Let’s go Dortmund! Put shabby, classless Bayern to bed! May the most garish uniform win! Long live Jurgen Klopp! Up with the lower budget, down with the mega club. Leave something for Pep to do!
One of the talking points that has come of Dortmund and Bayern’s Champions League victories has been the excellence of their holding midfielders, Illkay Gundogan for Dortmund and Javi Martinez for Bayern. Both were more influential than their counterparts, though no one is resting the Spanish failures on Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets. In Alonso’s case, the main argument seems to be that Dortmund was so effective because they throttled his influence, and I’d say that speaks more to the genius of the individual player targeted, and the subsequent failure of the coach/rest of the team to protect him.
What’s interesting is how these players have overshadowed -at least in the past few days- their more glamorous attacking teammates. Gotze, Ronaldo, Ozil, Reus, Messi. As the audience for soccer has become more interested in tactics, there have been waves of obsession over positional quirks, and the way they evolve. For a couple years it was all about the false 9, Messi’s dominance, and the obsolescence of the traditional striker. Was the attacking game being remade before our eyes? Maybe.
Then, possibly with Pirlo’s brilliance in last year’s Euros, the fad position shifted to the holding midfielder, who didn’t need to be a Makelele-style destroyer, but could be the impetus in attack, and a team’s organizational mastermind. Of course this deep creative role wasn’t brand new, but it sure got a lot of attention. Kind of like Pirlo: he’d been amazing for a long time, and suddenly people seemed to open their eyes and say: he’s really amazing.Now everyone is talking about Gundogan. Maybe he’ll be the one to replace Alonso (by the way, does Alonso really need replacing?). (Stupid aside: For the past five or six months, Gundogan has been my favorite player on my iphone FIFA game and I haven’t sold him yet, though I did sell Lewandowski… the guy always comes to my rescue).
What I keep thinking about when I hear all this elevated talk about the deep lying players is how much I loved that space on the field when I was young. In Alabama, we played an outmoded diamond-shaped defense with a stopper and a sweeper; sometimes I played stopper, and I played pretty far ahead of the fullbacks. The field would was wide in front of me, with a palpable depth to it: there were layers and layers before me, and a layer behind. When we went forward, and I liked going forward, I felt like the game was moving forward from me, like I was radiating it. I was an engine.
Well it looks like the most annoying combination for the Champions League final will be avoided. It will not be another in the interminable series of El Clasicos marketed as the most important ever. The Germans have been surprisingly emphatic this week: everyone knew they were very good, but 4 in against both Barca and Real? Sheesh. It’s a sentence with a few extra exclamation points, and now the talk will be of paradigm shifts and the rise and decline of leagues. Which is exciting stuff, but perhaps the sample size of upset games is still a bit small, and perhaps it’s also a case of underestimating the Bundesliga rather than a meteoric rise.
Maybe it’ll also mean someone will make it easier for us to watch the German league in the US?
A few days ago, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness voiced concern that the Bundesliga was becoming a duopoly, with the two powers being Munich and Dortmund, and that this concentration of power would ultimately hurt the league. At first glance, this makes sense. Everyone is sick of how top heavy the big leagues are, and while everyone envies the evergreen success of Real Madrid and Barcelona, no one particularly wants their league to be so out of whack. Good entertainment requires more than two possible outcomes (actually I’m not sure that’s true; worth revisiting later).
But what on earth would a president of a big club want beside a never-ending parade of victories? They want to win, and win forever. Ideally, the victories would be hard-fought and well-earned, but they’d all be victories nonetheless. So what a club president would honestly want in an ideal world, I think, would be a league in which he could consistently win without an aura of corruption (Serie A…) or the impression there wasn’t real competition (La Liga). (Does this bring us to Man U and the EPL? Maybe). So when a club president says his and his rival club should take action against the concentration of power, what does he mean?
Today, the day before Dortmund plays Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals, it was announced that Bayern are triggering Mario Gotze’s buyout clause and bringing him over this summer. They’re simultaneously buying their rival’s most promising young player and moaning that the league isn’t competitive enough. The announcement has been timed to inflict maximum psychic damage before Dortmund’s most important game of the season.
What these guys want is to win. When they talk about anything else, they’re still talking about winning.