In the 67th minute against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Mario Mandzukic contested for a ball he was never going to win. He jumped for the ball nonetheless, missed it and went tumbling out of the pitch. The cameras never turned to him and instead continued to focus on a jacketed Lionel Messi on the sidelines.
But therein lay the soulfulness and the passion.
Mandzukic's fall was not noticed by anybody on the pitch; he got up and moved on. But he had given it his all. His winning that ball would have perhaps made no difference to the final outcome; yet, the Croat went for it.
Bayern's victories against Barcelona were easy on the eye; however, the sheer numbers showed just how much these players worked. They outran Barcelona in both legs despite having less possession. They contested every ball; they never let Barca roam around freely. The core of the team which gave it their all has red and blue painted souls. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba and Thomas Müller of course came through the youth ranks.
While the press does not recognize this and neither does many a fan out there, we are witnessing one of the greatest Bayern generations of all time. They are not and will not be as great as the 1970's generation unless of course Guardiola produces miracles and the players don't lose drive. However, if they win the finale, they can well and truly contest the 2000's generation as the second best Bayern of all time.
Three Champions League finals in four seasons is an achievement not to be scoffed at. The medals came but the trophies did not. But, the medals did come. This Bayern generation is really and truly a golden generation despite the lack of the trophies. They have demonstrated their talents too many times to be denied at least this much recognition, especially from the DFB and from the Bundesliga fans.
The Bundesliga fans in recent seasons have been awed by Dortmund's achievements. Again, this Dortmund side is perhaps the second best side in their history and could become the best if they lift up the trophy on the 25th of May (as much as it pains me to say this). They deserve the recognition they are earning at the highest level of the game. More importantly, nobody can begrudge them their place in the final. Most neutrals, as we already know, will be backing Dortmund.
It is perhaps a mere coincidence that two great generations have come together albeit slightly coincidentally. It took Jürgen Klinsmann's disastrous decisions to bring Jupp Heynckes back into the game and Louis Van Gaal to Bayern. It took rejection by Hamburger SV due to the lack of a suit and tie as well as a reduced salary to bring Jürgen Klopp to Dortmund from Mainz. These three managers should duly be credited with much of what's been happening in Bavaria and Dortmund post 2009.
Heynckes' soulful approach is so apparent. When Franck Ribery crossed the ball for Thomas Müller, Heynckes pretended to head it in. His star pupil (okay, his main star pupil is currently injured; Müller is his second star pupil) duly headed the ball into the back of the net for Bayern's third in Camp Nou. Heynckes celebrates every goal as if he has just scored for Borussia Mönchengladbach. Nobody meanwhile can doubt the rugged Jürgen Klopp's passion. He has almost transformed his Mainz soul into a Dortmund one, or at least willingly allowed Hans Joachim Watzke's team to fill up half of it.
It is not just Bayern and Dortmund whose golden generations have come through. Ian Wright mentioned in his commentary for FX today that there is not much going on below Bayern and Dortmund; that is not quite true. Schalke's generation had a great shot at progressing far this season but failed due to management problems. Leverkusen's current crop is a formidable lot having finished in the top five each season between 2009-10 and 2012-13. Borussia Mönchengladbach had a fantastic team last season and still has a good team. Hannover's progress in Europe last season showed us that their current crop is one of their best ever as well.
These are great teams for German football, especially Bayern München. The heartbreak in the past couple of seasons has been accompanied by boundless joys on the way. Bayern would have been almost a guaranteed winner considering their performances this season had any other side been standing in the final. Unfortunately for them, pitted against them is the ‘other' golden generation. There is just that hint of doubt about who the ultimate winner will be. Bayern would be the more deserved winner overall but nobody (aside from us Bayern fans) would begrudge a Dortmund side who came away from financial ruin in 2005 the mother of all club trophies.
Football has come home. In the heartland of where football is said to have its roots, the ‘bronze' generation of Bayern will take on the ‘silver' generation of Borussia Dortmund in a grudge match. For the first time ever, a German team will be guaranteed to bring back silverware from the same stadium where Germany last won its international trophy, Euro 1996. Incidentally, the man who led to the hiring of Van Gaal and Heynckes was the man who lifted it up into the air that night.
The 25th of May could lead to two things. If Bayern loses, despite the coming in of Pep Guardiola and Mario Götze, a beautiful generation run under Heynckes will see its inglorious end. If Dortmund loses, we will see a great generation get picked apart by today's vultures. On the other hand, if Bayern lifts the trophy, it could signal the start of a new great generation which would be capable of competing in the history books with Arrigo Sacchi's Milan, the Bayern of the 70's as well as Inter Milan's great generation to name a few. The same applies for Dortmund, provided Klopp can keep the team together.
Whatever happens on the 25th of May, one thing will not change. German football will not lose its soul. Soul is what has gotten it so far. And without a soul, a great story can simply not be written.