As Bayern Munich gear up to face Barcelona tonight, they will do so as true equals - perhaps even more than that, with the Bavarians being the greatest team on Earth in their current form. And yet, given the near future, victory would be oddly anti-climactic: the introduction of Pep Guardiola, a heavily-rumoured impending transfer spree, and now, we learn, the signing of Mario Gotze are all to take place in the summer, and yet they could already assert their claim to being the best team in Europe. Where would they go from there?
The Gotze deal is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the notion that the Bundesliga, for all it's many positives, has produced a competitive league. In truth, Bayern Munich wrapping up their league title before Celtic this year is not, unlike Manchester United and Barcelona's comparable cakewalks, an anomaly. By rights, it should happen every year considering the absurd advantage they have over almost every other team in Europe.
True domestic dominance, of course, allows you to get into that particularly irritating category of transfer activity, which in Scotland, the byword for uncompetitive, unfair dominance, had been the bread and butter of the elite two: prioritise signing the best players for clubs in your own nation, thus ensuring your status is never effectively challenged, even for a season. In signing Gotze, Bayern have weakened a side that will not be able to replace him and thus confirmed their title victory next season. It's as simple as that.
There's a school of thought that suggests that a lack of domestic challengers can lead to complacency, that a competitive league is good for pushing teams to the next level, but it's a questionable theory. Manchester United's period of remarkable effectiveness in Europe surrounding their 2008 triumph can be partly traced back to the arrival of José Mourinho forcing them to step up a gear, and Celtic have certainly coasted domestically, putting in a pretty poor overall display - but they also had one of their best European campaigns for years. When your ambitions are as high as European victory, it doesn't really matter - and Bayern are a hard enough team to beat ordinarily, without the prospect of them being able to rest their entire team for all of their knockout games.
Of course, Bayern aren't likely to be the only ones. The duopoly in Spain is likely to get worse as individual TV deals mean Barcelona and Real Madrid pull away from the rest of the league, almost universally in financial difficulties, and Paris Saint-Germain look set to be the only show in France unless AS Monaco can prove creative enough with their accounting to negotiate the Financial Fair Play regulations.
In short, we are probably likely to see the pool of potential Champions League winners finally be boiled down to a true continental elite, entrenching themselves in position as the old 'Sky Four' once did in the Premier League. There are some possibilities the party could be crashed - Italy could yet produce a team of such a calibre in Juventus or AC Milan, and the TV deal in the Premier League lessens the impact of Champions League riches and as such may allow a Tottenham or a Liverpool to cobble together a side worthy of competition, but it's hard to see how they could truly challenge one of these elites firing on all cylinders.
Those days of the entrenched Premier League top four are probably the best comparison for how European football is about to look - the games among the top few being vicious, epic encounters, while the rest of the clubs wallow around in their collective sense of futility. Whether it's pretty, fair, or desirable doesn't matter. It's business.