Champions League semi-finals mark a power shift but only if the Germans add to, rather than deplete, their squads
The English game may not have noticed, being largely concerned with Luis Suárez and his marauding molars, but there was a coup in European football this week. On successive evenings two German teams not only saw off the best-known names in Spanish football but did so with a relish which suggested that the power structures in the Champions League are about to change.
On Tuesday, Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their semi-final. The following night Borussia Dortmund defeated Real Madrid 4-1. The chances of either deficit being overturned in Spain must be slim and the prospect of an all-German final at Wembley on 25 May is an intriguing one.
A German resurgence is long overdue. Bayern were the last German team to win the Champions League in 2001 when they beat Valencia on penalties. Since then the tournament has been dominated by Spanish, English and Italian sides.
This season the challenge from England and Italy has fallen well short although Manchester United could claim that they might still have been there but for the harsh dismissal of Nani in the second leg of the last 16 when they appeared set for victory against Real. Chelsea, the holders, and Manchester City managed only token appearances and while Arsenal survived the group stage their departure was meek and predictable.
Bayern were anything but meek against Barcelona. Their performance was the very essence of German football even if two of the most influential players, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, came from Holland and France. The combination of technique, speed, instinctive passing and movement, and above all the strength of their teamwork, rolled back the years to the great German teams, club and international, of the past.
The way Barcelona were beaten recalled distant images of the 1954 World Cup final in Switzerland when West Germany faced Hungary, the outstanding team of its generation. Few gave the Germans the merest glimmer of hope. The Hungarians had beaten them 8-3 in the opening group stage. Why should they lose now?
But Hungary, like Barcelona on Tuesday, were slightly off their game. And Ferenc Puskas, like Lionel Messi, had not completely recovered from an injury. So although the Hungarians scored twice in the first eight minutes they were steadily worn down by the opposition's speed, skill and relentless attacking power and were beaten 3-2.
Dortmund's rout of Madrid was virtually an action replay of the match in Munich 24 hours earlier, except that this victory was all about the classical centre-forward play of Robert Lewandowski, who is Tommy Lawton, Nat Lofthouse, Alan Shearer and Robin van Persie rolled into one. If Van Persie's outrageous shot for United against Aston Villa on Monday, when the Dutchman took a ball dropping over his shoulder on the volley, was the goal of the season in the Premier League, then the third of Lewandowski's four on Wednesday, an exquisite drag-back followed by a turn and resounding shot, will have few rivals in the Champions League.
In the wake of these German triumphs against such vaunted opponents, several headlines have spoken of power shifts in European football. It is a reasonable theory backed by exhilarating evidence, albeit with the return legs still to come, and if it could be assumed that Bayern and Dortmund will continue to go from strength to strength while adding fresh faces to their squads, German optimism would be fully justified.
Yet Dortmund went into Wednesday's match knowing that one of their most important players, Mario Götze, was set to join Bayern in the close season for £31.5m with another, Sven Bender, also likely to move. And as Lewandowski was scoring his four goals, one could sense his asking price rising since he will be out of contract after next season, a factor which may also lead to him leaving this summer. While Bayern would appear to be better placed financially, neither club may be able to resist the sort of offers for their players that might come from Spain or England.
If Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, was prepared to pay £50m for Fernando Torres, what might he not lash out for Lewandowski? Of course he could offer Torres in part-exchange, depending on his sense of humour.
Uefa's attempt to curb such excesses through restrictions on debt may make it easier for clubs like Dortmund to hold on to their players but they should not count on it. In Europe the power may be shifting on the field, but the power in the pockets remains unchanged.