw of the 25,000-strong Yellow Wall, a standing-only area in the south end of the stadium. Actually, the figure was 502,567 applications for 24,000 available tickets, meaning the club, which plays to 97-per-cent capacity and has 50,000 season-ticket holders – used a lottery system to distribute tickets.

Stalteri enjoyed his time in Germany.

“Everything’s state of the art for soccer,” he said. “The closeness to the fans is amazing. You go to the AGM [annual general meeting] of the team, and you’ll hear from them. In most countries, training is closed. In Germany, the fans are there every day except for the day before the game. That just changed around the first time I left; until then the fans could go every day. They were not happy with the change.

“Dortmund’s fans are from the area. They’re from the city, and they are extremely loyal. Bayern travels well. They’re the Bavarian team, in some ways a national team.”

Bayern has rebounded with a vengeance from the ignominy of a 2011-12 season in which they finished eight points behind Dortmund in the Bundesliga table and were demolished 5-2 by Jurgen Klopp’s team, in the final of the DFB-Pokal, the German domestic cup, before their Champions League loss to Chelsea. Bayern won the Bundesliga by 25 points, setting or tying 17 league records including the earliest-ever date for wrapping up the title (April 6) and advanced to Saturday’s final with an aggregate 7-0 humiliation of Barcelona in a two-legged semi-final.

Dortmund stunned Real Madrid 4-1 in the first leg of their semi-finals and advanced despite a 2-0 loss in the second leg, but it was their two goals in stoppage time to beat Spanish side Malaga 3-2 in the second leg of their quarter-final that is most memorable. It was after that win that Klopp, their 45-year-old coach, gave a post-game interview in English that became a YouTube sensation, all hair askew and glasses, giggling at times like a school-boy and unabashedly amazed at what he’d just witnessed.

For German soccer fans, amazement is just one of the sentiments that will be on display today.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINALISTS

FC BAYERN MUNICH

Club motto: “Mia san mia” (“We are who we are.”)

Founded: Feb. 27, 1900

Titles: UEFA Champions League (4, last 2001); Cup Winners Cup (1); UEFA Cup (1); FIFA Intercontinental Cup (2); Domestic league (23, 22 of which have come since the formation of the Bundesliga); DFB-Pokal (German Cup) (15)

Champions League finals: 10

2012 revenues: $477.3-million (all currency U.S.; source: Bayern Munich AGM)

Ranking: Fourth-most valuable soccer club in the world; Forbes estimated value at $1.23-billion, making Bayern the 11th most valuable sports club in the world.

Coach: Jupp Heynckes, 68, is the third-highest scorer in Bundesliga history with 220 goals in 368 matches and has managed nine different teams since 1979. He appeared in 39 international games for Germany, scoring 14 goals and winning the 1972 European Championship and 1974 World Cup. This is his third stint at Bayern Munich (one was on an interim basis) and he is rumoured to be the lead candidate to replace Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. It was announced earlier this season that former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola will replace Heynckes at Bayern Munich at the end of the season.

Players to watch: Bayern Munich’s engine room is its central midfield duo of German national team mainstay Bastian Schweinsteiger and Spanish international Javi Martinez. Ball possession is the focal point of Bayern Munich’s game.

BVB BORUSSIA-DORTMUND

Club motto: “Echte Liebe” (“True Love.”)

Founded: Dec. 19, 1909

Titles: UEFA Champions League (1, 1997); UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1); UEFA Cup (10); German Domestic titles (8, 5 in Bundesliga); DFB-Pokal (German Cup) (3)

Champions League finals: 2

2012 revenues: $240-million (source: Forbes)

Ranking: Thirteenth most valuable soccer club in the world; Forbes estimated value at $456-million.

Coach: One of the game’s ascendant figures, Jurgen Klopp, 45, scored 52 goals in 338 games with FC Mainz of the second division of German domestic soccer. Klopp coached Mainz into promotion to the Bundesliga in 2003-04. He joined Borussia-Dortmund in 2008, leading the team to a sixth-place finish and a win over Bayern Munich in the DFB-Supercup and in 2012 he led the team to its first domestic double: winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal. Klopp, who is something of a cult figure in Germany and has had several songs written about him, looks at times as though he outfits himself at a sporting goods store when he prowls the sidelines in wind-resistant running gear. He was quoted in a recent interview as saying he is a soccer coach “because there’s nothing else I’m any good at,” but when he isn’t managing Dortmund, he has won awards for his media commentary in Germany.

Players to watch: Klopp’s teams can play a frighteningly high-tempo. They will press early in games and are dangerous in transition and that will put an onus on their defenders, especially if German international Mats Hummels is hampered by a sprained ankle. But Polish international Robert Lewandowski’s 10 goals in Champions League play were second only to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and if he can make the best of what might be limited opportunities, Dortmund has a chance.

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