A GLORIOUS AFFIRMATION of the Bundesliga’s supremacy was enjoyed at Wembley on Saturday night as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund produced the most thrilling European Cup final since Liverpool beat AC Milan in 2005.
The previous same-country fi nals had all been relative disappointments: Real Madrid-Valencia in 2000 (thrashing); AC Milan-Juventus in 2003 (tedious); Man United-Chelsea in 2008 (tense but technically wanting). This was the exact opposite. Everything we wanted it to be.
The whirlwind intensity of Dortmund’s opening half-hour was matched only, and fi nally surpassed, by the ruthless effi ciency Munich displayed in the second period. It is quite rare to see so many players perform at their peak in a game of such magnitude, but Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels did just that, as Wembley witnessed a majestic spectacle of technical mastery at blinding speed, fused with spell-binding colour and noise in the stands.
An almost perfect final, Robben’s sensational winning goal a relative downside, as it robbed us of an extra half-hour. Should Bayern complete the treble – as they are overwhelmingly expected to – against Stuttgart in the German Cup Final this weekend, manager Jupp Heynckes will leave at the crest of the greatest wave one could possibly conceive.
Ever-underrated, Heynckes has conducted three managerial campaigns in the Champions League, winning it twice and fi nishing second once. Amazingly, he has been removed from his position after both victories. Enter now, Pep Guardiola: the man expected to sprinkle magic dust on this already most formidable of enterprises.
Intriguingly, it could be said that ex-Barcelona manager Guardiola faces quite the conundrum in Bavaria. How can he improve upon a treble? Especially one gained in such fantastic style. You can’t perfect perfection. How does Guardiola come in and try to implement his unique style when the old system won everything there was to win?
Might Guardiola’s fi rst day at Bayern Munich resemble Brian Clough’s at Leeds United, as Clough himself replaced a much loved, wildly successful manager in Don Revie? As depicted in ‘The Damned United’, Clough belligerently scolded the assembled Leeds players – reigning league champions, at the time: “Well, I might as well tell you now. You lot may all be internationals and have won all the domestic honours there are to win under Don Revie. But as far as I’m concerned, the fi rst thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest dustbin you can fi nd, because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by cheating.” Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Eddie Gray stared disdainfully in response and Clough lasted 44 days in the job.
Similarly, when Rafa Benitez replaced Jose Mourinho at Internazionale in 2010 after they had won the treble, he barely survived until Christmas following an ill-advised campaign to undermine Mourinho’s achievements and the players he felt were still loyal to the Portuguese manager.
‘Winning everything better’ might be Guardiola’s aim, but can Bayern really win with more panache than they did this year? The league title by a frankly ludicrous 25 points and smashing the Spanish and Italian champions in Europe are staggering achievements. There is nowhere to go from the summit – and most who reach it only linger fl eetingly. The pinaccle of sport is resided at for a good time, not a long time. A monumental task has been left, but one which will be undertaken by a man who has proved himself a monumental figure.
Heynckes’ successes should be celebrated and remembered, certainly. He has just completed a season to rival any, by any team, in history. The one opening for Guardiola is this: no team has ever retained the European Cup since it became the Champions League in 1992. If Guardiola can somehow sustain that immense level of success it might even eclipse his Catalan conquests.