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Saturday shoppers special

Almost exactly a year ago, round 29 of the Bundesliga season saw Dortmund play Bayern and Schalke take on Leverkusen.

Back then, Ailton was the league's leading scorer, Schalke languished just outside the UEFA-Cup slots and Germany's best referee, Markus Merk, was in charge of the game in Dortmund.

Some things, then, don't change. But others do.

A year ago, Bayern were running away with the title and Dortmund flirting with the Champions League, now they are desperately trying to make the best out of a disappointing campaign.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, were threatened with relegation and about to change coaches yet again last April, today they are mounting a final attack on third place.

But what is really new about those two ties is that they have taken on elements of a catwalk performance. Leverkusen versus Schalke and Dortmund versus Bayern are no ordinary games; they have a long history, peppered with scandals, of being fiercely contested and hotly debated.

Yet on Saturday it will be about transfers and money as much as about goals and cards.

The reason Markus Merk will be officiating Dortmund versus Bayern for the third time in a row is that no other referee seems capable of doing so.

Oh, he did sent off a Dortmund player before half-time in November and awarded the same team a game-winning penalty last April - but that's not even noteworthy compared with what went on before.

In late 2002, for instance, Dortmund led 1-0 at Bayern, then the young referee Michael Weiner red-carded Torsten Frings and Jens Lehmann, who was replaced in goal by the towering striker Jan Koller, as the visitors had used up their substitutions. (Arsenal fans might be interested in the fact that Koller kept goal for twenty-four minutes and didn't concede a goal. It led some Dortmund fans to demand coach Matthias Sammer should consider having Lehmann and Koller swap positions permanently.)

Another not very sporting sporting contest between the two teams took place in April of 2001.

Eleven players were booked and three sent off, which made for a colourful new league record.

Fresh in people's minds is also the highly entertaining free-for-all that made headlines in 1999.

Bayern came back from a two-goal deficit with ten men, then Kahn saved a point by doing the same with a penalty.

Yet he shouldn't have been on the pitch anymore, since he had (in order of appearance): grabbed Andreas Möller by the ear to shake his head, attempted to bite Heiko Herrlich in the neck, attacked Stephane Chapuisat with a kung-fu kick that would have done Cantona proud.

Kahn wasn't even booked, though two other players had, naturally, taken showers early.

As you can see, the two teams are not exactly fond of each other. What's more, both will have to play for three points on Saturday.

Yet the rah-rah in the build-up to the encounter was about loose change rather than loose screws.

That's because Dortmund are finding themselves in the bizarre situation of having to convince their bitter rival to buy a few players from them.

Torsten Frings: The man most wanted by Bayern Munich.
Torsten Frings: The man most wanted by Bayern Munich.

Unless the Ruhr club manages to earn between 20m and 30m Euros from transfers, its license for professional football could be in grave danger.

In Germany, only Bayern Munich are in a position to part with real money, which is why Dortmund's Dede, Tomas Rosicky and Sebastian Kehl have all been linked with the Munich giants over the past weeks.

The new main target, however, is midfield dynamo and all-rounder Torsten Frings.

Frings is the one player Dortmund's coach Matthias Sammer doesn't want to lose ('unless some maniac comes around and offers a fantastic sum,' as he's whispered into the general direction of Roman Abramovich), he would much prefer to sell his young Czech playmaker Rosicky.

But Frings is also the one player Bayern want, as Uli Hoeness has made very clear: 'Maybe Dortmund will come to realise that they can't sell any player with a profit, apart from Frings. Or does anyone think there's somebody on earth who wants to buy Rosicky?'

Ouch. That hurt. And maybe that's why Rosicky is itching to play on Saturday, even though he's not fully reovered from a forearm fracture.

Like I said, a catwalk.

The tendering of talent won't be quite as shameless in Schalke's spanky new arena, but it's definitely on the agenda.

For many years, Leverkusen were among the league's biggest spenders, but now they have to offload personnel to make ends meet. The contract of Oliver Neuville, a German international, will not be extended, and Yildiray Bastürk, a Turkish international, looks set to leave for Bremen.

Yet what Leverkusen are really after is a transfer in the 15m Euros bracket, and that can only mean selling Brazilian international Lucio. Real Madrid could use a defender, it seems, and Barcelona are loosely interested.

The funny aspect of this springtime bazaar is that Leverkusen are extolling their goods against an opponent they used to humble both economically and on the pitch.

There was the day in October of 1993, when Schalke lost 5-1 at Leverkusen.

It was 3-0 at halftime, and the Schalke fans were booing their keeper so much that he was substituted and immediateley fled the scene, going home alone on a train. His name was Jens Lehmann.

Around that time, Schalke were almost 10m Euros in the red and feared demotion to amateuer football. Two and a half years later, their financial situation was less dramatic, but Leverkusen still annoyed them:

Markus Merk will be patrolling his regular Dortmund-Bayern beat.
Markus Merk will be patrolling his regular Dortmund-Bayern beat.

On April 9, 1996, Bayer earned a famous point at Schalke, when they were down to nine men after 28 minutes and down to eight after 63!

Yet today Bayer are linked with players such as Carsten Jancker, if you remember him, while Schalke have already signed Bremen's Ailton and Krstajic as well as Stuttgart's Bordon and are in talks with Mark van Bommel of PSV Eindhoven.

It seems safe to assume they will only have a fleeting glance for Leverkusen's assortment on Saturday.

  • Uli's history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.