We continue our series, “Bundesliga Season 10/11 in Review”. This time around Kit Holden reviews Bayern München’s roller-coaster season.
This time last year, Andi Görlitz was utilising his lost playing time by writing and recording a celebratory single in preparation for FC Bayern’s date with Inter Milan in the Champions League Final. That the celebrations proved a little premature – Bayern lost the Final in a most unconvincing manner – did not render inaccurate the chorus line labelling 2010 a “year for heroes”. A deserved double and a first European final in nine years certainly constituted a successful year for the “heroes” of Germany’s biggest club – even if most of them were Dutch.
2011, by contrast, has been nothing short of a disaster in comparison. Having abandoned their primary habit of winning trophies, Bayern turned this year to the their other great forté: writing a sporting soap opera. This past season has been a year in which “FC Hollywood” has been the more accurate of the many terms synonymous with FCB. Tantrums, departures, bizarre decision making and infighting have plagued the Säbener Straße this season – and the rest of Germany has been left snickering audibly into their anti-Bayern handkerchiefs.
An atypical start
Louis van Gaal’s FC Bayern started the 2010/11 season in the same way they had ended the preceding one – by winning a trophy. The two-nil defeat of Schalke 04 in the DFB Supercup ensured that Bayern completed a treble of trophies for the 2009/10 cabinet, even if it wasn’t quite the one they had envisaged.
The immediate success, however, transpired to be something of an anomaly in Bayern’s early season, as they fought their way through a disastrous first seven league games. In a most uncharacteristic spell of ineffectuality, FCB racked up only two wins in the opening seven fixtures, and collected a mere eight points in the same period. Far from asserting their immediate authority in the title challenge, the champions had slumped to a disappointing if not catastrophic 12th place in the Bundesliga. The psychological effect that this unimpressive start would have, not only on Bayern but also on their main rivals, was to be of huge significance. With defeats at Kaiserslautern, Mainz and Dortmund, Bayern had lost their aura of invincibility at an unprecedentedly early stage of the season. Their newfound ability to ship goals faster than their out of form forwards could score them proved to be fatal, and the accusing fingers were already turning towards the dugout and the defiant, peculiar face of Louis van Gaal.
The manager, for his part, blamed injuries. In early September, he exercised his particular type of Dutch charm on the press, claiming that he had learned a new word from his players: “Verletzungsgespenst”. An injury curse he may have had, with the invaluable attacking combination of the previous year broken up by long term injuries to Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry and Ivica Olic, but van Gaal was soon to discover the uglier side of managing FC Bayern. His unerring faith in youth development had succeeded in 2010, but by September of that year, the fearsomely self assured Dutchman was already being subjected to much criticism for his overuse of the inexperienced players such as Diego Contento. His natural defiance, furthermore, plunged the Bayern manager into an ultimately fatal war of the words with the club’s unchallengeable hierarchy.
Van Gaal’s fall from grace
The most universally popular figure in the Bundesliga he may not be, but few could question the success Uli Hoeness has brought to his beloved FC Bayern München. Fewer still could challenge his authority and infamous self belief. Louis van Gaal discovered this at his own cost. Having enjoyed unmitigated success in his first year at Bayern, van Gaal’s 2011 quickly became one of the most recent – and most pertinent – proofs of Ottmar Hitzfeld’s too often repeated observation that “being Bayern manager is easy. When you’re top of the table.”
In most managerial positions, a double and a European Cup in the first year would facilitate a somewhat easier ride in your second twelve months. At most clubs, it would at least dictate a certain amount of job security. FC Bayern, however, is not most clubs. Van Gaal’s failure to bring the results on the pitch frustrated the Bayern board to the point of overt criticism of the man they had appointed only a year and half earlier. It was at this point that van Gaal made his biggest error. Poor results, and even a trophyless season, may have been survivable; what is invariably inexcusable at FC Hollywood is to have the audacity to staunchly oppose the dictatorial oligarchy of Bayern’s elected leaders. Hoeness, Rummenigge and Nerlinger are all but unchallengeable in Munich, and van Gaal challenged them at a point when he was already wobbling precariously on the cliff edge of a poor run of form.
His criticisms of the Bayern leadership had originated in two books he had had published at the beginning of the season, and the subsequent lack of success left the door wide open to a breakdown in relations. Hoeness, a man who does not mince his words, accused his employee of being “difficult to speak with, because he doesn’t listen to other peoples’ opinions” and van Gaal countered with an ironically ill disguised attack on Hoeness’ indiscretion, claiming “I will not oppose a man like Uli Hoeness, but someone who means so much to FC Bayern should be aware of the consequences of what he says. I am disappointed.” The club quickly fabricated the “Truce of Cluj” to create the illusion of harmony, but it was clear from this point forward that for van Gaal, the wall had been irrevocably written on.
Apparently realising that he would never win out in a war of words, van Gaal turned to renegade managerial decisions as his preferred medium of dissent. Having already alienated certain key players with his attitude, January provided an opportunity to reprint the van Gaal stamp well and truly upon his Bayern team. Captain Mark van Bommel left for AC Milan and Martin Demichelis ended a near decade long spell at FC Bayern. The manager’s most audacious move, however, was to remove Hans Jörg Butt from the number one position and replace him with the disastrously inexperienced Thomas Kraft.
These moves turned out to be less of an assertion of van Gaal’s authority, and more a suicidal two fingers to the Bayern boardroom. Far from shooting himself in the foot by selling van Bommel and placing the knobbly kneed Kraft behind an already untrustworthy defence, the Dutchman put the bullet directly into his own brain. No improvement in Bayern’s fortunes came to pass – despite the return of Robben and Ribéry – and in one apocalyptic spell of fixtures, they succeeded in ruling themselves out of all major competitions.
The apocalyptic March
At the end of February, FCB faced the most crucial league game of their season thus far, coming up against runaway table leaders Borussia Dortmund. A strong display in front of their own fans, and Bayern would have the chance to get back into the title race. The aforementioned lost aura, however, came to the fore in the most spectacular fashion, as Jürgen Klopp’s magnificent BVB side rolled Bayern over with ease, taking three goals and three points back to the Ruhr. All Bayern’s hopes of retaining “die Schale” had been ruthlessly destroyed in ninety cruel minutes.
Following this defeat, FC Bayern failed to breathe the new life of spring into their season as they moved into March. Between the 2nd and the 15th of that month, the team found themselves eliminated from both the DFB Pokal and the Champions League, losing to Schalke and Inter respectively. Also jeopardised was their qualification for the 2012 Champions League, as defeat to Hannover saw them once again concede third place to Mirko Slomka’s team. With the 2012 Final scheduled to take place at Munich’s Allianz Arena, third place and qualification for the Champions League was designated the number one goal for FCB, and defeat to Hannover saw the board finally lose patience with van Gaal, confirming that he would be leaving at the end of the season, no matter what.
With van Gaal’s spectacular “Absturz” – as the somewhat gleeful headline in kicker proclaimed – apparently complete, Bayern could surely now focus solely on getting through to the end of the season and achieving the minimum requirements of a disappointing season of football, without anymore off field distractions.
Not so, at FC Hollywood.
Neuer, Hoeness and the Ultras
At Bayern, the philosophy is always to look forward, and with the van Gaal era all but consigned to history, and Jupp Heynckes lined up to take his place in the summer, the Bayern board turned their greedy eyes to possible summer signings. Primarily on their all surveying radar was Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer. Despite the Gelsenkirchen club’s valiant attempts to hold onto their prized asset, the money and glamour of Munich seemed to make ever more certain the rumours linking Germany’s number one to FCB.
Bayern’s hardcore “Ultras”, however, had other ideas. At the Pokal Semi Final defeat to Schalke, a section of the Bayern support voiced – or rather waved in the form of banners – their opposition to the proposed Neuer transfer, holding up hundreds of signs reading “KOAN NEUER” which loosely translates as “No to Neuer.” That the same group of fans staged a similarly obnoxious protest against Uli Hoeness just weeks later was for many a perfect example of the ugliest personality traits that typify the fans of Germany’s most hated club. Responding to their president’s proposed financial aid for Bayern’s crisis hit city rivals TSV 1860, as well as the move for Neuer, the Bayern Ultras directed their most precocious and self pitying bile at the man who had taken their club to prolonged success in each of his various roles. The Ultras were rightfully dismissed in a flurry of criticism from club officials and fans alike, but the bitter taste that the protests left were perfectly indicative of the general malaise around the club in 2011.
The end of the nightmare
Back on the field, Bayern were beginning to become more and more effective towards the end of the season. At home at least, their results seemed to reflect their historic dominance of German football, rather than their recent haphazardness. 6-0, 5-1 and 4-1 wins against Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke respectively kept Bayern firmly in the race for the third place. Their away form, however, remained unconvincing at best, and it was following a frustrating draw at Nürnberg that Louis van Gaal was thrown prematurely from his position as manager, the Bayern board deciding that they could not wait until the summer. That a mistake from Thomas Kraft prevented victory was fitting symmetry, and may even have influenced the decision to finally do away with the now farcical van Gaal.
The manager’s successor was his former assistant, Andries Jonker. Under Jonker, it became clear that any relationship the players had previously had with van Gaal had long been ruined beyond repair. In the aforementioned defeat of Leverkusen, the Bavarians looked a team reborn, and with an eventual return to away form as well, Bayern held off the admirable attempts of Hannover to keep them out of the Champions League, and secured third place with one game to spare. Things were indeed back to normal; Bayern not only assured their place among Europe’s elite with this penultimate day victory, but also relegated St. Pauli, everyone’s second favourite team, thereby resuming their rightful position as Public Enemy Number One.
A bright, if not orange, future
2011 was not all doom and gloom. It must be remembered that Bayern achieved Champions League status and Mario Gomez, an almost forgotten player in 2010 earned the coveted “Cannon” as the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer.
What grated, however, was perfectly summarised by the ever eloquent Karl Heinz Rummenigge in an interview last week. For him, the failure of FC Bayern this year was not necessarily in their final position or lack of silverware, but the fact that they had failed to challenge for many of the major titles on offer towards the end of the season. That, at the very least, is expected of Bayern; the failure to do so is ultimately the reason behind the spectacular fall of Louis van Gaal’s FC Bayern Oranje.
As ever at FCB, however, the self assured expectancy for success and for titles will overcome even the most turbulent of crises, and Bayern are already rebuilding for the coming season. Kraft (whose name ironically means “power” in German) has been dispatched to promoted Hertha Berlin, while the arrival of Jupp Heynckes and the now almost certain purchase of Manuel Neuer will surely strengthen a Bayern side which requires nothing if not a little cohesion. Other signings such as the poaching of Energie Cottbus’ Nils Petersen and the reportedly imminent arrival of Manchester City’s Jerome Boateng will also provide stability, and the future in Munich looks bright, despite everything. At the unveiling of their new strip a few weeks ago, Uli Hoeness said the new gold trim symbolised the success and regal status of FC Bayern München If they were to consolidate their golden status with another batch of silverware this time next year, I doubt anyone would be too surprised.