MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 26: Head coach Juergen Klopp of Dortmund celebrates with his players after winning the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Borussia Dortmund at Allianz Arena on February 26, 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Borussia Dortmund host Bayern Munich in a match with implications reaching further than just one simple match.
It is an understatement to say that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich saw their 2010-2011 campaigns end in different fashions. Flying high from beginning to end, Dortmund were crowned league champions and finished seven points ahead of their nearest challenger. Bayern barely recovered from a near-disastrous slump and finished in third.
Let's go back to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Germany had figured out how to produce a large quantity of young, international quality players. The country was not only turning out these players at a younger age, they had flair. No. They didn't just have flair. They had immense flair. The German academies had started a revolution in the Bundesliga. This "revolution" of budding superstars had a face, but this time it wasn't Bayern Munich. The face was Borussia Dortmund.
The media spread a fear of major turnover being "expected" at Dortmund over the summer, but they lost only one player of any consequence when Nuri Şahin was sold to Real Madrid. Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels, and Lucas Barrios all stayed. The "expected" massive turnover never happened. They would defend their title in the 2011-2012 season with largely the same team that won the title. However, as always, the road to the Bundesliga crown goes through Munich, not Dortmund.
Bayern retooled their defense in the summer by bringing in Manuel Neuer from Dortmund's main rival, Schalke, as well as defenders Rafinha and Jerome Boateng. They were focused on bringing "their" title back to Munich.
The last time the Bundesliga title was away from Munich for more than one season was in 1994-1996 when the championship was, where else, but in Dortmund. Since that time, Bayern have won nine of the 15 Bundesliga titles. Things were naturally going to fall into place for them to win the title as their steely determination overpowered Dortmund's ... fun.
If I may go on a slight tangent... When you watch a Borussia Dortmund match, do you not feel the energy? Does it not seem like they enjoy every single kick of the ball? If you don't believe me, watch manager Jürgen Klopp when the ball finds the back of the net for a Dortmund player. The pure, unadulterated joy on his face is evident during every celebration. Klopp designed this team to his exact specifications, and he thoroughly enjoys watching them play and succeed. Sure, you can make the argument that the majority of the players are just kids. Seven players in their preferred started 11 are 24 years or younger. "They don't know any better." I happen to disagree with that statement. I think they do know, and that's what makes this entire team enjoyable. Okay, off of the tangent...
There is one thing every fan will have noticed this week coming out of the Bayern camp -- silence. The attempt at striking fear into the opponent from the always quotable Bayern president Uli Hoeness and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge hasn't occurred. Do the two not want to give Dortmund any extra motivation going into the match?
Perhaps this is the first sign that Bayern is truly looking at Dortmund as a potential problem that's not going away. Admitting that Dortmund are building into a power that could rival Bayern year in and year out in the Bundesliga and in Europe won't be the next step, but it may be the time to consider that Bayern may not be alone much longer.
While challenging Bayern on the pitch is an important aspect of Dortmund's rise, they won't be able to sustain this challenge without finding a way to challenge Bayern off of the pitch. Dortmund were nearly driven into the ground in the early 2000's due to disgraceful financial management. Their ability to compete against Bayern on the open market for world class stars was completely destroyed.
The club has spent nearly the last decade recovering from the mismanagement and can now see light at the end of the tunnel. In January, Dortmund announced a record revenue mark of €101.4 million for the period of July 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.
''Borussia has developed itself economically and on a sporting level continuously over the last few years,'' Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said.
We are now heading into matchday 30 of the Bundesliga. Dortmund are on top of the table by three points and the general consensus is that if Bayern does not walk away from Westfalenstadion with all three points, then the title will remain in Dortmund at least one more season. If Dortmund were to win, it would be their fourth straight victory in the Bundesliga against Bayern with the opportunity for a fifth looming next month in the DFB Pokal Final.
A win by Dortmund also signals somewhat of a "changing of the guard". The win would make a resounding statement that Bayern can no longer rest on their laurels of being the club in the country any longer.
Bayern lost a head-to-head battle with Dortmund this year over the signing of Borussia Mönchengladbach star Marco Reus. Would a win by Dortmund be enough to convince Shinji Kagawa to sign an extension to remain in Dortmund? If he does, an attacking front of Robert Lewandowski, Götze, Kagawa, and Reus is enough to scare any defense.
Nothing changes overnight. Beating Bayern is only good if they capitalize on it. The Bundesliga "guard" will be Bayern Munich, and it will be them for some time. The larger scale war is being able to raise your profile as much off the pitch as on it to compete with Bayern Munich domestically and internationally for players and trophies.
Sometimes, it only takes one battle to change the tide of a war.