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Football Rivalries: Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund | Der Klassiker

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There are very few football rivalries whose roots lie in a contrived sense of one-upmanship and an unadulterated desire for success rather than geographical proximity, class divide, religious fractures or political fault lines.

The animosity between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund- which embodies itself in the fixture now called Der Klassiker- is one such contest that has managed to grow in intensity despite the absence of the traditional components that make a football rivalry.

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Taking its name from El Clasico in Spain, Der Klassiker was a term initially applied to a number of fixtures in German football but is now largely used to describe a clash between two of the most successful clubs in the Bundesliga. The fixture may come without the toxicity and political hostility of its La Liga counterpart but both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund fans are now beginning to take the rivalry to a whole other level.

The origin of Der Klassiker

It is difficult to establish the exact beginnings of Der Klassiker as Borussia Dortmund only emerged as genuine competitors in the 1990s. Before then, it was the original German Klassiker between Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach that dominated the footballing landscape in the country.

Borussia Dortmund may have won their first-ever game against Bayern Munich in October 1965 but the fixture was largely dictated by the Bavarians until the 1970s as they won 11 of their 21 league encounters, with their opponents only registering six wins. The fixture became a much more balanced affair in the 1980s: while BVB established four victories in 20 Bundesliga outings, their Munich opponents’ claimed seven wins.

The next decade witnessed Borussia Dortmund’s drastic improvement as they lifted back-to-back Bundesliga titles in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons to establish themselves as the chief competitors to Bayern Munich.

What further added to this growing momentum was an infamous incident in April 1997 when Bayern skipper Lothar Matthaus accused Andreas Moller of being a ‘crybaby’ by mockingly wiping tears off the Dortmund midfielder. The latter reacted by slapping his opponent across the face, thereby triggering an atmosphere of impassioned fury within the Westfalenstadion.

The growing hostilities culminated at the end of the season when the Black and Yellows lifted the UEFA Champions League title after defeating Juventus 3-1 at the Olympiastadion- Bayern Munich’s home ground.

A series of other incidents continued to fuel the burgeoning rivalry, with Oliver Kahn’s flying kung-fu kick at Stéphane Chapuisat in the 1998-99 season one of the many episodes that have earned a place in the annals of Der Klassiker.

The intensity of the derby can also be remembered by what is now known as the most ill-disciplined game in Bundesliga history. On April 2001, Bayern Munich ended an intensely-fought match against Borussia Dortmund with nine men while their rivals ended it with ten. A total of 14 cards were shown as the two sides saw out a 1-1 draw at the Westfalenstadion.

BVB’s bankruptcy, the unlikely Samaritan and Der Klassiker’s diminishing popularity

Der Klassiker took a drastic popularity hit when poor financial management led Borussia Dortmund to the brink of collapse in the early 2000s. The Black and Yellows were unable to pay salaries to either staff or players and even had to sell their stadium to cover expenses.

In a move that has since been viewed as an indication of Der Klassiker’s lack of classic sporting enmity, Bayern Munich gave their rivals a €2 million loan to help them cover some of their expenses in the succeeding months. This decision, believed to be the lifeline that bailed BVB out of bankruptcy, was heavily mocked by supporters, who were now convinced that the animosity between the two sides was contrived for entertainment.

This belief, coupled with Die Schwarzgelben’s weakness on the pitch, saw the fixture’s popularity drop significantly, with the Bavarians becoming predictably and overwhelmingly dominant, sweeping several titles in the absence of any competition from their perceived rivals.

The arrival of Jurgen Klopp and the revival of Der Klassiker

The resurrection- or some would say the ‘true birth’- of the modern Klassiker coincided with Borussia Dortmund’s appointment of the charismatic Jurgen Klopp, who gradually transformed the disgraced former champions into lethal title contenders once again.

BVB enjoyed a balanced campaign under the German tactician as they finished sixth in the Bundesliga in his first season at the helm. Meanwhile, their Munich rivals suffered a dismal run under new manager Jürgen Klinsmann and subsequently lost their league title to Wolfsburg.

Louis van Gaal took charge of the Bavarians in the succeeding campaign and led them to the Bundesliga title while also dominating their Dortmund adversaries in Der Klassiker. They completed the double over BVB that season, which includes the famous 5-1 away rout during which Thomas Müller scored his first two Bundesliga goals.

What followed, however, was perhaps the turning point in the history of the Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund rivalry as Klopp’s dynamic tactics, coupled with the bargain signings of players like Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa, led the Black and Yellows to back-to-back Bundesliga titles in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. They also won their first-ever double at the end of the second title-winning campaign after beating the Bavarians 5-2 in the final of the DFB-Pokal.

The Dortmund giants defeated their Munich rivals five times across those two seasons, thereby breaking their stranglehold in domestic football and putting themselves on equal footing with their adversaries.

Bayern Munich endured the humiliation and came back stronger the following season as they enjoyed one of the most historic campaigns in football history. They became the first German club to claim the treble that term, winning the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the UEFA Champions League under Jupp Heynckes. What further added to their joy was the fact that they clinched the coveted European trophy by establishing a 2-1 victory over BVB themselves in what was the first all-German final in the competition’s history.

A flagship fixture of German football

Bayern Munich may have won seven of the nine Bundesliga titles in the recently-concluded decade but the intensity of Der Klassiker is unlikely to diminish anytime soon as Borussia Dortmund continue to pose a threat to the Bavarians’ dominance in Germany.

The fixture remains one of the most anticipated and hotly-contested games in Europe and while the nature of the animosity between the two clubs has long been questioned, there lies no doubt that Der Klassiker will go down in history as an era-defining rivalry in Bundesliga.

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