Manchester United and Bayern Munich collide in clash of corporate machines

Champions League quarter-final has many intriguing features but what fans will be watching is a game of billionaire-ball

Only the hardest heart could fail to feel just a little bit pleased for David Moyes this week as Manchester United inched past Olympiakos in the Champions League and Moyes himself leapt and beamed on the Old Trafford touchline, fists bunched, eyes boggling, whirling around in adrenal bewilderment like a man at a country picnic joyfully swatting midges with an invisible badminton racket. Albeit even in this moment of dawning Moyes-ism there was something jarring, first of all about the team themselves, a zombie revivalist affair that saw United field 11 players who played in defeat on the same ground by Real Madrid 12 months previously.

The only part of the evening that was entirely Moyes was the strangely touching appearance in the last few minutes of Marouane Fellaini, deployed here in a role that required him to hare repeatedly down the touchline towards the corner flag, skinny legs pumping desperately, looming above his pursuers like a very brave, sad, cartoon dandelion being chased by a gang of malevolent Lego men.

This is not to demean a great result, albeit the most striking aspect of making the last eight for the first time since 2011 was the sense of underdog resignation that kicked in the moment United were drawn to face Bayern Munich, the tangible sense of drift behind a club who in recent years had been United's most obvious counterpoint and peer in the northern European corporate footballing mega‑giant stakes.

Ah, yes. Bayern. As enduring club football superpowers go, right now Bayern look pretty much like the anti-United, a club that by general consent has the perfect manager, perfect ownership structure, perfect youth system, wonderful pulsing stadium and, above all, the most perfectly infuriating sense of garrulous wellbeing. Bayern could even clinch another Bundesliga title this weekend if results fall right, tribute to their 23-point lead and a general sense of a rising power that is even now still to pull itself up to its full height.

This kind of über-club domination of domestic leagues is of course increasingly common, and before we sigh at the skewing of the Bundesliga it is worth noting that this time last year United were 15 points clear in the Premier League. Somehow, though, Bayern seem the most boisterously expansionist of all the mega-clubs. There is a bullish kind of energy around the place, to the extent that simply entering the Allianz Arena is to find yourself subjected to a garrulous, personable, all-pervading kind of Bayern-overload. Bayern's fans have a chant where the two ends of the stadium just chant "Bayern! Bayern! Bayern! Bayern!" at each other incessantly and this must be what it feels like sometimes to be a football supporter in Germany, where Bayern are the hand on your shoulder, the voice in your ears, the knot of asphyxiating Bayern-flavoured mulch in your throat as you wake from Bayern-shaped dreams in your Bayern-shaded bed and open your mouth to scream only to find all that comes out is Bayern! Bayern! Bayern! Bayern!

Plus there is also that sense of broader economic inevitability about the Bayern Supremacy, tied as it is to the wider rise of the united Germany, the biggest club in the biggest country in the largest economy that has spawned this insatiable super-club in its great gleaming space-doughnut on the northern fringes of its dedicated regional capital. Bayern may well eat German football. Bayern may even eat itself. But only after it's eaten you first.

And yet, it is hard to feel much beyond weary admiration. The fact is, if anyone has to be Bayern, I for one am glad it's Bayern. Although, I have to declare a bias here having always liked the basic idea of this sporting club whose early members were often students, academics, bohemians, artists or dandies and, above all, where there is lurking somewhere deep down still a familiar central European notion of football as a kind of physical science to be learnt and refined. Jimmy Hogan, one of the founding fathers of central European football, coached in the Netherlands at first and spent a lot of his time imploring his team of bearded university students to give up smoking their pipes and stop talking so much. My grandfather was a professional footballer in Vienna before the second world war at a time when Viennese culture was a woozy, moribund confection of flâneurs, decadents, artists, athletes, dancers, footballers and all the rest.

It is hard not to feel some aspect of this has endured even in the thrumming, corporate megastructure that is modern Bayern. Perhaps the class elements, the peacockish grandeur, the self-congratulatory boom-time quality, are a part of why many do find Bayern a little infuriating, pointing behind the Catalan-style "mehr als ein Fussballclub" at the grand-scale corporate machine that powers all this, the tie-ins with Audi and Adidas, the vast matchday revenues.

But then, this is the thing with modern football. There is no really good or nice way to be successful now. Not when success in football is always so annihilatingly intrusive, its footprint so huge. Germany keeps its sporting jewels close to its chest with its widely praised protectionist rules on ownership but has, in the process, given its domestic league over to the dominate commercial power, just as United have quickly become our own self-funding Bayern-style juggernaut. The Premier League, by contrast, is alive at the top end this season, a distorted field on which arbitrary carbon wealth is free to fight arbitrary carbon wealth.

Bayern versus United has so many intriguing angles to it but all of them are enacted beneath this broader parallel world, England's own chaotic, overblown, outsourced and alienated billionaire-ball, versus the parallel dysfunction of Germany's brilliantly-grooved Bavarian monopoly and the emerging global triumph of Bayern! Bayern! Bayern!

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