I won’t lie; at first I was very dismayed by the prospect of this being the Champions League Final. What happened to the two best club teams competing at the pinnacle of European competition, like last year’s contest in Rome? But in the past fortnight I have had a chance to consider the matchup between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan and have realised it is littered with resonances that make it the fitting final for this year’s Champions League.
Although Inter and Bayern have fared relatively poorly in recent years in the Champions League, the repeated motif from last season’s final of the best of one nation against the best of another is very much relevant. Both teams sit on the brink of a remarkable treble. Inter wrapped up the Italian Cup and title in the past fortnight, likewise Bayern and their domestic titles. So this is in fact a titan clash replete with interesting subplots that should have football fans revelling at the poetic connotations of the game.
Van Gaal vs Mourinho: The outspoken Portuguese tactician worked under Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona for two years as his assistant, winning consecutive league titles with the club. There is a mirrored cadence in their achievements as both have won titles in three different countries (Holland, Spain, and Germany for Van Gaal – Portugal, England, and Italy for Mourinho), both guided less than favoured teams to European Glory (Ajax in 95’ and Porto in 04’, respectively), and both – besides being the best tacticians in the game – have a penchant for delivering success immediately at new clubs.
The two players on show to garner most attention will be the Dutch duo of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. The two number 10s have been in brilliant form this season and definitely act as the attacking fulcrum of their team. Irony, it seems, is not lost on the football gods as the two Real Madrid rejects find themselves on the verge of winning the one club competition their old employers pine for so extravagantly, on the hallowed turf of the Bernabeu no less. You have to love it.
Lucio faces the team he played for last year but it is Samuel Eto’o who heads the list for personal history. He can become the first player to win back to back trebles with different clubs, and as if that is not a startling enough feat, he can become the first player to score in three Champions League finals (he’s currently sitting level with Raul on two goals in finals – not exactly an insult).
Fitting for the Season
I do not think it is a surprise that the two coaches most renowned for their technical and tactical fervour find their respective teams pulling a mirrored act of success to reach this year’s final. Though Bayern have lost four matches on their way to Madrid tomorrow, they have underpinned the undulating nature of the away goals rule in European football. Not once but twice, when all was seemingly lost, the magic of Arjen Robben has mutated desperation into euphoria. In two legged affairs one goal changes absolutely everything. Mourinho, as if reading from a similar script, has highlighted exactly what tactics (and luck, as is the case with Bayern) mean in the context of European ties. The catenaccio principles of Inter’s display at the San Siro in the first leg against Barcelona are etched into the country’s history, its culture, and even its art:
“Catenaccio is like a Titian painting – soft, seductive, and languid. The Italians welcome and lull you and seduce you into their soft embrace, and score a goal like the thrust of a dagger.” –Rudi Fuchs, director of Stedelijk Modern Art Museum
And the second leg ironically became one of the sweetest defeats in Inter, and Mourinho’s, history; for someone who apparently hates Italian football, he is about to have the biggest say on its recent success in the game. There remains relative harmony in their dysfunctional relationship.
So despite the initial distaste, this final is definitely representative of the two finest football teams that the nations in question have to offer. It is also a very fitting showdown (and microcosm) for the formula of success in the Champions League season of 2009/2010.
If you enjoyed this, you can follow me on Twitter