The all-German Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich on Saturday marks the culmination of an intensifying and increasingly bitter rivalry.
In one corner stand Bayern; German football royalty, and the Bundesliga’s dominant force of the last 40 years.
In the other corner stand Dortmund, who have captured neutral hearts with their humble, wise-cracking coach, Jurgen Klopp, and a team committed to smothering their opponents with breathless attacking football.
Dortmund upset the balance of power in Germany by winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and last year - a run that included five straight wins over Bayern - only for the Bavarians to storm back and win the league in record-breaking style this season.
Although they finished a huge 25 points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga, Dortmund have demonstrated their pedigree in the Champions League, topping a group that contained Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax, and then routing Madrid again for good measure in the semi-finals.
But while the final at Wembley should represent a tussle for total supremacy in German football, Bayern’s recent acquisition of Dortmund’s star playmaker Mario Goetze suggests the odds remain stacked in their favour.
As well as triggering the US$47.8 million release clause in Goetze’s contract, Bayern are also expected to win the race to sign Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored all four goals in his side’s astonishing 4-1 blitz of Madrid in the semi-finals.
Klopp said the news of Goetze’s imminent departure hit him “like a heart attack”, but he takes solace in his club’s more organic approach to transfer dealings.
“What can I say? If that’s what Bayern wants... It’s like James Bond -- except they are the other guy (the villain),” he said in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian this week.
“We are not a supermarket, but they want our players because they know we cannot pay them the same money. It could not be our way to do things like Real and Bayern and not think about taxes -- and let the next generation pick up our problems.”
Klopp has also accused Bayern of aping Dortmund’s high-octane ‘gegenpressing’ tactics, having likened the four-time European champions to a Chinese industrialist shamelessly copying the techniques of his rivals.
His comments prompted a stiff rebuke from Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.
“When Jurgen one day gets the pleasure of coaching Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, he will realise what it means and how much it is a completely different world,” he said.
“Bayern have existed for longer than Jurgen Klopp has been a coach and have always had their own style of playing.”
Barbs have been exchanged between the teams with mounting regularity.
When Dortmund beat Bayern to the signature of German international Marco Reus last year, then Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger sniffily remarked that the Ruhr valley club had abandoned their “understated” approach.
And after Bayern beat Klopp’s side in the German Cup quarter-finals in February, Bayern president Uli Hoeness claimed that “the status quo” in German football had “clearly been restored”.
Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke subsequently admitted that his respect for Bayern had “cooled”, while the stormy 1-1 draw between the teams in the league on May 4 witnessed an angry touchline confrontation between Klopp and Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer, the former Dortmund player and manager.
Given the current animosity, it now seems extraordinary that Bayern gave Dortmund an interest-free loan of two million euros in 2004 to help them stave off the threat of insolvency.
It was a gesture of pure solidarity, but from grateful beneficiaries, Dortmund have grown into feared rivals, and Klopp says his club are no longer content to exist in Bayern’s shadow.
“Maybe when other teams play Bayern, they are shown a bit too much respect,” he said.
“We have caused them problems with our counter-attacking game in the past and have developed over the years into a major competitor and a real rival. Which is exactly what we want to be in the final.”