Bayern-Inter tonight – more than just a Cup Final

Salman Mitha

Munich, May 22 - If you are one of the few who have not changed your mobile ringtone to '€˜Stern des Sudens' (I keep hearing it wherever I go in the city), or dressed up your pets in Bayern gear (my neighbor's dog proudly wears his new scarf with a Bayern logo around the complex), or just haven't heard what's going on tonight (psst, big match), then here's a quick preview for tonight's UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Munich and FC Internazionale Milano. And if you are ready for tonight, perhaps I can offer some juicy bits to make the match more than just a football final.

Brothers in Arms '€“ There are bonds between the two teams that bring some interesting angles that mean more than just who wins. Bayern's goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt has earned a spot on Germany's national team for the World Cup because of his steadiness between the posts during this tournament. He played in the 2002 Final when he was with Leverkusen, only giving up a spectacular goal to Zinedine Zidane in the loss. Butt's experience and leadership will be vital, especially if they make it to a penalty shootout. His teammate on Leverkusen that year was Lucio who now plays for a key role for Inter's defense. He's no stranger to Bayern, only leaving the club last year. He'll have some extra motivation to beat a club that didn't keep him. Both Butt and Lucio will be looking to win after their '€˜tragic Treble' with Leverkusen when they lost all three titles in consecutive weeks at the end of 2002. Wesley Schneider is another player who was tossed aside. He left Real Madrid and has become one of Serie A's better players. If they are to score, he will be the reason in his former playground. But the player everyone's eyes will be on, it will be Schneider's countryman and former Real teammate, Arjen Robben. There is no player who has stepped up for his club and led his team this far this season. Great players know when to turn it on, make that one extra pass, or score that one goal. This year, Robben is that man (sorry Lionel Messi supporters). Known to be injury prone, he's been healthy this year and thus able to showcase his talent, and that's the difference.

The student becomes the master '€“ Louis van Gaal's name didn't roll off people's tongue before this season as a top manager. His own countryman, Guus Hiddink, has rightfully earned the headlines with his performance both in Europe and internationally lately. But van Gaal has won a Champions League title while coach at Ajax in 1995. And he's done a tremendous job turning around a Bayern team that was teetering on the edge of mediocrity during the failed Juergen Klinsmann Experiment last year. But those who knew him are not surprised what he's done. His mentality fits the Bayern management vision for the team and he was given free reign to impose his style on the club. It's no different on the other side, especially when you realize, van Gaal trained him. Jose Mourinho is a well-known coach, after winning the Champions League in 2004 with FC Porto and then his successful and well-publicized stint at FC Chelsea. Like van Gaal, he's a master tactician and knows how to get the most from his players. The difference '€“ the Special One makes sure you know he's '€˜fantastic'. Mourinho does not shy away from criticizing anyone at anytime, including his own players and the media. If he had won the Champions League at Chelsea, there's no saying how big his ego would be. But now, after this run in the tournament, and if he were to win, we can expect legendary status for Mourinho. And he'll let us know it. The fear for Inter fans is that he is rumored to go to either Real Madrid or Manchester United after this match, commanding a top salary.

Be Champions! '€“ For two of Europe's most historic clubs, this is a chance for both to reach new heights. Both have won their respective leagues and domestic cups. Only a year ago, both clubs were under fire. Inter were winning league titles, but they were not performing up to expectations in the Champions League. However, this year, Mourinho has been able to showcase his mastery once again in Europe by beating his former club Chelsea and upending last year's champions FC Barcelona. And he's brought Inter close to their first European title in over 40 years. Bayern were fighting to stay alive for the league title and a Champions League spot after firing Klinsmann. After hiring a babysitter coach to secure that spot, Munich hired van Gaal. After a similar slow start that got led to Klinsmann's troubles, van Gaal turned it around and got his philosophy through to his team. Both Bayern and Inter are in line to win the Treble and etch both club and coach into the record books. But they'll have to go through each other to get it done.

It's all about the Benjamins '€“ The winner is set to win '‚¬110.35 million according to sportsbusiness.com. But there's more money to be earned. To say a win for Bayern will help German football, or Inter for Italy, would make me sound like Sir Alex Ferguson. But it really does help each country's league. Thanks to Bayern's rise, and the excellent play of Hamburg and Wolfsburg in the Europe League, the Bundesliga's UEFA coefficient has risen to #3, passing, yes, Italy for the moment. What does it mean? An extra Champions League spot for the Bundesliga, thus more chances to earn prize money in the top tournaments. For years, the league lagged behind England, Spain, Italy, and France. But this year alone, German football was the best performing of all of them. A win by Bayern clinches that spot for the next five years. Inter can snatch that away and help keep Italian football in the mix as a top league.

Can't we all just get along? '€“ Sometimes walking the streets of Munich, one forgets that they are in Germany. When Italy is playing, the city changes. Munich, or as the Italians say '€˜Monaco', is considered to be a suburb of Italy. So there's more at stake than just a Cup and prize money. It's for our city's cultural bragging rights. And the great thing, it's not a nasty rivalry, so expect a party atmosphere in all sections of the city no matter who wins.

Party of two please '€“ If you plan to head out and watch the match in the city, here's hoping you made reservations. Last Saturday, we couldn't even get a table to eat hours before kickoff of the German Cup Final. For tonight, there will be more people out and thus every restaurant or bar will be packed. TMT's last minute suggestion is to head out early to Leopoldstrasse and find a spot with an outdoor screen (beware that you may watch the match in reverse mode). And you can stay there all night, as, win or lose, Bayern will be coming around after returning from Madrid for another celebratory lap around the city late Sunday afternoon.

Final word and prediction '€“ After Inter stopped the freight train that was Barcelona, and in the manner which they did, there is no doubting Mourinho and his brilliance. If Inter were to take a 1-nil lead over anyone else, even a Bayern squad from earlier this year, I would say Mourinho's tactics would clamp down and take the title. Bayern are here because they scored enough goals in the return matches on the road in their past 4 matches. This is an away match. There is no second match for them to worry about. And they way van Gaal has his men playing, not just winning but dominating over the past 2 months, I have to say they are good for 3 goals. And that will be enough for the history books. Bayern 3, Inter 1

UEFA Champions League Final, tonight, Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, FC Bayern Munich vs. FC Internazionale Milan, kickoff 20:45, live on Sky and SAT1

Salman Mitha is a sports reporter and columnist for The Munich Times. He has covered the Bundesliga and European football for 7 years. Email him at a@themunichtimes.com">salman.mitha@themunichtimes.com and follow him on Twitter @sal_TMT_sports

 


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