Spain’s “Clásico” is the ultimate clash not just because it contains two of the game’s most famous and successful clubs, but because it provides a clash between Spanish imperialism and the Right on one hand, and Catalan regionalism and the Left on the other. Politics, culture and sport all intertwine at the very highest level of football.
Other countries’ equivalents do not match it because they lack this mix – Milan-Juve, Liverpool-United and Benfica-Porto all combine their countries’ two most illustrious teams in terms of national and European titles, but do not provide the same mix of politics and culture.
This brings us to the peculiar case of Germany, where the “Klassiker” involves Bayern and a team from the west or north which rotates every so often. In the ’70s, Borussia Mönchengladbach was the rival (and even this season was one of only four teams to take points off Bayern in the Bundesliga); then the northern rivals of Hamburg and Werder Bremen took turns at it; before the rivalry shifted west again, this time to Borussia Dortmund.
This is a serious rivalry – Bayern Munich contains the name of the State in which Munich is contained in its name (“Bayern” is German for “Bavaria”); Borussia Dortmund contains the Latin name for “Prussia”, which covered most of the north and west of the country (and Dortmund, despite lying inland, was also associated with the medieval Hanseatic trading league alongside Hamburg and Bremen). Instantly, therefore, this is a historic culture clash.
Germany has also changed dramatically regionally in recent years, even leaving aside the “new States” (the former East). In the ’70s, Mönchengladbach represented the prosperous industrial west against the poorer, agrarian Bavarians. That has changed remarkably, with the prosperity gap between North and South now in fact greater than the gap between West and East – in favour of the South. Bavaria – home of Siemens, BMW and Audi among many others – scarcely experienced the German recession of the early 2000s and has emerged among the most prosperous places in Europe; meanwhile the Ruhrgebiet, an urban conglomeration the size of Greater London in which Dortmund is located, has suffered post-industrial decline. Such is the scale of the regional clash, it is quite possible that supporters of Dortmund’s local rival, Gelsenkirchen-based Schalke, will in fact back Dortmund.
On top of all that, there is of course the dialect clash. Bavaria’s First Minister Edmund Stoiber was candidate for German Chancellor a decade ago, but his phraseology, particularly when out on the stomp, left Germans elsewhere bewildered to the extent that some wonder if it cost him the election. Bavarian is closer in fact to Austrian German than anything you would hear in the Ruhr, Hamburg or Berlin, spoken more at the front of the mouth with its most famed footballing example being Franz Beckenbauer. “Ruhrpott” German, on the other hand, can at its most extreme be closer to Dutch than Bavarian.
On top of all of that is the straightforward point that the Ruhr and Bavaria tend to produce most of the German national team. This on-field clash, almost an “internal derby” of sorts, is best illustrated of course by the case of Mario Götze, born in Bavaria but bred in Dortmund, who will play his final game for Dortmund against Bayern, the very team he is joining in the summer.
So, yes, this is not quite the “Clásico”, but it has significant elements of it. One final similarity is that these teams know each other well – this season they have drawn 1-1 twice in the League (Dortmund was the only team Bayern failed to beat in the Bundesliga), and Bayern edged a home cup tie 1-0. With a degree of bitterness surrounding Bayern’s method of approaching Dortmund players and on-field familiarity, the likelihood is this will be a game of few goals – with Bayern the narrow victor.