Tag Archives: Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich: some thoughts (from Offside Column 381)

A GLORIOUS AFFIRMATION of the Bundesliga’s supremacy was enjoyed at Wembley on Saturday night as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund produced the most thrilling European Cup final since Liverpool beat AC Milan in 2005.

The previous same-country fi nals had all been relative disappointments: Real Madrid-Valencia in 2000 (thrashing); AC Milan-Juventus in 2003 (tedious); Man United-Chelsea in 2008 (tense but technically wanting). This was the exact opposite. Everything we wanted it to be.

The whirlwind intensity of Dortmund’s opening half-hour was matched only, and fi nally surpassed, by the ruthless effi ciency Munich displayed in the second period. It is quite rare to see so many players perform at their peak in a game of such magnitude, but Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez, Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels did just that, as Wembley witnessed a majestic spectacle of technical mastery at blinding speed, fused with spell-binding colour and noise in the stands.

An almost perfect final, Robben’s sensational winning goal a relative downside, as it robbed us of an extra half-hour. Should Bayern complete the treble – as they are overwhelmingly expected to – against Stuttgart in the German Cup Final this weekend, manager Jupp Heynckes will leave at the crest of the greatest wave one could possibly conceive.

Ever-underrated, Heynckes has conducted three managerial campaigns in the Champions League, winning it twice and fi nishing second once. Amazingly, he has been removed from his position after both victories. Enter now, Pep Guardiola: the man expected to sprinkle magic dust on this already most formidable of enterprises.

Intriguingly, it could be said that ex-Barcelona manager Guardiola faces quite the conundrum in Bavaria. How can he improve upon a treble? Especially one gained in such fantastic style. You can’t perfect perfection. How does Guardiola come in and try to implement his unique style when the old system won everything there was to win?

Might Guardiola’s fi rst day at Bayern Munich resemble Brian Clough’s at Leeds United, as Clough himself replaced a much loved, wildly successful manager in Don Revie? As depicted in ‘The Damned United’, Clough belligerently scolded the assembled Leeds players – reigning league champions, at the time: “Well, I might as well tell you now. You lot may all be internationals and have won all the domestic honours there are to win under Don Revie. But as far as I’m concerned, the fi rst thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest dustbin you can fi nd, because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by cheating.” Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Eddie Gray stared disdainfully in response and Clough lasted 44 days in the job.

Similarly, when Rafa Benitez replaced Jose Mourinho at Internazionale in 2010 after they had won the treble, he barely survived until Christmas following an ill-advised campaign to undermine Mourinho’s achievements and the players he felt were still loyal to the Portuguese manager.

‘Winning everything better’ might be Guardiola’s aim, but can Bayern really win with more panache than they did this year? The league title by a frankly ludicrous 25 points and smashing the Spanish and Italian champions in Europe are staggering achievements. There is nowhere to go from the summit – and most who reach it only linger fl eetingly. The pinaccle of sport is resided at for a good time, not a long time. A monumental task has been left, but one which will be undertaken by a man who has proved himself a monumental figure.

Heynckes’ successes should be celebrated and remembered, certainly. He has just completed a season to rival any, by any team, in history. The one opening for Guardiola is this: no team has ever retained the European Cup since it became the Champions League in 1992. If Guardiola can somehow sustain that immense level of success it might even eclipse his Catalan conquests.

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Europe’s Last Great Footballing Sides: The Common Denominator

I’m unsure what exactly brought this thought to my attention – perhaps the turgid, ‘functional’ dross served up by Manchester United in the last two months – but I became intrigued by the change of footballing philosophy and the way that teams play in the Champions League generation. There have been great football teams in this era like the criminally underrated Milan side of 2003-2007 under Carlo Ancelotti and Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern Munich at the turn of the century; but certainly a paucity of great footballing teams, of which there have only been three true immortals.

In slightly different ways, the youthful Ajax team of 1994/1995, Manchester United’s treble winners of 1998/1999 and the epochal, football-defining Barcelona of 2010-2011 all transcended the trophies they won by winning them with football as it was created to be.

Why were these sides able to break the monotonous predictability of the last fifteen years at the pinnacle of the game? Possibly because of each team’s reliance on a nucleus of home-grown talent who religiously followed a footballing ideology of passing, movement and high-tempo pressure.

Other teams occasionally came close to attaining this exalted status. Real Madrid’s Galacticos were probably able to reach even greater heights on their day, an utter evisceration of United in the first hour of the Champions League quarter-final in 2003 a particular highlight. That day; Figo, Zidane, Raul and Ronaldo ran riot, but a combination of maddening inconsistency and gargantuan ego slowly killed that team from within.

For those who might suggest one of Arsene Wenger’s incarnations of Arsenal; The Invincibles were still a fundamentally functional side usually reliant on magic from Henry, Bergkamp or Pires to win matches. For a single season they delivered these moments consistently, before they were extinguished permanently as a force at Old Trafford in 2004.

Teams who have succeeded in the Champions League in the last fifteen years have regularly relied on a combination of pragmatism, solid defence and reliance on a special player to bend matches to the force of his will. Examples of this include: Juventus 1996 (Peruzzi, Ferrara & Del Piero), Borussia Dortmund 1997 (Kohler, Sammer & Moller), Milan 2003 (Nesta, Maldini & Shevchenko), Porto 2004 (Carvalho & Deco), Liverpool 2005 (Carragher, Hyypia & Gerrard), United 2008 (Ferdinand, Vidic & Ronaldo) and Internazionale 2010 (Lucio, Samuel & Sneijder). Ultimately, I suppose the formula doesn’t matter as all these teams actually lifted the trophy, a staggering achievement in itself; but in order to be truly timeless, there must be something more.

All Champions League winning teams are equal, but some are more equal than others. Occasionally the afore-mentioned sides rose above this monotonous template for winning the tournament, but they are certainly a level below these particular merchants of buckle and swash: Ajax, Man United and Barcelona.

Man United 1998/1999

Manchester United 98/99, controversially, might be the least of these three teams; with the most imports (Schmeichel, Johnsen, Stam, Irwin, Keane & Cole) and playing a slightly different style of football to the totalvoetballing Ajax and Barcelona. Their home-grown stars: Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville Brothers, may have bestridden the peak of the game for nearly a decade but this was undoubtedly their Everest. While they may have been inferior to the other two sides in some regards, United regularly had to go to the very limits of endurance and human desire – a place where Ajax and Barcelona never had to venture.

Always true to United’s attacking heritage, the 1999 team might be the greatest British style team of all time. Fast, strong, powerful, quick in possession, devastating on the counter attack and from set-pieces, blessed with the most indefatigable self-belief and determination any side has ever had, and with the best balanced midfield in history (crosser, destroyer, passer, dribbler – work it out) they defined a generation of English football with their careering, cavalier, score-one-more-than-the-opposition philosophy. A reincarnation of Brazil in 1982, but with better results.

Ajax 1994/1995

Ajax of 94/95 were slightly different again. Their team was made up of Dutch disciples (and Jari Litmanen) of the Church of Cruyff at differing stages of their footballing maturity, who combined to produce one of the greatest seasons in football history. The youthful exuberance of Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars; the footballing intelligence of the De Boer brothers and Edgar Davids; was all supplemented by a totemic goalkeeper: Edwin Van Der Sar, and the immense experience of Frank Rijkaard and Danny Blind.

Undefeated league champions and undefeated European champions in the same season; neither United nor Barcelona can match this. A late Kluivert goal helped beat an AC Milan who were probably improved on paper from the side who throttled the Dream Team 4-0 in the previous years’ final.

However, the piece-de-resistance for Ajax was an annihilation of Bayern Munich in the second leg of the Champions League Semi-Final. According to The Independent’s match report Ajax were an ‘inexorable tide’ who ‘recalled the pomp of their 1970’s prime’ with a rampant display of attacking potency. A double from Litmanen and goals from Finidi George, Ronald de Boer and Marc Overmars in a 5-2 victory laid the foundations for their eventual success in Vienna against Milan.

Barcelona 2010/2011

Barcelona under the management of Pep Guardiola have taken the ideal of pass and move to another level. Their patented tiki-taka is Johan Cruyff’s footballing vision on speed. While I have previously suggested that their 08/09 version may have actually been slightly more effective, the Barcelona of 2010/2011 is received wisdom’s greatest Guardiola side – and at its absolute strongest, filled with eight academy products. An astonishing statistic.

The club academy La Masia produced the utterly supreme midfield comprising Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets; a talismanic captain in Carles Puyol; the best footballing centre-half in the world – Gerard Pique; ‘keeper Victor Valdes, a stopper and starter of attacks; and the hugely underrated Pedro – one of the best exponents of off the ball running and finishing in the world.

However, Barcelona have also been graciously blessed with that truly special player that neither United nor Ajax actually possessed. As one of the all-time greats – possibly just behind Maradona and Pele; possibly beside them already – the majestic Lionel Messi transforms Barcelona from a great club side into the greatest club side.

Conclusion

The argument is not that these teams produced their transcendent football on the biggest stage – Ajax needed a late winner to beat Milan in 1995 and United floundered for 89 minutes against Bayern in the Camp Nou – but that they sustained this elevated level of performance for a sufficient period of time for it to become trademark.

So why the lack of spectacular footballing teams in this Champions League generation? Is it the inclination towards pragmatism and the birth of the Dunga/Deschamps/Makelele position? Or possibly the exorbitant sums of money that clubs – Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Internazionale, latter-day United – spend striving to achieve the ultimate goals instead of promoting from within; something that Ajax, Manchester United and Barcelona all did with the reward of sporting immortality.

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