On Tuesday, the Champions League returns with a semifinal pairing of Bayern Munich and Barcelona, this season's top two teams in Germany and Spain, respectively. Without thinking too hard, one could easily argue that these are the top two teams in Europe.
Barcelona features in the semifinals of Europe's elite continental competition for a record sixth consecutive year. The achievement adequately describes Barcelona's reign over European football during the Lionel Messi era.
Pep Guardiola managed Barcelona over the past four seasons, leading the Catalan club to two Champions League trophies before taking a year sabbatical – probably to get away from Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. With his batteries recharged, Guardiola agreed to take over Bayern Munich at the start of next season.
As fate would have it, Guardiola's former club drew his future club in an exciting semifinal fixture.
Whereas Guardiola became first-team manager of Barcelona after the Spanish giants had finished third in La Liga and failed to win any trophies, Bayern's situation is far different ahead of Guardiola's official arrival over the summer.
This season, Bayern has won a record 26 matches in the Bundesliga, and its 19 clean sheets is level with the all-time record. Furthermore, this season's German champions – currently leading the league by 20 points – have already leveled the all-time record for overall points, and Bayern still has four matches remaining in the domestic campaign.
Added to all that, Bayern is in the German Cup final and in the semifinals of the Champions League, so there is a legitimate chance of completing the treble under lame-duck coach Jupp Heynckes. If Bayern wins three trophies, Guardiola may not only inherit the best team in Europe, but he may also inherit the team with the best financial structure in football.
Following a heartbreaking loss in the Champions League final, Bayern purchased Dante from Borussia Monchengladbach to fill a need at the center back position, added Xherdan Shaqiri to provide depth at winger, purchased Javi Martinez to bolster the middle of the park and acquired Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro to upgrade the striker position.
Off the pitch, Bayern Munich has not experienced a financial loss in 20 years. Unlike Arsenal – a club constantly linked with financial frugality – in the Premier League, Bayern is competitive in Europe and wins trophies domestically. Since 2010, Bayern has finished runner-up twice in the Champions League. Over the past 10 seasons, Bayern won the Bundesliga five times.
Much like Barcelona, Bayern has a strong youth structure that produced Tuesday's probable starters Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller. Barcelona has also been able to maintain a profitable financial model due largely to a television deal that allows the two biggest clubs in Spain to take home a significant chunk of the pie.
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In Germany, the television revenues are not nearly as cutthroat and lopsided as Spain. However, Bayern's youth system, ticket sales, kit deal and intelligent transfer activities earned the Bavarians the fourth-highest revenues of all soccer clubs at the end of the 2012 season, according to Forbes.
On the pitch, Barcelona and Bayern Munich regularly put out two of the best European football teams in the world, but both Champions League semifinalists also offer models of success in the future world of Financial Fair Play.
Guardiola made a like-for-like switch from Barcelona to Bayern, but before he can take over control, the Champions League semifinals offers a glimpse into two of the best run clubs – on the pitch and in the boardroom – going head-to-head.
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