On Saturday evening, Der Klassiker will be put to bed. And it’s about time.
Yes, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will meet again play in April; they might play a few more times if results in the Champions League or German Cup (DFB Pokal) call for it. But while German soccer’s hyped-up answer to El Clásico was fun while it lasted – pretty, even, in head-to-head terms — Der Klassiker never could roll off the tongue without a hint of self-consciousness, a feeling that has begun to sour into something cringe-worthy. All this pretending the meeting is a clash of titans standing astride the Bundesliga is beginning to wear thin.
For a while after Dortmund won the league in 2011 and 2012 (the second of those a league-cup double), Bundesliga fans tried to talk themselves into something crazy: the idea that BVB, the plucky upstart that nearly went bust in 2005, was on its way to becoming a long-term, second force in German soccer – a counterbalance to Bayern.
It didn’t seem that daft at the time. Over a two-season run, Dortmund put the hurt on Bayern, beating the Bavarians five straight times across competitions, a run that was capped off with a sadistic 5-2 dismantling of the Bavarian giants in the 2012 German Cup final.
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Since, it’s been one-way traffic in the other direction. Head to head, Dortmund has won just once in seven matches, a stretch in which Bayern has won four times. In each of the past two summers, Bayern has bought one of Dortmund’s best players: Mario Götze in the summer of 2013; Robert Lewandowski (above) in the last transfer window. And in terms of trophies, the past two years have been even less kind to the rivalry. Munich’s finest rolled to a treble in 2013 (beating Dortmund in the Champions League final) and a double in 2014 (again beating Dortmund in a final; this time, the Pokal’s).
And Bayern hasn’t just won the league the past two years. It’s treated the Bundesliga like a baby mole cornered by a tomcat: playing with it for as long as it suits, then thwacking it lifeless. Bayern put 25 points between themselves and second-place Dortmund in 2013. In 2014, it was 19.
So far this season, Bayern’s lead at the top is only four points, but it still early, and the chasing pack does not include Dortmund. The black-and-yellows are already 14 points back, a six-game winless run in league play marooning them in 15th place. Der Klassiker is not a fair fight.
Deep down, we all know that. And we knew it all along. Trying to Teutonize La Liga’s storied rivalry was absurd. It was a goof, at best, but more like an ill-conceived marketing ploy meant to disguise Bayern’s dominance. Dortmund has been a very good side for the past four or five years, but that kind of run is not the stuff of legend.
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Bundesliga fans wanted to believe in Der Klassiker, but it was a mirage. And now they’re back where they were before: nursing their pent-up rage toward Bayern, both for their success and for the way they go about buying players, treating the rest of the league like a Walmart.
One Hamburg fan’s frustration got the better of him on Wednesday, when he stormed the pitch in injury time, slapped Franck Ribéry with his scarf, and flipped the bird to as many Bayern players as he could. When your team is getting hammered 3-1 for the umpteenth time by a club that feels a lot like a feudal lord, you might want to lash out (especially if you’re a model/electro DJ who might want to get his face on TV).
But setting that rage aside, accepting that the Bundesliga is a mono- and not duopoly isn’t all bad. One fewer bigfoot in the league means a fiercer fight among the rest of the clubs scrapping for points.
Wolfsburg, Gladbach, and Hoffenheim – all good, rising young teams – are threatening to bust into the Champions League. The old-guard qualifiers — Leverkusen, Schalke, and now, Dortmund — face an intense battle to keep them out. That means lots of games with a lot at stake.
History also suggests losing Dortmund as a co-giant won’t mean ceding the title to Bayern every year. In the decade prior to Dortmund’s back-to back titles, five different clubs won the league.
Der Klassiker was a marketer’s dream, a simple sale, especially heading into next year’s fat U.S. television contract with FOX. It was always about bringing the Bundesliga to the American masses. German soccer will be fine without it.