The Substitution
Football writing at its mediocre best. Didn't there used to be more people here?



Max Grieve (@maxjgri)
  • Planets collide

    His voice dripping with irony, as it is so often described, José Mourinho sat back in his chair and spoke to the hordes of journalists before him. “More important than my opinion is that of those who are more important and more credible than me. Uli Hoeness, Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Ottmar Hitzfield say that Madrid are not a great side, that Bayern are stronger, and that we have a complex with the ‘dark beast’.

    “So,” he duly decided, “we will be the underdogs in this tie”.

    Mourinho has been, for the most part, an irksome character during his time in Madrid, playing far too insufferable and unlikeable a role for a man of his standing; of his stature and influence. It may all be an act, though the frequency of his unpleasantness, if the word might be allowed, suggests that it is indeed naturally part of him. His comments ahead of Real Madrid’s match at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich were, a rarity though it may be, altogether amusing. Entertaining even. They were playful: laced with contempt, but tongue in check all the same. Mourinho listened to the Bavarians, and responded as was necessary – and he was right.

    Madrid must be surely be confident of reaching the final in the stadium in which they will play tomorrow. This is not to question Bayern’s motivation, though this Madrid side have the means to destroy any team in Europe – as long as it is not Barcelona. This season, Madrid have played 51 matches, losing only four, and drawing seven – three of those losses have come against their Iberian rivals. They have scored 157 goals, 3.08 a game, whilst conceding an average of only 0.92. One need only watch half of a La Liga match involving the side from the capital to understand how they can be so brutal in attack. Weakness are cruelly exploited, and mistakes are punished with blistering pace and remorseless finishing. Unless they are pitted against potentially threatening opponents, they are not happy with winning by a one or two goal margin: there is, of course, a reason for why Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 53 goals in 48 appearances this season. In Bavaria, they will find the kind of opponent who will force Mourinho to consider his tactics carefully, and Madrid will be unlikely to find the space, the time and the opportunity to truly decimate Bayern Munich – indeed, the Portuguese stressed that this would be “more tactical than normal. Bayern will play with a lot of heart, which is nice in football.” He made sure to add: “But they also play very well.”

    Motivated by the prospect of a final in their own stadium, Bayern simply cannot afford to allow Madrid to dominate: to play on the counter is playing Mourinho at his own game, and the triumvirate of Ronaldo, Özil and Di Maria is arguably the most devastating counter-attacking force in Europe at present. The opportunity to reach the final is great; the opportunity to achieve that aim by beating Madrid is greater. Real Madrid v Bayern Munich is a “proper European semi-final”, possibly the only genuine cross-border rivalry in Europe, Spanish football expert Sid Lowe proposes. Said Beckenbauer of Mourinho: “Just because you wear cashmere sweaters, doesn’t make you a gentleman. He is rude and loutish.” There is history to this particular fixture: They first met in the European Cup semi-final in 1976. A Bayern team boasting Müller, Maier, Rummenigge, Hoeness and Beckenbauer went on to win their third consecutive European Cup; Madrid went on to a five-year ban (though it was later reduced to three matches played away) after a fan – for ever known as El loco del Bernabéu – ran on and attacked the linesman and Müller. In 1988, the Spanish striker Juanito was banned for five years for stamping on Lothar Matthäus’s face.

    The galaticos eraonly served to infuriate the Bavarian side, and gave cause for Madrid to retaliate. Claudio Pizarro announced, “We’re going to put five past these clowns!”, and Marca, the popular Spanish sports newspaper, began to portray the Germans as animals, anti-footballers lacking respect for authority and history in the game. Madrid, meanwhile, were dismissed in Germany as pretenders; “a circus”, said Uli Hoeness. Oliver Kahn, a pantomime villain in Spain, spoke in 2002 after Bayern’s 2-1 win in Munich: “They were performing flicks and back-heels, showboating, not playing football. A complete lack of respect. It wound us up, so we really went for them – and they didn’t like it. No one can get two past me in the second leg.” Marca, ever the pedant, noted one goal would be enough to see Madrid through. Helguera and Guti scored at the Bernabeu, and Madrid went on to win the competition with one of football’s greatest volleyed goals from Zinedine Zidane.

    In trying to understand which of these two giants of their respective nations, and of European football, might come away with the advantage tonight, one can always look to history. Bayern have never lost to Real Madrid at home. The clubs have met in four previous European semi-finals, and Madrid have advanced only once. The Castilian side have recorded only a solitary victory in Germany in 22 attempts – a 3-2 success over Bayer Leverkusen eleven years ago. Jupp Heynckes, who won the competition with Madrid as a manager in 1997-98, has never beaten Spanish opposition over two legs.

    To take any kind of significance from this particular history is to be ignorant, however. Mourinho later stated, following his gloriously derisory remarks, that “This will be a different match from the previous ones. Those who play it want to win.

    “History will not play a role. The past is all about meaningless numbers.”

    Max Grieve