Why? For starters, Bayern will have plenty of incentive to attack on its home field, attempting to become the first team to win the European Cup at home since Inter in 1965. What's more, both teams will have a nearly full quiver of creative players. Of the seven players suspended on both teams for the final, all but one (Chelsea's Ramires) are defensive-minded. As long as Chelsea doesn't completely park the bus as it did against Barcelona (and I think Bayern will prevent that from happening with an early goal), this final will be a fun watch for the neutral.
If you want to hear more about the final itself, you can check out SI.com's preview podcast, but for now I wanted to provide a bit more information on one of the finalists. Part of my goal in becoming a full-time soccer writer in 2010 was to learn more about the world's top clubs and present that to the U.S. audience. On my way to Madrid a while back for a story on José Mourinho I stopped for a few days in Munich. I ended up writing about Bayern's star midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger, but I also got an audience at Bayern's international media day with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
A former star forward for Bayern and the German national team (he was twice named European player of the year), Rummenigge, 56, is now the chairman of Bayern Munich and the powerful European Club Association. What makes Bayern Munich special? Here are some of the things I found interesting from our 90-minute round-table conversation (in which Rummenigge spoke fluent English):
• Bayern's tradition of ex-players moving up to the board room is impressive. Bayern has a fascinating mix: It's a financially stable, smartly run SuperClub, and yet it's also led by a powerful board that has included fabulously successful former players such as Rummenigge, Uli Hoeness and Franz Beckenbauer. We've seen plenty of examples of great players who can't hack it as managers or club executives, which makes sense: The skillsets are completely different. So I asked Rummenigge how Bayern has made it work.
"We have a continuity in the club," Rummenigge says. "In the past 40 years we have had just three general directors. Uli Hoeness was nominated general director of the club in the late 1970s, and he was in the club for 30 years in a row. Thanks to him there's a football quality in the management. I never did study because football is maybe not easy to study. I played football and then I had the pleasure to be nominated as [Bayern] vice-president in the early '90s when Bayern was a members club. When we changed the structure into a shareholders company I was nominated as CEO. So I could prepare close to 10 years to do the job I'm doing today."
"I have the impression that many clubs around Europe would like to follow this kind of way, and many tried. In the end, for whatever reason they weren't successful. Maybe it's due to the continuity we always had in the club, and it was easier to do in Bayern than in other clubs."
Bayern has also gotten lucky that its star-players-turned-directors are naturally smart guys who've adapted well to the business world. Hoeness started a thriving sausage-making company, and Rummenigge shows a detailed knowledge of the economics of the sport. But he also can connect with current players due to his background as an athlete.
"I have one big advantage: I always know what the player is thinking about," Rummenigge says, "because I had these experiences in the past when I played football as well. Of course, today my main work is to care about the financial situation."
• Bayern is extremely well-positioned for the future. Bayern has reached two of the past three Champions League finals, so obviously it's competing well on the field these days, but even better fortunes may be on the way. When UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules kick in, Bayern could be one of the big winners in Europe, not least because it isn't saddled with a large debt like so many other top European clubs. "Our 340 million euro stadium, Allianz Arena, is completely privately financed by our club," Rummenigge says. "The big advance today of Bayern Munich is that our infrastructure is strong, not just our team. We invested 25 million euros here [in the team's training facility]."
"From the very beginning, we said if we follow the Italian way or the English way we will always lose, because we don't have that kind of money available. We have no sheik [like Manchester City], no Mr. Berlusconi [like Milan]. We have a completely different situation in Germany and have to find out the best way. That was a wise concept to follow, and today we are a safe club ... Bayern could be the model of the future for many other clubs."
• Bayern's stability includes a balance between smart youth development and targeted buys in the transfer market. As Rummenigge explains it, in the 1990s he and Hoeness wanted to learn how other sports teams did things in different areas. So they hit the road. They visited Ajax to see how its youth academy worked. They visited Manchester United to learn more about merchandising. And they visited the U.S., where they attended the Super Bowl and learned firsthand more about how the Chicago Bulls leveraged the success of Michael Jordan. Then they took those lessons back to Germany.
Now "we are very strong in our youth department with [academy-produced] players like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Holger Badstuber, Thomas Müller and Diego Contento," Rummenigge says. "They didn't cost a penny in transfer fees. We always want to have a strong youth department, because supporters love when players from Bavaria are playing for Bayern Munich. They also love players you can buy, like Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, but you have to find opportunities. We probably never could spend 95 million euros like Real Madrid spent in the case of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, we can spend 24 million like we did for Robben."
The result is a Bayern Munich that is competing for Europe's most prestigious trophies while at the same time positioning itself economically for the future. It's a case study that more and more clubs figure to follow in the coming years.