In the latest installment of our season preview series, Kit Holden assesses the changing face of FC Bayern, and how the demand for success is higher than ever.
It is a universally acknowledged truth that there is something comforting in familiarity. Fans of FC Bayern Muenchen, then, should be rather comforted by the events of the last few months. The past 12 months have seen Germany’s biggest club conclusive baptism as FC Hollywood; a club at which only the very best is accepted, and anything else is capriciously dismissed in a whirlwind of terrifying Germanic efficiency. A season in which they reached a Cup semi final and finished third was globally recognised to be a disaster for FCB, and expectations for the coming year are even higher than usual as a result. This is business as usual on the Saebener Strasse. Both those inside and outside of Bayern, those who love the club and those who loathe it, expect and demand that the team retains its status as the single continuously dominant force in the Bundesliga. This summer’s activities are a testimony to that. If Bayern fail again this year, the blood spilt will be as red as their iconic home jerseys.
Though their diminished success on the European stage in the past decade is often bemoaned, FC Bayern’s consolidation of their status as the alpha club of Germany has never been stronger than in the current era. Since 1996, the German “Rekordmeister” have never failed to win the title in consecutive seasons, and in the same period they have collected 9 league titles and 7 DFB Pokals. When one generation dissolves, another springs immediately from the greenest grass of the Bayern youth system, and when one precocious surprise “Meister” such as VfB Stuttgart or VfL Wolfsburg shocks Germany, it is only a matter of 12 months before they are crushed again by the mighty force of the Uli Hoeness empire. As such, expectations at Bayern are higher than they have ever been, though it is difficult to consider possible. That the club demands success is an evergreen truth of FC Bayern’s history, and preparation for the coming season has been no less extensive and radical than one would ever expect from FC Hollywood.
If Louis van Gaal’s blunt, Dutch accented defensiveness was the soundtrack to last season’s failures, it will be the amiable mutual admiration between new manager Jupp Heynckes and his esteemed employers which should provide the overtone for the next 12 months. The appointment of Heynckes for his third spell at FC Bayern is resoundingly indicative of the absolute need for silverware at FCB this season. Hoeness and co wish to be safe rather than sorry, and they could not have got much safer than Heynckes. Whereas the appointment of van Gaal in 2009 was a gamble which paid off for a season before a breakdown in relations, Heynckes epitomises what the Bayern board consider to be a safe bet. The unseemly end to his first spell as Bayern boss aside, the way the bigwigs at the Allianz turn to their new manager whenever they consider their team to be in a managerial crisis displays the respect they have for him, and the certainty that he will not disappoint in terms of loyalty and stability.
Indeed, other than an alarming resemblance to Bilbo Baggins, it would seem that Heynckes’ only fault is his tactical philosophy. Though perhaps not of the Jose Mourinho or Helenia Herrero school of football, Heynckes’ teams are hardly renowned for the attacking flare which is the norm at Bayern. In pre-season, furthermore, Bayern’s defence has looked as rocky as it did for the best part of last season; it would be a grave mistake to assign a King Kev-esque hero status to the returning Jupp Heynckes, and the emotional mediocrity which is so conducive to his relationship to the board may prove to leave Bayern without an overriding philosophy or long term plan. The new manager is transparently a short term solution – an emergency measure designed to fill an atypically empty trophy cabinet.
The other major advantage of Heynckes’ avoidance of polemic is also visible in his relationship with his playing staff. While van Gaal proved divisive from the moment he arrived at the club – prompting the departure of key players such as Lucio and later Mark van Bommel – the current squad appears to be at the very least content with their new trainer. And that includes the new signings.
This summer has seen Director of Sport Christian Nerlinger – a man who resembles not a hobbit, but rather a generic bad guy in the A Team – find himself in what appears to be his element. With the strengthening of the calamitously temperamental defence listed as the number one priority, Nerlinger and FCB have pulled off a series of transfers with the clear intention of forming a more solid barrier between the Bayern goal and the strikers of their title challengers.
The painfully drawn out saga of Jerome Boateng’s transfer to Munich from his sorry position at Manchester City has certainly ended promisingly for Bayern. With centre half arguably their most vulnerable position, the signing of Boateng marks an important achievement for Bayern. Not only have they not allowed themselves to be manipulated by the wealth of a Premier League club – Boateng was reportedly bought for roughly £12m, somewhat less than City’s original demands – but they have also boosted their defence in exactly the manner they had primarily planned to. Though the continuing lack of a true leader figure in defence, Boateng should provide some of the stability which Bayern will so desperately require in the coming season.
The same praise for Bayern’s economic savvy is harder to bestow when surveying their other major defensive signing this summer: that of Rafinha. If Boateng represents the perfect example of how to pull off the best deal possible, Rafinha’s arrival in Munich has served only to confuse just about everyone. A player who has failed to impress in recent years both for SC Genoa and for Schalke, Rafinha will take Phillip Lahm’s place at right back, forcing the Bayern captain to switch to left back. While Lahm, who is ever the consummate professional, is at pains to assure us all that it makes no difference to him in which position he plays, it would be naïve to suggest that he does not look more comfortable, and indeed more effective, when playing on the right. That Bayern tried and failed to sign Rafinha in recent transfer widnows, furthermore, suggest that this was as much a matter of pride as it was a matter of planning from the Bayern board. Pride, of course, is the basis for the majority of the club’s success: in the case of Rafinha, however, they are walking a very precarious tightrope.
In a paradox which could only exist at FC Bayern however, it is not the nonsensical signing of Rafinha that has caused the vast chagrin among the fans, but rather the successful snapping up of the best goalkeeper in Germany, and quite possibly the world. The controversy surrounding Manuel Neuer’s arrival in Munich is still yet to fully die down, and if ever there was a saga which perfectly summarised the soap opera nature of life at Bayern, this was it. From professional negotiators to official club statements, the reaction of certain fan societies has been at best disgruntled and at worst venomous with regard to the Neuer transfer. While some groups, including the famous Schickeria, have apparently been successfully appeased, the pre season fixtures have seen continuing anti Neuer protests amongst some Bayern fans. Football fans can be remarkably fickle, however, and anything has to be better than a pressurised Thomas Kraft. Come a few games into the season, when the eternally classy Neuer has proved his fantastic efficiency as a number one, one is inclined to believe that a few Bayern fans will be seen picking up some of the toys they have thrown out of the pram this summer.
Outside of the defence, the revolutionising of last year’s impotent squad has continued. In Hollywood, one must keep up with the latest trends, and in the Bundesliga, that means buying a Japanese midfielder. A loanee from Gamba Osaka, the attacking midfielder – and indeed friend of BVB’s Shinji Kagawa – Takashi Usami, will provide yet more creativity in the already formidable Bayern attack. Throw talented attacking prodigy Nils Petersen into the mix, and indeed the offloading of superfluous attackers such as Miroslav Klose, and Bayern’s attack looks even sharper this year than it did last season. For the defences of the Bundesliga, that can only be considered a genuinely terrifying prospect.
Domestic success is expected this year at FC Bayern. Their remarkable recent record must be upheld if Hoeness and his cronies are to be kept happy. What would render them even more excitable, however, would be success on the European stage.
Having very nearly missed out on Champions League football to lowly Hannover 96 for this season, Bayern’s pompous, self important dignity has been left in tatters, and the need to restore some pride in terms of Europe has rarely been higher. The only season in the last decade in which FCB failed to qualify for the Champions League started with the sneering dismissal of the UEFA Cup from most of the club’s players and finished with a match fixing scandal following their calamitous exit to Zenit St Petersburg in the semi finals of that tournament. Having just scraped their way into the Champions League qualifying rounds, Bayern will be hoping that such dark days will be consigned completely to bad memory, and that they can reach a second European Cup Final in three years, for a chance to compete in their home stadium. That the Allianz Arena will play host to the final is the cherry on the cake of incentive for Bayern in Europe this year. Moreover, if their success were to severely eclipse that of their German rivals Bayer 04 and BVB, the traditional message of bouncebackability would be emphatically delivered. With a strengthened defence and what is arguably one of the best attacks in Europe, furthermore, few could doubt that they have a genuine chance for success in the Champions League. There has been much speculation of late as to how difficult their draw in the Qualifiers will prove to be. This is a nonsensical and most un-Bayern like mentality. If Bayern don’t make it through the qualifiers, blood will be spilled. No matter who they are playing. Regardless of the strength of teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, success in Europe is expected from this Bayern team, and on paper they look more than capable of achieving it.
As I previously stated, it is becoming a tradition at FCB to win the title every other year. And Traditionsklubs, by their very nature, tend to live up to tradition. Should Jupp Heynckes’ side fail to collect their 23rd German Championship, we should be in no doubt that there will be a serious enquiry.
In terms of transfers, the squad already looks sufficiently strengthened in terms of domestic success. The ever decreasing likelihood of successfully signing Arturo Vidal will be a frustration rather than a disaster for Bayern – they do not lack options in defensive midfield, after all – while their completed deals to date are certainly heartening for those select few of us who do not wallow in Schadenfreude whenever they find themselves in a sticky situation.
While European success still remains something of a long shot, and some of the solutions in terms of managerial or playing appointments appear to be rather short term and reactionary, it would certainly be justified if Bayern were to go into this campaign feeling relatively optimistic. Relative optimism, however, isn’t a Bavarian trait. Blindly stubborn self assurance is rather more characteristic. FC Bayern expects. And more often than not, those in charge of fulfilling expectations tend to deliver.
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