Cheer up, Bayern fans…

.. BVB winning this title is exactly what Bayern needs!

Say what? The hordes of Bayern fans might have just gotten the long faces out of the countless half empty Weissbiers – they, like Bayerns season, didn’t look half full anymore just when the final whistle had been blown – after That Robben miss (and that other one too). And with a scoreless draw against Mainz preceding the epic, nerve-wracking showdown against Real Madrid come Tuesday, it might feel a sucker punch to the gut – damn callow and unfeeling.

In many circles, the BVB triumph of 2011 was thought of, maybe even written off, as a one-off. There’s been a few in the Bundesliga in recent years: The Stuttgart’s and the Wolfsburg’s.

The by now typical post-international championship breakdown at Bayern, Klopp getting the most out of his players in a manner which could never be repeated, a result of the inevitable collapse that had to happen with van Gaal’s gung-ho style of play and managerial style.. pick your reason.

2012 would see, as had every other year since 2006, the return of Bayern to the pinnacle of the Bundesliga, after a summer spending spree similar to those that followed the lost championships of 2007 & 2009. “Money shoots goals” would prove right again – although most of it were, just this once,  spent on the defense –  Hoenessian mind games would win the day, Bayern would win the even year title, and everything would be put right again, at least on the home front.

The Revenge of the Rekordmeister, if you so please.

And though it seemed quite likely to come to pass just that way, at least up until Gökhan Inler broke Schweinsteigers collarbone, it was not be. BVB’s challenge to Bayern can now surely not be dismissed, as the Leverkusen, Stuttgart or Wolfsburg ones of the past. Klopps Dortmund is not a fad.

Now, Bayern’s season has not been a bad one, all things considered. There is still even the slight possibility of greatness. Bayern is in the DFB pokal final, in the semi-finals of the Champions League for only the second time since 2001 – after being drawn into a “group of death”, they won the group with one game to spare – and they’ve won 34 out of 48 games, a win ratio of over 70%. A point average in the league as this one, would have usually seen them still being in the title fight, at least.

It’s just that BVB have raised the bar, upped the ante. And Hoeness, Rummenigge & Nerlinger will be forced to react, to learn, and probably adjust their thinking. The same goes for Lahm and Schweinsteiger and the rest of would-be greats who are actually playing the games for Bayern, who are 8 points off the top of the Bundesliga at this point.

Why do they have to? Can’t they just use that old, trusted Bayern-recipe of buying up their challengers best players?

While Leverkusen/Hölzhausers decision of putting Arturo Vidal on the first bus to Torino in return for a measly lump of Euros to avoid letting Bayern put their greedy fingers on him seems an even worse decision in retrospect than it did at the time, it’s somewhat understandable in the light of what Bayern did when they cherry picked Leverkusen’s last great team to Munich from 2002-04. Ballack. Ze Roberto. Lucio. (Some might mention Kovac)

It’s what Bayern so often have resorted to; buying up the competition. Only last summer, Bayern managed to pick Neuer up from the indebted Schalke, though paying a truly epic sum considering he had only one year left on his contract. That option isn’t open to them when it comes to Dortmund.

The lost Bavarian son Mats Hummels turned them down and extended his stay there last spring, much to the further chagrin of Bayern. Mario Götze extended his contract, amid stated Bayern long term-interest. Albeit being a special case, hailing from Dortmund, Marco Reus chose BVB over Bayern, the latter moving on to second choice Shaqiri of Basel.

The perhaps main interest in the BVB team, given how Heynckes possibly isn’t the man for the long term future, is the man on the bench, namely Jürgen Klopp – whom they turned down for Klinsmann in 08 – also recently extended his stay in the Ruhr until 2016.

With a young team, two straight championships, 4 straight wins head to head with Bayern and a soaring income level – why would any of them want to move just now? (Ok, for the money, but they seem to wisely have put the ultimate payday-ambitions off for a while.) Bayern will have to raise their own game, instead of trying to tear down the rival. It might deprive them of the “easy” option, but that just might be a blessing in disguise.

Since the 1998-99 season – or the last 13 years – only two seasons have seen a Champions League semi final with 4 different countries represented. The most recent in 2010, (not really) coincidentally the first time since 2001 that Bayern, and since 2002 a German team altogether, reached the semis.

Which brings us neatly back to the point:

Great teams seldom grow out of isolation.

When Borussia Dortmund collapsed in a nightmare of debt in the early 2000’s, so did Bayern Munich’s pretense of being a top European contender. Bayern had the biggest Bundesliga winning margin in recent history in 2003, 16 points, the same year they crashed out of the CL groups without a single win and their millennium era of European greatness truly came to an end. As they won 3 doubles in 4 years from 2002-2006, those same years saw them plunge from a 2. in the UEFA Team Ranking 2002, unto a 18th in that same ranking of 2007. Apart from that great Werder year 2004, it was utter dominance in Germany – and utter mediocrity in Europe.

While there could certainly be plenty of other reasons also mentioned playing into this, there is no underestimating what being forced to up your game from strong domestic challenges means when playing in Europe in modern times. After Milan’s three straight CL finals in 93-95 it was Juventus’ turn to do the same the following three years.

The years 97-99 that saw Dortmund win the Champions League and Bayern coming as close as you can come without actually winning, saw two all-german quarter-finals and even three quarterfinalists in one year. Valencia played two straight CL finals in the age of the Madrid galacticos, and Barcelona joined in for a few semis, even if they could never reach the final at this stage.
After being crushed by Mourinho’s Chelsea machine for a couple of years from 2003-2005 and being dumped out bottom their group in the Champions League of 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United came back to conquer Europe with one of his best ever teams. Liverpool reached two finals and Arsenal was represented in the one in between those finals, too, in the years that England dominated the semis.

Returning to the present, what most consider to be the second strongest team in Europe at this point, Real Madrid, have been forced to learn to swim again by the all-conquering Barcelona raising the bar to the almost impossible. While Barcelona of the last years are their curse, they have now reached two CL-semifinals in a row, after 6 straight years never getting past the round of 16. They are clear favorites to eliminate Bayern and to set up a chance to beat Barcelona with the whole world watching – in Munich.
Some might point to easier draws these past two Mourinho-years, but they did in the years between 2005-10 not once meet the eventual winner, and only once they lost to a finalist.

Now, of course Bayern cannot keep losing what is rapidly turning into a german Classico. And they can’t keep losing the championship to the BVB in the long run – for all the trappings of Europe, the league is the main task, the bread and butter of a great football team. But there’s no hiding most Bayern fans would prefer to lift the Champions League trophy again, over “just another” championship, if quizzed. Getting the 5th is what most fans of the die Roten desire the most. And having strong domestic competition will help with that.

In rising to what can be seen as a somewhat unfortunately difficult challenge, trying to win the European crown in the age of Barcelona – probably the best club side of all time – having a real rival and a stronger league to push them in Germany again, can only help.

When Bayern smashed 5 past the BVB of Wörns, Kruska and Brzenska with no reply in a cold February day in 2005 at the old Olympiastadion, it looked as If BVB might never pose a real challenge to Bayern again. But 7 years later here they are, doing just that. And that’s a good thing for BVB, for the Bundesliga – and for Bayern.

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Gard Lid Aabakken

Gard Aabakken is a law student, occasional football writer and analyst residing in sunny Oslo, Norway. He has a particular passion for Bayern Munich, German football in general , it's history, and the football finance aspect of things. Follow Gard on twitter @BayernNorway

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