A Power Shift in European Football
After their astounding 8-2 victory over European heavyweights Barcelona in Friday night’s Champions League quarter final, Bayern Munich have established themselves as Europe’s most feared team. Jack Donnelly looks at how the club have arrived at this point, looking at performances both on and off the pitch.
Unfathomable. Mind-blowing. Incredible. Many more words like these can be used to summarise Bayern Munich’s 8-2 dismantling of Barcelona in Friday night’s Champions League quarter final. The German giants were ruthless, yet stylish as they picked Quique Seiten’s side apart, leaving players, staff and spectators around the globe dumbfounded. This match will be a talking point for years to come for a variety of reasons, but the one thought that I was left with as the full-time whistle blew was something that took me by surprise – Bayern Munich have become the most feared team in Europe.
Now, I understand that this is a very bold claim to make, especially with Liverpool’s rise during Jurgen Klopp’s tenure and with both Juventus and, supposedly, Barcelona being constant threats through Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi respectively. However, since the start of the 2010s, few teams have matched the rise and subsequent dominance of Bayern in domestic and European competitions.
Bayern have achieved utter dominance in the Bundesliga, winning eight consecutive league titles with little to no concern. In those eight seasons, the club has completed four doubles, winning the DFB Pokal in 2014, ’16, ’19 and ’20. They went one step further and got their hands on the treble in 2013, becoming the first German team to achieve such a feat. Die Roten avenged their heart-breaking defeat to Chelsea in 2012 by establishing themselves as the best team in Germany, defeating fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final. To put it simply, if a player joins Bayern, expect them to leave with a few winners’ medals around their neck.
Of course, trophies are never easy to get your hands on. For a club to maintain such a consistent level of success over the past decade, things behind the scenes will need to run like clockwork. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the former Bayern forward, chairs the club and under his watchful eye, his club has become the most dominant force in football. Rummenigge has built up and ingrained a winning mentality at the club and has no problem in letting people go if things aren’t working out.
Take this past season, for example. Rummenigge realised that things had stopped clicking under then-manager Nico Kovac and, following a 5-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in November, Rummenigge decided that enough was enough and replaced Kovac with Hansi Flick, who has brought the absolute best out of an already exceptional squad, with Alphonso Davies being transformed from a winger into one of the top full backs in the world through Flick’s coaching.
Considering that Kovac had won the double only a year prior, this may have been a questionable decision. But that decision encapsulates success at a footballing superpower – if you cannot keep replicating the same level of success, you will be looking for a new job very quickly. Bayern are happy to bring in anyone who they deem more likely to bring success – Jupp Heynckes was fired after Bayern’s historic treble-winning season, all because the club’s hierarchy wanted to bring Pep Guardiola to the Allianz Arena. When Guardiola left at the end of his three-year contract, Carlo Ancelotti replaced him. Bayern are strictly business when it comes to appointing managers, as they look for someone to utilise the squad to the best of their abilities.
With the squad in mind, Bayern have had a reputation for being able to replace their best players with fresher models with an astonishingly positive result. Players stay at Bayern as long as they can (realistically, why wouldn’t they?) and the club always makes sure they remain part of the team’s plans. Take both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. ‘Robbery’ spent a combined 22 years at the club, winning 17 league titles between them in that time. The wingers enjoyed magnificent careers in Germany, with Ribery in particular standing out, placing third in the 2013 Ballon d’Or behind Messi and Ronaldo.
As it became increasingly obvious that the duo planned on leaving the club in the near future, the club reacted and brought in Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry in the summer of 2017 – two years later, when Robben and Ribery decided to move on, both Coman and Gnabry were ingrained into the starting team and were both reaching the peak of their powers.
This is a common theme at the club – bringing in young, talented players to grow them into ready-made replacements when the older players are past their peak. When Phillip Lahm retired, Joshua Kimmich rose through the ranks and slotted in perfectly. With Jerome Boateng’s stock falling, Niklas Sule arrived to maintain a solid backline. However, there has been no greater signing that Bayern have made in the last ten years that the replacement for Claudio Pizarro – Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski has been monumental for Bayern ever since arriving in the summer 0f 2014 after his contract at Dortmund had concluded. The Polish striker had already proven himself with Dortmund, but Bayern unleashed his full potential and are continuing to do so now. In the six seasons that he has spent in Munich, Lewandowski has topped the league for goals scored in four of them, going above and beyond this season with a staggering tally of 34 goals – averaging one goal a game in the league. Famous for scoring five goals in a nine-minute period against Wolfsburg in 2015, Lewandowski has risen to any task presented to him while wearing the red of Bayern and should feel absolutely robbed by France Football’s decision to cancel 2020’s Ballon d’Or award.
With Bayern doing absolutely everything right when it comes to performances both on and off the pitch, the likes of Real Madrid and, quite clearly, Barcelona have much to fear. I really believe that if Bayern continue on their current path to success, the club will dominate the Champions League for years to come. With the addition of Leroy Sane to an already deadly front-line next season, this is just the beginning for Bayern. Die Glorreichen Tage are on their way.