Pierre-Emile Højbjerg splits Bayern defenders, then shows remarkable patience for a 19-year-old. He and his forward, barrel-chested Paraguayan Raul Bobadilla, have broken open on a 2-on-1 of sorts: them vs. embattled Bayern central defender Dante. In basketball, a 2-on-1 should almost always result in two points, but in soccer, you still have to beat the keeper, too. Bayern happens to have the best keeper in the world. Pass to Bobadilla too early and Manuel Neuer, with his 6’4" frame and what seems like a 13-foot wingspan, might swallow up the threat.
With Højbjerg running the break, however, this is of little concern. He keeps dribbling long enough to force Neuer to narrow in on his shooting ability. Then he threads the ball between Dante’s legs, and Bobadilla pokes it into the goal with his heel, a shot not even Neuer can stop. FC Augsburg, 1-0, 71st minute.
Augsburg will hold onto the lead, completing a memorable upset and sending the full, vocal Augsburg section in the corner of Bayern’s Allianz Arena into a frenzy. They will celebrate long after the final whistle sounds, and they will sing, with police escort, in the U-Bahn back to Munich’s central train station.
FC Augsburg fans will forever remember this match, both because it increased their team’s chances of finishing with a high spot in the standings (weeks later, they clinched a spot in a European competition for the first time), and because it’s Bayern. You always remember beating Bayern.
The joke’s on them, though, and everybody else in the Bundesliga. Bayern won the league almost two weeks prior, and they own Højbjerg. He is only with Augsburg on loan, and he is Bayern’s when they want him.
You may beat Bayern Munich today, but you never beat them tomorrow. They are the surest thing in sports.
Bayern’s May form was as poor as it has been in a very long time, but they still won the Bundesliga title, reached the Champions League semifinals for the fourth consecutive year and ‘only’ reached the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) semifinals before losing in a shootout.
The New York Yankees have won 27 World Series championships since 1923; Bayern has won 24 Bundesliga titles since 1969. Fifty years ago, they weren’t even the most significant team in Munich.
Bayern are a young dynasty, one too cognizant of a less glorious past to ever ease off the throttle. They are the best and worst thing for the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga makes its Fox Sports debut on August 14, giving an American audience a chance to watch the vertical, offense-minded league week to week. German teams go for points, a mindset that leads to both aggressive offense and, as a German trademark, the most potent counter-attacks you’ll see.
Without Bayern, there is no Fox Sports deal. Wolfsburg might be one of the most entertaining teams on the planet, but Fox executives didn’t say, "We must have Wolfsburg!" They wanted Bayern.
At the same time, you’re less likely to watch if you already know the outcome. Die Roten have won the last three league titles. They swallow up challengers, taking their best players and, occasionally, their managers. Though not necessarily the case in the present tense, their playing style has at times been more about trophies than aesthetics. Their presence is so heavy that they almost never find a manager who is either willing or able to last more than two and a half years on the job.
Bayern is, like the city in which it resides, everything at once. A conservative monolith with an eye out for new trends. A lucky bastard who needs less luck than everybody else. A tyrant with a deft social conscience. A Porsche and a safe, reliable Volkswagen. A snake and a snake charmer.
Bayern Munich is the supreme ruler of what might be the deepest soccer league in the world. This is how to Bayern.
With a Ribéry wrecking shop in midfield, a winger curls in a lovely ball to a Schweinsteiger, who heads the ball into the visitor’s net. That’s not the first time that’s ever happened in Munich. But this time it’s happening in a pretty old venue.
The night before Augsburg’s visit, another first-team German squad is in town. FC Memmingen is visiting Grünwalder Stadion for a fourth-division tilt against Bayern II. Memmingen are in line for a mid-table finish, but Bayern II is smoking hot; the juniors have gone eight matches without a loss, which is impressive considering the injury-depleted senior team has been pulling up prospects. Würzburger Kickers are still on their way toward winning the league and a spot in the promotion playoff, but Bayern’s juniors have made the race a lot closer than it seemed it would be.
The stadium at Grünwalder Straße is a relic, a concrete box, the type you see throughout lower-level English soccer, too. The sections are more like cattle pens, and on the west end, there’s a manual scoreboard with the old-school watch face for a clock. Because of terracing built in when both Bayern and 1860 München moved elsewhere, you can’t actually see the scoreboard from press row, which is basically a row of seats in the top of the South stands.
Bayern II, the reserve team, is like a Double-A baseball team: a mix of prospects, not-likely-to-be-prospects and career reserves. A lot of Bayern’s most exciting prospects are in the equivalent of high-A ball: the Under-19 team. "They’re buying a lot of young German talent," Phillip Quinn of SB Nation’s Bavarian Football Works tells me. "And I don’t know what they’re going to do with them. They don’t seem really willing to put them with the reserves, which is interesting to me because one of their stated goals has been to get the reserves promoted into the third division. They hired Erik ten Hag to coach Bayern II; he had just earned promotion to the Eredivisie with Go Ahead Eagles, and instead of coaching in [Holland’s top division], he said ‘No, I’ll just go coach in the German fourth division instead.’ Really weird to me."
Though it is a mostly 23-and-under team, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s older brother, 33-year old Tobias, is the captain and requisite father figure. First-team winger Franck Ribéry’s younger brother Steven is playing midfield. After the game, elementary-aged Bayern youth yell "RIBÉRY!!" and "SCHWEINI!!" to them, hoping for an autograph. If you’re Bayern, you’re a hero to somebody, even if you’re not the highest-ranking Bayern in your own family.
A few minutes into the game, after his charges have started slowly, Schweinsteiger is clapping and exhorting as a captain should. It evidently works. Memmingen almost takes the lead in the second minute, thwarted only by a nice save from keeper Leopold Zingerle. In the 18th minute, however, the match suddenly and permanently changes. Winger Herbert Paul curls in a cross for Schweinsteiger, who sends a header into the net.
In the stands, two drunks do exactly what you or I would do: exaggeratedly celebrate as if the goal won the Champions League.
In the 40th minute, it’s all over. Bayern left back Patrick Puchegger uncorks a why-the-hell-not bomb from far outside of the box, and when the stunned Memmingen goalkeeper realizes it’s actually on target, it’s too late to do anything about it. Nikola Jelisic, a solid-looking 20-year-old prospect to my eyes, crosses to Schweinsteiger for a third goal in the 56th minute, and Bayern II cruises.
It is a thoughtless result considering what Memmingen, a town of 40,000 people about 115 kilometers west of Munich, has already given Bayern through the years. Bayern Hall of Famer Franz Roth was born there, as were current Bayern first-teamers Holger Badstuber (signed by Bayern at 13) and Mario Götze (signed from Borussia Dortmund at 20). But such is life. The Memmingen fans who came probably knew what they were getting themselves into.
The 1,500 or so in attendance get what they paid not very much for: a happy, casual Friday night, accompanied by cigarettes (legal in open air), a brat or two, and a beer or three, watching guys in Bayern jerseys — some with familiar names — running around and winning in gorgeous spring weather.
For fans a bit longer in the tooth, however, there is nothing casual about the setting. If you are older than about 55, there’s a decent chance that the first Bayern match you watched, the first time you laid eyes on Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and company, took place in this very venue. This is the stadium Bayern was sharing with 1860 München when Beckenbauer was still a youth player figuring out who he wanted to sign with, and this was the stadium in which he played his first Bayern home game.
My wife and I lived less than a block away from each other in Oklahoma, when she was starting college and I was finishing up high school. We didn’t meet until seven years later, when my grad school roommate tried to hit on her at a happy hour in Missouri, got rebuffed, then said "Hey Connelly, this girl’s from Oklahoma, too!" I was chatting with a friend, probably about sports, and my roommate broke the ice with my future wife for me.
So much of our lives is dictated by simple, random, silly occurrences, hopefully (but not always) of the good kind. We control everything we can in life — education, jobs, relationships — and we try to follow a path and put ourselves in position to succeed, and then complete randomness throws its weight.
Bayern has done as effective a job as any club in the history of team sports when it comes to solidifying gains and maximizing good fortune; there is no denying this. But perhaps the most important, most purely fortunate moment in Bayern’s now-illustrious history had almost nothing to do with them at all. At this point, it is part of soccer lore: Beckenbauer — future World Cup champion as both a player and coach, one of the greatest soccer players of all time in any era — chose Bayern Munich and began Bayern’s dynasty, because a junior-league player slapped him.
It’s a simple story, really: Boy grows up a fan of a big-city team nearby. Boy turns into a star youth player. Boy plays an Under-14 tournament game against his favorite club’s youth team. Boy gets into a scrap with an opposing player. They bump each other and play physically all game. Late in the match, the boy goes in a little late with a little hard tackle. The opposing player jumps up and slaps him in the face. Boy decides he’s going to play for the other team in town.
As Uli Hesse put it in Tor! The Story of German Football, nobody knows who the junior player was, "which is perhaps for the best, because his loss of self-control has had such far-reaching effects that the wrongdoer would certainly still be shunned by a great portion of the football world if we knew who he was." But young Beckenbauer, long a fan of Munich’s working-class 1860 München squad, decided he couldn’t play for any club that allowed such thuggery. So he signed with Bayern in 1959 and convinced his friends to do the same.
It was the ultimate domino effect, and it didn’t stop with the youth class of Beckenbauer, Müller and goalkeeper Sepp Maier, all of whom would go on to become champions and Bayern Hall of Famers. Beckenbauer had a good relationship with Udo Lattek, assistant coach for the German national team, and he convinced Lattek to coach Bayern in the late-1960s when Branko Zebec left. Lattek had connections with high-level German juniors like Paul Breitner and Uli Hoeness and convinced them to come to Bayern instead of 1860, which had received verbal pledges from both. Breitner and Hoeness both became Bayern greats; Hoeness became the club’s general manager and eventually its president.
Because Beckenbauer got slapped in the face, TSV 1860 München, Munich’s original representative when the Bundesliga was formed, went from landing maybe three to five of the best players in German history to landing zero. Their trajectory went from hopeful to sad. They won the DFB-Pokal in 1964, finished as runners up in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965, won the Bundesliga in 1966 … got relegated in 1970 … yo-yo’d between the top two divisions of German football for much of the next three decades … got relegated for the final time in 2004, and spent the last decade in the second division. Their 16th-place, second-division finish in 2014-15 meant that they were forced to go to a playoff with Holstein Kiel to avoid third-division ignominy, and they survived by the skin of their teeth. Their future at the Allianz Arena is in jeopardy — they could at some point in the future find themselves headed back to Grünwalder Straße.
Though Beckenbauer was the catalyst, Hoeness’ impact on the club has been almost as important. When Bayern began to flounder a bit in the late-1970s, as an aging Beckenbauer was plying his trade with Pelé in the NASL, Bayern called on a star-crossed striker to save the day. At just 27 years old, Hoeness was forced to retire from active soccer because of injury, but Bayern made him what is basically their general manager. And despite money issues and a lack of star power, Hoeness’ thrifty acquisitions kept Bayern winning at a high level throughout the 1980s.
Call it whatever you like — it bears mentioning that Bayern-Dusel has its own Wikipedia entry, though every big winner in sports has been called lucky by a frustrated rival — but the monster that is Bayern Munich was built on two separate but equally important pillars: good fortune and the ability to capitalize on it. Players who fell into their lap and were developed far beyond what anybody could have considered their potential. Late-game free kicks or lucky bounces that were sent into the net for championships.
Depending on where you set the bar, the timing has been missing a bit of late. Twenty years from now, the macro version of Bayern’s last two years will tell a pretty happy tale: two Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal win, two Champions League semifinal appearances. But Bayern ran away with the Bundesliga to such a degree in 2013-14 that the Reds took their foot off the gas, lost their timing and got smoked by Real Madrid in said semifinals. This past season, a wave of injuries left Bayern without its top two wingers (Arjen Robben and Ribéry), star left back David Alaba and other big-name players (Javi Martinez, to name one) who were kicking off weeks or months of injury-related rust when it was time to play Barcelona. That Bayern only lost by a 5-3 cumulative score was impressive considering their losses, but it was a sign that even Bayern needs a little bit of good fortune to win trophies. Don’t we all?
We all show off our scars, even if we don’t have as many as others. Bayern fans have theirs, as do Alabama football fans or Duke basketball fans. Losing to Chelsea at home in a shootout in the 2012 Champions League finals was awful. Losing to Manchester United because of two stoppage-time goals in the 1999 final was even worse. But there hasn’t been enough pain to create callouses, the kind that prevent us from believing in miracles. And in each of those two miserable instances, the team won Europe within two years.
In the first leg of the 2015 Champions League semifinals between Bayern and Barcelona, disaster struck die Roten. Barcelona broke a scoreless tie in the 78th minute, then scored again almost instantly. And with Bayern pressing to try to make up a goal in the final minutes, Barcelona scored one more time on a breakaway.
To catch up because of the road goals tie-breaker, Bayern needs to either win the second leg by a 3-0 margin or win by four or more at home. Against what is probably the best team in the world. Fans in the stadium before the game look determined, however, and they have at least a little bit of evidence on their side: in the quarterfinals, Bayern fell behind 3-1 on the road against Porto in the first leg, then scored five goals in 25 minutes en route to an easy 6-1 win at Allianz in the second.
For the purposes of both belief and a friendly clock, Bayern needs an early goal, and everybody in the building knows it. And with just six minutes passed, they get it. After some solid early threats, Bayern earns a corner and defender Medhi Benatia — an unexpected, unmarked target — heads the ball past the right arm of a lunging Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The fans facing the goal in the deep recesses of Allianz Arena’s upper deck get a straight-away view of the score, perhaps even knowing it is in a split second before everybody else. And their celebration is as if their team had just taken the lead.
This is chaotic. The largest stadiums aren’t guaranteed to give you the best atmosphere — just ask anybody who’s attended a Michigan home game recently — but the strange bubble that is the Allianz Arena floats off of the ground. The Marienplatz, the default home to all title celebrations, was packed with both Bayern and Barcelona fans just hours earlier. Almost completely vacant now, the roofs of the bars in the surrounding area will still go shooting into the sky.
Even this neutral observer, when-in-Roming it with a Bayern shirt on in the upper reaches of the Allianz, starts to believe. This comeback is happening.
It doesn’t, of course. Bayern’s defense springs a leak just eight minutes later against the scariest set of offensive players in the world. Neymar to Messi to Suarez to Neymar past Neuer. Instead of needing two goals to tie, Bayern now needs four goals to win. Because of the level of outright belief in the crowd, this is as much of a stomach punch as you’ll ever witness in a game with 75 minutes remaining. The poor kid a row in front of me collapses into his seat, head in hands, for a couple of minutes.
But this crowd shouldn’t have believed such a comeback was possible in the first place. That they did was created by both history and geography.
"Munichen" means "by the monks," and Munich’s mere existence feels blessed by a higher order. It has survived typhus and siege and the birth of the Nazi party, and it rebuilt and moved toward thriving each time. It has seduced the conservative and the progressive, the religious and the agnostic. It boasts tradition and progress. It has won over Lenin, Hitler and generations of Americans who hate Lenin and Hitler.
Both Bayern and Munich wear you down until you admit that you’re impressed.
Bayern’s four league titles between 1969 and 1974 were just the lucky consequences of having Beckenbauer (and some friends) fall into their lap? Fine, but they also won seven between 1980 and 1990 and eight between 1997 and 2008 and four between 2009 and 2015 and they won five European championships and 16 DFB-Pokal titles since 1966 and they have no debt and — "Okay, fine, they’re brilliant."
It’s the same with the city itself. Even if the Marienplatz and Glockenspiel don’t do much for you, and even if you decide that all old churches look the same, you’ll find something that knocks you backwards. The Odeonsplatz, maybe. The Englischer Garten. The lions and the hoss of a knight that stand watch at the Feldherrnhalle. And what about the BMW museum? And if you don’t love bratwurst or weisswurst, the local specialty, then there’s every other type of wurst you could want, as well. (My favorite: currywurst.) If sausage isn’t your thing, then the Italian restaurants are incredible; Italy’s not far away, after all. The handmade gnocchi at Bei Raffaele north of old town, complete with the seltzer water and snobby waiters? Wunderbar.
Munich could easily be boring. The crime rate is low. The beer is exactly as good and available as you think it is. Wherever you want to go, there’s a U-Bahn station within a couple of blocks. Everybody speaks English better than you speak German; if you stumble over a German word or hesitate, they just switch to English for you, a move that is both polite and passive aggressive. It is as risk-free as a foreign city can be.
Part of that is the nature of Bavaria, generally considered the most laid back area of Germany. Part goes back to post-war occupation — the U.S. took this area and was infinitely less forbidding and vengeful than the Russians (who had just lost approximately 20 million of their citizens to World War II) and the French (who had a justifiable score to settle after being attacked by Germany twice in three decades).
But there are also some oddities — the protests (teacher’s unions, marijuana, meat), the strange, makeshift, well-maintained Michael Jackson shrine outside of a hotel he used to frequent. Munich is a city of convergence, a mix of tradition and progression, of lederhosen and high fashion, of buskers playing accordion music for older clientele in the morning and "Country Roads" for drunk Americans in the evening, of giant old St. Michael’s Church and the Urban Outfitters invading its personal space next door.
It is also a city of great size.
For clubs in almost every other German city, not even 50 years of success would create the level of attendance and revenue Bayern celebrates. Munich is the third-largest city in the country, behind only Berlin and Hamburg; the metropolitan region contains nearly six million people, more than Hamburg’s, and Berlin’s nearly complete lack of historical club success has made Munich the de facto German capital of the sport.
That has helped Bayern in a couple of obvious ways. First, it produces talent.
Of the nine Bayern Hall of Famers who starred for the team in the 1970s and 1980s, eight were born and/or discovered within 200 kilometers of Munich. Of the 12 Germans on Bayern’s 25-man roster last spring, five were acquired by Bayern before their 14th birthdays, and five more were born relatively close to the city. Local talent tends to be cheaper to acquire than talent from further away; you get in on kids when they are teenagers and cost far less than they would when they are 23-year-old stars. And you obviously don’t have to travel as far to scout them. That Bayern has money means they can afford to purchase high-priced performers, from both inside the country (Götze, Neuer) and out (Robben, Ribéry, Martinez, and most recently Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa). But signing so many cheap, young, high-caliber players means they don’t have to run up debt to get the big guns.
A bigger area also produces more fans. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Yankees are based in New York and not North Dakota, and the Lakers have clearly benefited from their place in the country’s second-most significant (and most glamorous) city. If FC Augsburg were to have made all of the good decisions Bayern made through the years, they still wouldn’t have had the ticket and sponsorship revenue to keep all of the good players for as long. You can succeed while selling all of your good players, but it requires about three times as many good decisions.
Living in a city as large as Munich doesn’t guarantee success — just ask Hertha Berlin or Hamburg or, yes, 1860. But it offers more margin for error. And if you can make solid decisions in times of financial difficulty, like Hoeness and Bayern did in the 1980s, you can recover and thrive in far less time.
Dringlichkeit und Infrastruktur
There is a hill overlooking most of Munich’s Olympic park, and aside from the Olympiaturm — the space needle-type structure on the grounds — the view from the top of the hill might be the most comprehensive and expansive in Munich. Face north, and you’ve got the entire Olympic park in one panoramic shot. Glance to your northeast, and you can see Allianz Arena a few kilometers away. Turn to the southeast, and you’ve got all of old town Munich (which is to say all of what people know about Munich). Glance a little bit southwest, and you get a skyline reminder that the Alps aren’t far away.
German ingenuity: this hill is a Trümmerberg. Literal translation: rubble mountain. After acres of Munich were destroyed during World War II, the ruins were piled together here. A couple of decades later, layered over with green and trees, it became a beautiful visual centerpiece for the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Creating light from darkness is a German specialty. In this country, you are never far from something beautiful, and you are never far from a reminder of how things can go terribly wrong. This is the obvious case with Munich itself — from atop war rubble, only a few miles from the concentration camp in Dachau, you watch over gorgeous views from every angle.
This defined the Munich Olympics themselves; the theme of these Games was optimism and a forward-looking view, and the structures themselves, especially the strange tensiles that make Olympic Stadium so unique, were created with the future in mind. But the games are remembered mostly for darkness, for the kidnapping and eventual murder of Israeli athletes at the hands of terrorists.
(You might need a little bit of help from a map, but you can still find the Israeli athletic dorms at 31 Connollystraße. If you’re like me, you might try to take a picture of the quarters but falter and put the camera down. That the former athletic dorms are now functioning student housing, still a place of burgeoning life, is the ultimate in light from darkness.)
There is a tension, an urgency in post-war Germany to prove that the country is not what it once was. The country is measured and open, scarred and optimistic. It has become an economic leader within Europe; while the United States and Soviet Union/Russia spent most of the post-war years getting fat and angry, Germany got to work. It still has plenty of its own issues on the table. The low crime rates in Munich certainly aren’t indicative of those in the rest of the country, and there is still a tangible, literal divide between the former East and West Germanies. Plus, there has been a certain punitive, almost vindictive feel to Germany’s decisions regarding the recent economic crisis in Greece.
But the country remains in so many ways vigilant and cognizant of how others see it.
In 1954, a decade after the war ended, soccer gave German citizens a reason to feel good. West Germany entered the 1954 World Cup with humble expectations but started winning. They beat a seeded Turkey team twice in group play by a combined 11-3 margin. They beat a strong Yugoslavia team, 2-0, in the quarterfinals, then took down neighboring Austria, 6-1, to reach the finals. There, they faced a brilliant, heavily favored Hungary squad that had beaten them, 8-3, in group play. But after Hungary scored two goals in the first eight minutes and shifted into cruise control, West Germany battled back. They scored in the 10th and 18th minutes, and with Hungary reeling and confused by the stark challenge, Helmut Rahn scored in the 84th minute to give the Germans a stunning late win.
This was Germany’s Miracle on Ice, only better: hockey remains a low-major sport in America, far less popular than football, baseball or basketball. Soccer, on the other hand, is life for this and so many other countries.
Bliss emerged from guilt in 1954. The country has to some degree relied on the game to continue creating those opportunities in the 61 years since. Soccer has long been connected to the emotional well-being of this nation, and Bayern, a club whose Jewish president was exiled to Switzerland as both the sport and the Third Reich were gaining footing in the 1930s, appears to work with an urgency similar to that of country overall.
"The first one through the wall is going to get bloody." Chris Anderson, former youth goalkeeper in Germany and co-author of The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, is discussing Bayern and change and the role Jürgen Klinsmann’s "failed" tenure at Bayern played in setting the table for the future.
Here’s what failure looks like at Bayern: When Klinsmann was released from his contract late in the 2008-09 season, not quite to the end of his first season in charge, he had won 25 contests and lost 10 with a goal differential of plus-46. In league play, he had 16 wins to seven losses, and Bayern were just three points out of first place when he was sacked. Die Roten had outscored Sporting CP, 12-1, in the Champions League’s first knockout round before falling by a cumulative 5-1 to eventual champion Barcelona (coached by Pep Guardiola) in the quarterfinals. Granted, there was a semi-early loss in the DFB-Pokal (4-2 at Bayer Leverkusen in the quarterfinals), but these results actually aren’t too shabby. And really, results weren’t at the heart of his dismissal.
"If you think about Germany as a country — conservatism vs. progressivism in the culture and within the regions of the country — Bayern and Bavaria," says Anderson, "it’s the South. It’s conservative. It was originally deeply Catholic. ‘We know what we’re doing, we do things a certain way, we don’t mess with it.’ And because it’s football, they’re probably even more conservative. They didn’t want to change too quickly. But they needed to change if they were going to keep pace with the other big European clubs."
Under their last three coaches — Giovanni Trapattoni, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Felix Magath — Bayern had won plenty. They had finished first or second in the Bundesliga 11 times in 13 years, and they had reached the Champions League finals twice, winning once. But European soccer was leaving the club behind. Since winning in 2001, Bayern hadn’t progressed beyond the Champions League quarterfinals and had four times failed to reach even that round. Even with the German national team beginning to thrive with a new generation of younger players (many of whom played for Bayern), the king of the Bundesliga wasn’t doing the same. So Bayern hired the coach of the German national team.
"I don’t think they set him up to fail," Anderson says. "But they knew it was risky. They also knew it was necessary. Klinsmann’s the kind of character who was willing to be the first one through the wall. He had sort of that American can-do spirit that he picked up in the United States, being married to an American. There’s that aspect. He had some funky ideas that weren’t necessarily right, but I think he questioned a lot of things. And that was uncomfortable for a lot of people within the club. He ‘failed,’ but I think what he did was change the culture of the club a little bit. I think things like video analysis and fitness were very big. He brought in American fitness ideas. Some of it took hold — obviously the video analysis part of it continues — but I think they’ve taken advantage of the kind of novelty that Klinsmann brought.
"Klinsmann is doing a similar type of thing for the United States now. He’s questioning everything. How is this structured? Why are we doing this? He’s pushing, pushing, pushing. He seems to like those challenges."
"In my field, every club has at least one match analyst," says Michael Niemeyer, Bayern’s Head of Match Analysis. "But at Bayern, in my department, we have eight people working for the first team." Niemeyer came to Boston in February to take part in the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and his work with not only Bayern, but also the DFB (German football association) and his role in Bayern’s partnership with data giant SAP have made him one of the more well-regarded game analysts in the sport.
"For technical scouting, we now have data for nearly every league in the world," Niemeyer tells me. And thanks to Niemeyer, SAP and others, the club has a better grasp than most on how to use it.
"I came with Klinsmann," Niemeyer tells me. "Klinsmann had a lot of good ideas. The match analysis department without him wouldn’t be there. He started a lot of good things at Bayern, but we were also very lucky to have Louis Van Gaal after Klinsmann. He is to me the godfather of match analysis. But it wasn’t just the matches — Arjen Robben, he came to us, he was injured a lot. But what Van Gaal did was, he used technology and monitored him and found out that Arjen was training too much. If the other players are training 30 minutes, he is training an hour." Robben suffered a couple of unlucky injuries in 2014-15, but before then he was enjoying perhaps the most sustained period of good health of his career.
"It was also fantastic to work with [Van Gaal’s successor] Jupp Heynckes — he took what Van Gaal had used in this area and took it to another level. And now Pep. What makes us successful in this regard is that we had the right coaches in the right order." Klinsmann was the instigator, destined not to hold the job very long. But his successors built on some of his good ideas. Bayern knew what it needed, whether the club wanted change or not.
As noted in Tor!, the Daily Mail have called Bayern the parasites of football. About the club, famed former Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp once said, "Bayern go about football in the same way that the Chinese go about industry: they look at what the others are doing, and then they copy it with other people and more money. And then they overtake you."
Part of having more money, better facilities, a grand history and a bigger city at your disposal is that you don’t ever have to worry about underdog tactics, about coming up with a way to beat the big boys. You can let others do the experimenting. Sure, you want to stay on the cutting edge when it comes to training, scouting, etc., but when it comes to winning tactics, you can afford to let others take the risks and figure out what works. And the others don’t have to like it.
Just about every Bundesliga challenger has had to deal with Bayern’s advances at some point, from up-and-comers like Nuremberg and Karlsruhe in the 1980s and early-1990s, to Werder Bremen in the mid-1990s (Bayern hired away 15-year Bremen coach Otto Rehhagel, and even though it seemed like a bad fit for the crusty, media-hating Rehhagel, it immediately put an end to Bremen’s success), to, most recently, Borussia Dortmund.
Klopp’s frenetic gegenpressing style found great success in the late stages of the last decade; BVB won the league in both 2011 and 2012, won the DFB-Pokal in 2012 and reached the Champions League finals in 2013, falling to Bayern because of an 89th-minute Robben goal.
As Dortmund began to pick up steam within the league, Bayern slowly absorbed them, first replicating the pressing style to some degree, then, in a fatal blow, purchasing two of Dortmund’s biggest stars: Götze in 2013 and Robert Lewandowski in 2014.
"Think about the clubs that are selling their players to Bayern," Anderson says. "They probably want to sell to Bayern. They want a customer, right? They can’t keep paying these guys, and these guys probably don’t want to stay at their club. So hey, please take him off our hands."
From a money perspective, this is likely correct. While a lot of players likely have release clauses in their contract — "if a bigger club offers X million Euros for me, you have to accept" — that’s not always the case. But Bayern seems willing to pay a solid, competitive price for your star, and you will probably need to sell him at some point.
This causes a strange incongruity in the perceptions game. The Bundesliga is on one hand the deepest, strongest league in Europe; on the other hand, many of the league’s best players get filtered to one dominant club. How can this be?
"I think [Bayern’s dominance] is totally fine, actually," Anderson says. "I don’t think there’s any research that would suggest that having a dominant team or two is unhealthy for attendance or anything else in the league. It drives interest. Whenever a team plays Bayern at home, they sell out. It’s like playing the Yankees. You want to see your team — the underdog — put one over on the big stars. It gives other clubs something to aspire to, in the sense that they think, hey, maybe one day I can do that.
"I’m not a Bayern fan, by the way. I hated Bayern when I was a kid. Of course I did! I grew up near Cologne, and my club was constantly yoyoing. It was one of those political clubs that could never put it together. So you had to hate Bayern! But it was still good that Bayern was in the league."
Still, the "parasite" label isn’t a particularly attractive one, and the club is attempting to move beyond it. In Pep Confidential, the inside, nearly full-access story of Pep Guardiola’s first season at Bayern (2013-14), author Martí Perarnau talks about what the hire of Guardiola meant for the club.
Bayern could boast a proud history, financial clout, innate self-confidence and a strong fan base. After a glorious run of successes, the future looked bright. They had built their excellence on the virtues that best represent the German character: endurance, unshakeable belief and an iron will. What they lacked was a playing philosophy.
Hoeness and Rummenigge were no longer interested in just winning titles, now they wanted a clear identity, an enduring hallmark which would establish their dominance once and for all. They wished that, in due course, the Bayern brand wouldn’t simply be related to effort, courage, power, and victory. They wanted more. In this quest, Pep was the chosen one.
Paul Breitner, another Bayern great, called it "stage three." After Klinsmann jolted Bayern awake, van Gaal (stage one) and Jupp Heynckes (stage two) had established a modern style based on possession, pressing and speed. Guardiola, a former European champion at Barcelona as both a player (1992) and manager (2009, 2011), was seen as the final step in Bayern’s evolution. He also represented something else.
"I think Germans have always been relatively provincial about the Bundesliga in terms of what it can do," Anderson says. "I think when Guardiola went to Bayern, that was a huge moment. I don’t think you can overstate how big a moment that was — the acknowledged best coach in the world didn’t go to Chelsea or Manchester City or anywhere else; he went to Bayern. There’s an undercurrent in German football that it’s local. Having a club that can attract this type of talent is good for the league." The effect could remain even if Guardiola, whose contract expires at the end of this season, indeed leaves for Manchester City next summer.
On Saturdays at Allianz Arena, when Bayern is playing at the same time as others in the Bundesliga, a T-Mobile ding sounds anytime there’s a goal in the league. You look up at the scoreboard and find out who scored and where.
While Bayern is trying to fend off Augsburg with 10 men, the crowd is informed that Eintracht Frankfurt is beating Hoffenheim by one, then two, then three. It is a strong Saturday for the club based in the fifth-largest city in Germany; there haven’t been a ton of those. The Eagles, die Adler, are currently just 10th in the league with 10 wins to 13 losses. They will finish ninth.
There are currently 15 clubs in Germany with a stadium capacity of at least 40,000, from Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park (80,667) to Werder Bremen’s Weserstadion (42,358). This is an imperfect measure, but it’s a decent way of reading into club size and potential. Of these 15 clubs, Bayern (75,000) finished first in the league, and a late charge brought Borussia Mönchengladbach (54,067) to third. But between 1977 and 2014, Gladbach had as many top-three finishes (two) as relegations, and the last two decades haven’t been particularly kind to the club.
Of the 13 other clubs on the big stadiums list, none finished in the Bundesliga’s top 5.
Germany has perhaps been the most consistently strong international team over the last four to five decades. The sport has become the personification of the German Efficiency™ and Pragmatism™, but while the Bundesliga always has quite a few strong teams, it cannot produce more than one league club that plays well for a few years in a row without a major hiccup.
Of course, parity makes things blurry. In a given year, only a few teams really stand out from the pack, good or bad. In 2014-15, the top four teams — Bayern, Wolfsburg, Gladbach, and Leverkusen — won 81 matches and lost just 23, while fifth-place Augsburg won 15 and lost 15. Eight of the 18 teams in the league were within three games of .500; in comparison, the English Premier League had just five of 20 teams in that range.
"You’re in a league where you can easily finish 14th one year and fourth the next," Anderson tells me. "With a very small budget, you can do really well. A few years ago [in 2011], Mainz finished fifth in the Bundesliga and played in the Europa League. I want to say they had a budget of less than 25 million Euros. That’s tiny. That’s a Championship [second-level] club in England. You don’t need support from corporations to play winning football.
"Now, you might if you want to sustain it year after year…"
Even with nearly NFL-level parity, Bayern still does what no other club can. Bayern and Gladbach emerged simultaneously as league powers in the late-1960s, and Gladbach actually won more titles in that decade (five) than Bayern did (four) during their respective decade-long runs. But life in a smaller city, with fewer resources, eventually did them in. And since Gladbach’s fade, countless contenders have come and gone, from 1. FC Köln to Werder Bremen to VfB Stuttgart to Schalke 04 to Bayer Leverkusen (derisively named Neverkusen because of the tendency of the club’s metaphorical ball hitting the goal post of reality late in a promising season) to Borussia Dortmund to Hamburg.
Within Hamburg’s Imtech Arena ticks a clock that records the years, months, days, minutes and seconds that the club, the only team to never be demoted, has resided in the Bundesliga. As April was turning to May, it looked like time was literally about to run out. But wins over Augsburg and Mainz and a draw with Freiburg kept hope alive. And on the final day of the season, Ivica Olić and Slobodan Rajković each scored second-half goals to give the club a 2-0 win over Schalke. The result doomed Schalke to sixth place in the league, which forced them into a playoff to reach the Europa League a year after reaching the Champions League round of 16 and nearly taking down Real Madrid.
More importantly, it got Hamburg into a playoff. They would face Karlsruher SC, the third-place finisher in the second division, and thanks to two late goals and a penalty stop, they survived. The clock will tick for another year.
Hamburger SV became a power in the late-1970s, winning three league titles and, beginning in 1979, finishing either first or second for six consecutive years. Between January 1982 and January 1983, they either won or tied 36 consecutive league matches, a record unbeaten streak that was finally topped by (guess who?) Bayern in 2013. In 1983, they beat Juventus, 1-0, to win the European Cup (now the Champions League).
But since finishing fifth in 1991, die Rothosen (the Red Shorts) have managed only six top-five finishes in 24 seasons and have finished 15th or worse in three of the last four.
"It’s politics," Anderson says. "Hamburg is a great city, a wealthy city. They’ve got a beautiful stadium. But the people running the club are running against each other and working across purposes inside the club. And coming in there from the outside as a coach or GM or anyone else, it is very difficult to get anything done."
Because of Germany’s unique 50+1 ownership model — club members, and not corporations or outside investors, must hold a majority of voting rights — size alone does not benefit you. It could end up meaning more voices, more power plays, and more politics.
"Hamburg is the kind of club that would benefit if the rules were changed to allow corporate ownership," Anderson says, "or the kind of ownership that you have in the U.S. and Britain. Because then you could have structure. You would have an environment where you could manage things rationally, you could do very well. But it’s just politics. They’ve been fighting relegation virtually every year for the last five years. It’s crazy."
"I think the biggest issue with the Bundesliga right now is that certain clubs should be giants but aren’t," Quinn says. "Hertha Berlin … Hamburg … Stuttgart … Eintracht Frankfurt … they should be giant teams. If they’re good for even a couple of years the corporate sponsorships would pile up. But you just aren’t going to get it if there’s a fear you might be relegated.
"Hamburg is in my opinion the biggest catastrophe in the sport right now, not just in Germany. Getting relegated would be good for them because they need to clear out so much dead weight."
"As a Bayern supporter, you don’t want that [relegation] clock to keep ticking," says Bayern Central’s Susie Schaaf. "It’s just the most obnoxious thing in the world. But what Hamburg has done … it’s overpaying players, keeping older players. They haven’t kept a coach for longer than a season in 10 years. They’re just throwing bad money after worse money without any sort of coaching stability. They didn’t get relegated this year, but they’re going to get relegated soon.
"Their league nickname is the Dinosaurs. They’re the only team that’s been in the league for the entire existence of the Bundesliga. But if you come in 15th or 16th place every year, what’s the point, really?"
If Bayern are the Yankees of the late-1990s and early-2000s, Hamburg are the Yankees of the late-1980s, bloated, aging, and angry.
Again, your best and worst traits indeed emerge from the same source. So much of the German soccer populace is aghast at the workings of Red Bull Leipzig; the energy drink giant has not only purchased 49 percent of the club (all that the rules will allow) but has also limited much of the 51 percent club ownership to Red Bull employees. It is a legal cheat of sorts.
It doesn’t appear that in the current economy and environment, an East German club can thrive without corporate help to this level, but as RB Leipzig has climbed from Germany’s fifth division to the top half of the second — it’s only a matter of time until RBL reaches the Bundesliga; in fact, the club is a favorite to do so this year — protests against the club’s "franchise" workings have become larger and more frequent.
Still, German soccer’s populist spirit creates conflict and politics. In the nerd world, much was made of Hamburg hiring analytics guru Steven Houston a few years ago, but he left quickly upon finding the environment impossible. Perhaps he was lucky to get out so quickly.
Hertha Berlin, meanwhile, is at once easier and harder to explain. For the first quarter-century of the Bundesliga, Hertha was on an island. Berlin was both sliced up and surrounded by East Germany, and as the Bundesliga began to thrive and pick up more players from outside of the country, these players decided there were plenty of other clubs, with far more favorable geographic circumstances, to play for.
But that only explains so much. The club still plays in Berlin’s cavernous Olympic Stadium and boasts a larger population base, and greater sponsorship possibilities, than anybody. At this point, Bayern will always have more potential, but the same politics that felled Hamburg and other contenders have prevented Hertha from becoming a contender at all. Hertha was a pre-war power, winning the German Championship in 1930 and 1931 and finishing as runner-up four times before that. But the accomplishments in the last 50 years have been minimal considering the potential. They finished in the league’s top three four times between 1970 and 1978, spent most of the 1980s and 1990s in the second division, surged in the 2000s (top-six all but one year between 1999 and 2006), then collapsed and went into yo-yo mode: relegated in 2010, promoted in 2011, relegated in 2012, promoted in 2013, nearly relegated in 2015.
Bigger clubs are almost punished by the 50+1 model because of the potential for conflict. Only Bayern has figured out how to mostly avoid this conflict, but even they have had their moments.
Every family’s got the black-sheep cousin who tries to burn someone’s house down. Every family’s got the uncle who’s a little too smooth with the money. You may judge them for mistakes and legal troubles among other family members, and you may abhor the stain they put on your last name. But you probably still defend them outside of the family (or at least change the subject). And you might lend them money even if you don’t want to.
In the Bayern museum are listed 11 values to which the club strives to adhere: Responsibility, Role Model, Partnership, Innovation, Financial Responsibility, Joy, Tradition, Family, Self Confidence, Respect, Club. You can find examples of each of those in their history, but there is no question that, for better and for worse, they live Family.
First, there are the obvious ways. Beckenbauer twice served as caretaker manager for the club following other managers’ departures, and he served a long tenure as club president. Hoeness was Bayern’s general manager, then its president. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern’s best offensive threat from the late-1970s through the mid-1980s, was once the club’s vice president and is now chairman of the board. This is the club’s holy trinity, and Bayern are forever lucky that their skills proved to go far beyond kicking a ball.
"There’s been a generation of Bayern players who progressed to become the senior executives of the clubs," Anderson says. "They’re smart guys who played together or played subsequent to each other, knew each other, moved through the club structure to become president, chairman, and whatever else. Beckenbauer, Hoeness, Rummenigge. These are the guys who provide real leadership, real continuity within a business culture that thrives on rationality, being progressive and forward looking, not spending money you don’t have — those are sort of the good Bavarian virtues. They’re the BMW of German football … or the Audi, if you need to mention the sponsor."
The family nature of the club goes beyond that, however. The sponsors rarely change — adidas has been on the Bayern jersey for more than 40 years and owns nine percent of the club (Audi owns another nine percent), and the big name on the shirt rarely changes either. While they probably aren’t the only club to attempt a family vibe, they do it better than almost anybody else. The "What is Bayern?" museum video features testimonials from one of the cleaning staff. And anybody who attended a Bayern basketball game in recent years likely saw familiar faces in the crowd.
"Hoeness used to go to all the basketball games," Quinn says. "They were putting so much money into basketball, too, which got them the Bundesliga championship [in 2014] and got them into the Euro League. He was going to all the games, and the Schweinsteigers, Tobias and Bastian, are big basketball fans, too. So they were going to the games, sitting courtside. Javi Martinez is a fan, and he goes, too.
"Old players come back to train, too. Willy Sagnol, who used to play for Bayern [from 2000-09], he’s Bordeaux’s manager now, but he’s in Munich for something, and he comes back, and you see him greeted with hugs.
"They did the same thing with Breno." Ah, Breno.
Breno Borges was at one point a star for São Paulo and the Brazillian U23 team. With just one season under his belt at São Paulo, however, the big clubs came knocking on the door. Real Madrid, Juventus, A.C. Milan, Bayern, and others were in pursuit of the 18-year-old. With a nudge from former Bayern great Giovane Elber, Borges signed with Bayern.
Borges would only play 21 times for the club. He was loaned out to Nürnberg for a while, and he suffered a knee injury in 2010. He wasn’t an all-time great, and when he was arrested in September 2011 for suspected arson after allegedly burning down his own villa, nobody would have thought twice if Bayern more or less disowned him. But they didn’t. Hoeness virulently defended him in public, and the club gave him an assistant job with Bayern II while he was on work release. (That ended when he was deported.)
Then there was Hoeness himself.
A passage in Uli Hesse’s Tor!, written more than a decade ago, turned out to be a little bit too prescient:
Hoeness always did things for a purpose, according to a plan, and for his own, private agenda. More often than not, that agenda centered around money. In early 1974, he said: ‘If we win this World Cup…’ What? We will be immortals? We will be among the greats of the game? No. ‘If we win this World Cup we are set up for life.’ Even Paul Breitner, no bright-eyed idealist himself, could only marvel at these particular talents of his friend. ‘Without him, I wouldn’t make a penny outside football,’ Breitner said. ‘It’s unbelievable how Uli Hoeness develops ideas if something can be made into a business.’
Hoeness has been a polarizing figure for 40 years. He spoke about money and business more than any player should, and his ability with money and cost-effective deals turned Bayern into a wins-over-style team in the 1980s. But his wheeling and dealing kept Bayern at or near the top of the table year after year as other clubs rose and fell. His ability as a general manager kept the trophies rolling in even as the first and second generations of Bayern stars came and went. And as he did with Breno, Hoeness became known for his strident, often defensive quotes regarding the club.
There was another side to Hoeness, however. He was the sole survivor of a 1982 plane crash that took the lives of close friends, and his heart began to show more over time. He did more to create an atmosphere of family and philanthropy than anybody else. As Müller battled alcoholism, Bayern and Hoeness convinced Müller to go to rehab and, in the early-1990s, hired him as an assistant for the junior team.
Bayern’s ability to win while working without debt, and to treat Bayern’s greats and failures as part of the same large family, comes more from Hoeness than anybody else. And he took steps to assure financial health for other clubs as well. Under Hoeness’ watch, Bayern agreed to countless friendlies in which the club played on the road against a tiny, financially strapped, lower-division club, sells the place out, and lets the club keep the revenues. They once gave bitter rival Borussia Dortmund a two-million Euro loan. And through Hoeness, Bayern pledged early support to the Magnus Hirschfeld National Foundation, designed to utilize "top-level functionaries of sport" to "make a mutual stand against homophobia."
This is the same Uli Hoeness, by the way, who went to jail for tax evasion in 2014. He admitted to evading nearly 30 million Euros in taxes and was sentenced to more than three years of prison. He resigned as club president (against the wishes of many in the club, mind you), but naturally, when granted work release in early 2015, Bayern hired him as an advisor. It’s the Bayern way. Family first, no matter what outsiders think.
Bayern practices what it preaches, but this isn’t always easy or helpful. What creates your best characteristics creates your worst, and when an outsider comes into the family, Bayern’s customs don’t always mesh without the seams showing.
Manager Pep Guardiola struggled for nearly two years, for instance, with the team doctor arrangement.
The enigmatic Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, who is either a medical genius or a total kook depending on who you ask, served as official team doctor for nearly 40 years. But he maintained his private practice downtown, which meant that he wasn’t always present during practices. This rubbed Guardiola the wrong way, and his sentiments toward Müller-Wohlfahrt grew toxic when Bayern suffered an absurd number of injuries during 2014-15. Bayern first-teamers missed nearly 300 games to injury this past season, and no matter how much Müller-Wolfahrt was or wasn’t responsible for that — lord knows player age had a part to play as well — a crack turned into a fissure, and Müller-Wohlfahrt resigned with public disgust after he felt he was being blamed for the loss to Porto in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
Family might make it hard to let go of players at the right time, too, even when you know better. "Bayern had a kind of thing where, once you turn 30, you don’t get more than a one-year deal," Schaaf told me. "But as Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm and Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben got older … they were such crucial parts to Bayern’s recent success that the board decided they should stay around longer."
Indeed, both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribéry have had brothers on the Bayern II squad. That tells you a little bit about the role of some of the junior teams, but it also feels redundant. The Schweinsteigers, the Ribérys and pretty much everybody else associated with Bayern Munich are surrounded by family members at all times.
In recent seasons, Schweinsteiger’s role basically became the club dad on the field. He yelled at guys to get into certain areas. He spotted a missed assignment and tried to fill the hole on the fly. He was almost an old-school sweeper. When Bayern needed help on defense, he was the one bringing the ball up the field next to Dante. When Bayern needed a goal at the end of the Augsburg match, he was sending headers at the keeper in the box.
He doesn’t do anything as well as he once did, mind you. The onetime German Footballer of the Year hit six digits on the odometer a while back, and injuries sent him frequently to the sidelines. He has played 40 club matches just once in the last four seasons, and he didn’t even make 30 in 2014-15. Like so many Bayern players this season, he missed time with injury, and whatever his fifth gear resembles at this point, he didn’t hit it.
Still, it was Schweini putting a fatherly arm around a frustrated Götze after the Augsburg match. And when Højbjerg subbed in against Bayern after halftime, it was Schweini riding the past and future Bayern first-teamer hard down the field, doing everything but putting the 19-year-old in a headlock to test his resolve.
That Højbjerg completely fended Schweinsteiger off in this exchange almost felt like a passing of the torch at the time. It became even more of one this summer. Schweinsteiger only recently turned 31, but as Rummenigge and other Bayern stars have done late in their respective careers, he elected for a change of scenery. Manchester United came calling, and both Bayern and Schweini accepted.
Still, considering his own coach-on-the-field tendencies and Bayern’s history, it would be a bit of an upset if Schweini weren’t training future Bayern players in some role when he retires. Team captain Philipp Lahm, too. Bayern stars do sometimes leave in the twilight of their careers. But they almost always come back.
Memories cloud decision-making sometimes. Age eventually took down the most recent Yankees dynasty, and it became clear this past season that Bayern must prepare for succession, even beyond Schweinsteiger. They signed the talented Costa from Shakhtar Donetsk this summer with Ribéry still battling injuries, and this older set of remaining Bayern stalwarts — Ribéry (32), Robben (31), Lahm (31), Xabi Alonso (33), Dante (31), Rafinha (29) — is aging quickly. Transitioning from old to new could quickly get awkward. How do you replace Ribéry, one of the club’s greatest players, if he’s not ready to be replaced?
Mia san mia
It is like Bayern was built from a box, a ‘Perfect Club’ Lego set; only, the instructions are simply organized and impossible to complete.
Bayern’s motto means, simply, we are who we are. There is "take it or leave it" intent here, but you could just as easily interpret this as, "You can’t be us."
Spend a week in Munich, and there are a few guarantees. You will walk 30 to 40 miles. You will get lost on the curvy side streets in city centre. You will eat well, and you will drink well. And you will learn very quickly how a single club can infiltrate the culture of a city and vice versa. Bayern is Munich; hell, Bayern is Germany: a rich spendthrift, a charitable but unforgiving economic power, and an undeniable success in modern times.
You don’t have to like Bayern, and lord knows much of Germany does not. But you cannot stop them from pushing forward and you cannot build a replica to keep up. If you’re reading this, you’re roadkill, and it’s too late. It’s already way, way too late.
- Editors Elena Bergeron, Satchel Price
- Design & Development Graham MacAree