Just before the Champions League Final in May, Uli Hoeneß disclosed that, after the infamous defeat to Manchester United in 1999, he was forced to spend days on end at the masseur’s, desperately trying to rid himself of the demons of Barcelona.
We can only imagine the cheque that the same masseur received from him during the past summer. The end of last season was among the most excruciating that the club has experienced in the last twenty years. Having been in a position to win the treble in April, Bayern managed to squander all three major trophies, in a crisis of confidence which reached its climax in the Champions League Final defeat to Chelsea in their own stadium. Vize-Bayern. Disaster.
Fast forward a few months, and while it would be a little bold to suggest that the club has already regained its mojo, the signs are there to suggest that the wounded beast will indeed prove to be dangerous. Soul searching has been the buzzword at FC Bayern since May. Then, the team looked a shadow of their FC Hollywood image. A new Director of Sport, several high-profile new signings and a tedious squabble over a defensive midfielder later, and Bayern are back to their polemical best.
So how, in a crisis, do you rediscover your identity, as the most successful club in the history of German football? How does one even start going about expunging the pain of three near misses and not a single trophy?
Easy. You indulge in a severe course of retail therapy.
Dante, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandzukic, Claudio Pizarro, Tom Starke and Mitchell Weiser. And, on top of that, a promotion to the first team for Emre Can. On the face of it, Bayern’s summer spree is no different to their previous exploits in the same field. Two or three big name stars, a handful of the best of the rest of the Bundesliga brought in to warm the bench, and a couple of precocious, talented youngsters who will emerge in the coming years. It is the old tactic. The winning formula which has granted them so much success over the past decade — revolutionising the squad whenever times are hard.
And yet, as many Bayern fans have been quick to point out, there remain the same old gaps that there were last season. With David Alaba injured, Bayern will still go into the season without a first choice left back. The failure – thus far – to complete the transfer of Javi Martinez leaves Jupp Heynckes with scarce options in defensive midfield if Bastian Schweinsteiger fails once again to retain full fitness. Sure, the likes of Shaqiri, Pizarro and Starke are good, but they are players brought in to fill positions in which Bayern already have superstars lined up.
But then, that is rather the point. As Uli Hoeness made very clear with his unprecedented verbal attack on Mario Gomez last month, the idea is not to fill the gaps, but to put a firework up the backside of players who, in past seasons, have been indispensable enough to underperform. Bench warmers are exactly what Bayern need, not simply from the point of view of their injury problems, but also as an incentive for the side’s plethora of prima donnas.
It is, in short, about changing the attitudes, not the squad itself. It’s the same old transfer policy, but with a different philosophy at its heart. Rather than being designed to intimidate the rest of the league, Bayern are out to intimidate their own players: no more excuses.
Because after the soul searching, they have found their salvation in a man for whom “no more excuses” was, from day one, the golden maxim. And he is, rather fittingly, a Dortmund legend.
“The biggest signing of the summer,” said Franz Beckenbauer, “was Matthias Sammer”. The ginger haired East German was certainly the newcomer receiving most of the coverage on the Saebener Strasse this summer. And while his own transfer activity has been limited, Sammer has come with a mission which far transcends expenditure and celebrity signings. He is here to reinstall Bayern’s sense of superiority. Their famed love of winning which, in the last two years, has somehow deserted them.
The club could hardly have picked a better man. When he renewed his contract with the DFB eighteen months previously, Sammer was insistent that, should FC Bayern come calling, he would be allowed to leave. And while there will be many a Dortmund fan weeping for the loss of their one time hero, Sammer’s mentality undoubtedly fits the “Rekordmeister”.
Aside from the no excuses philosophy, it is Sammer’s approach to individuality which makes him such a perfect fit for Bayern. A member of Berti Vogt’s European Championship winning team of 1996, Sammer is as far from Vogt’s “The team is the star” philosophy as it is possible to get. Individuals drive the team forward, he says, and individuals must take responsibility.
As for his role within the grand old political machine which is the Bayern board, Sammer will enjoy at least something of a honeymoon period. While his task is by no means to be taken lightly, he has been headhunted. Even Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge cannot afford to discredit their own man too early. But then perhaps that is why they were so desperate for Sammer: they knew his competitive nature would not allow him to rest on his laurels, or to blame the pressure cooker culture at FC Bayern if things started to go wrong. As he says himself: no excuses.
Indeed, with Sammer, Shaqiri and co all in the bag, it seems the Bayern board can do no wrong this summer. Retail therapy and a new man in the boss’s chair may be a typically Bavarian solution to the slightest hiccup, but the signings they have made do not indicate panic buying. Rather a grim determination to restore their status as an indomitable force in the Bundesliga.
And yet, there has been one slight problem. One tiny detail in which the Bayern board have been left out in the cold, much to the delight of their ever gleeful critics. The signing of Javi Martinez from Athletic Club de Bilbao was supposed to be the coup de grace of Bayern’s summer activity. Instead, it has stalled, with the Basque club refusing to play ball on the player’s transfer just a few days after most German papers confirmed it as a done deal.
The result has not only been that Bayern are a defensive midfielder short of what they had hoped for, but that their helpless floundering in the face of an unreasonably stubborn diplomatic opponent has led many to question just why the club were so desperate to bring Martinez to Munich. The proposed fee of 40m Euros is, in the eyes of many, too high for a player who has no experience of the Champions League, and is largely a bench warmer for his country. Whether or not the transfer eventually does come through, the fact remains that the Martinez saga has gone on for too long – and either way, its result will cause a media storm which Bayern would rather avoid at the start of the season.
Back to the future
For now, though, the current squad must occupy itself with restoring Bayern’s superiority. Even with Mario Gomez and David Alaba out through injury, Jupp Heynckes still has a deeper squad into which he can delve throughout the coming year, and nothing but success across the board will do for Bayern.
Heynckes is only the second manager in ten years to not be sacked by Bayern after not winning the title. The last was Ottmar Hitzfeld. An abnormal amount of trust from his employers he may enjoy, but Heynckes knows that his team must deliver the goods this year. A comfortable disposal of Regensburg in the DFB Pokal, with a similar dispatch of SpVgg Greuther Fürth on MatchDay one, is a promising start, but the uphill struggle has only just begun. Bayern are under strict orders to return the club to its glory days. And with Dortmund still breathing down their neck, the pressure is not going to let up at FC Hollywood.
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