It is universal that football clubs ” always want to win,” but winning today is not enough, as clubs also want to “always keep on winning.” The latter statement makes the journey of a football club not just challenging but also complicated. To keep on winning, a team must not look only short-term gain, but for success over a sustainable period.
Clubs like Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester United have been successful over so many decades of the game. Although there are other rich clubs in Europe, money alone does not guarantee success over a sustainable time period. So what is the secret of sustainable success for these great teams?
Bayern Munich: Europe’s Envy
Our focus is on FC Bayern Munich’s recent success. The most successful club in the history of German football, and one of the biggest names in European Football, FC Bayern Munich holds the record of maximum number of domestic league crowns and cup crowns. Bayern Munich are also the most successful club in the UEFA Champions league after Real Madrid (9 Titles) and AC Milan (7 Titles). Die Roten‘s trophy list is impressive:
- German Championship/ Bundesliga (23 titles): 1931–32, 1968–69, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1979–80, 1980–81, 1984–85, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1988–89, 1989–90, 1993–94, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2005–06, 2007–08, 2009–10, 2012–13.
- DFB-Pokal (16 titles): 1957, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013.
- UEFA Champions League/European Cup (5 titles): 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013.
Currently, Bayern are the team to beat in Europe. After the treble-winning campaign under Jupp Heynckes in 2012-13, Bayern Munich under the new coach Pep Guardiola look fresh, challenging, and most importantly still hungry for success.
In this article we are going to have a closer look at what made Bayern Munich so strong in Europe. Basically, I want to address this key question: What is the secret of Bayern’s success?
Build, Borrow or Buy
Professors Laurence Capron and Will Mitchell wrote a great book, Build, Borrow or Buy. Published in 2012 by the Harvard Business Review Press, this strategy book covers the “growth dilemma” faced by business organizations around the world. The book’s theory has been well received throughout world, helping CEOs and business leaders use a broader perspective while evaluating the growth of their organizations. I think the theory of Capron and Mitchell’s book offers explaining power in finding the secret of Bayern Munich’s recent success. Simply put, Capron and Mitchell’s theory explains why a club like Bayern is able to sustain continued success at football’s top levels.
The basic idea of Build, Borrow or Buy is that, when an organization grows, it can grow through one of three possible ways. Here the theory is used a bit differently, as we are not talking about alliances or mergers between clubs, but we are using the theory on how a club acquires its resources through three ways: 1) build, 2) borrow and 3) buy. The basic idea remains the same, which can be summarized in the following three points:
- Build through internal development – football clubs accomplish this by bringing up players from their youth academies.
- Borrow through contracting licensing/alliance – football clubs accomplish this through by shrewdly loaning out or bringing in loaned players.
- Buy through mergers and acquisitions – football clubs accomplish this by buying players from other clubs.
While there are examples of clubs only focusing on buying player, relying on this strategy alone doesn’t guarantee consistent top level performance. On the other hand, only building through one’s youth academy may backfire as other teams may snatch away quality players by buying them with attractive offers.
Instead, the most effective strategy is a combination of all three – building, borrowing, and buying. So let’s look at how Bayern Munich has implemented this three-part strategy to manage their own sustained success in both domestic and European play.
Traditional teams have always had great football academies, in which they produce many excellent players, some of whom are often featured on the senior team. Clubs like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, and Ajax have similar philosophies about producing talents from internal resources. The challenge, however, is not only producing the young players, but also keeping them in the long run, which requires financial resources from the clubs.
The internal development of Bayern Munich is nothing new. On Bayern’s current squad, the following six youth academy products have been prominently featured:
- Lahm (1995)
- Schweinsteiger (1998)
- Müller (2000)
- Badstuber (2002)
- Kroos (2006)
- Alaba (2008)
Clearly, internal development remains one of Bayern’s key strengths, as the club has continued its high investment in its academy to bring out the latent talents of Europe and unleash them in world of football.
The concept of borrowing includes more than the term simply implies. Borrowing in the context of football means borrowing (using) other clubs resources by both loaning in and loaning out players – both of which are crucial for a club’s resource development. Interestingly, this strategy is often overlooked by many clubs.
Top clubs have big squads and often some players fail to make the first team. However, in the long run, these players have the potential to become a prized asset for the club. Therefore, it is very important that players, specifically young player get enough game time. Therefore, clubs often send players out on season-long loan to other clubs.
Bayern Munich have successfully done this. Most prominently, Philipp Lahm was loaned out to VfB Stuttgart to earn first team playing time in 2004, and is now the captain of Bayern’s deep squad. Additionally, Toni Kroos was loaned out to Bayer Leverkusen for 18 months and returned as the main play maker of the team. Finally, David Alaba was loaned out to Hoffenheim to get regular football and is now an integral part of the Bayern squad.
This strategy is perhaps the easiest way to get players and develop a top team; however, relying on this strategy alone does not guarantee sustained success. We have seen this summer clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Monaco, PSG, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Arsenal splashing out cash to acquire the service of highly desired players this season. As mentioned earlier, this strategy is somewhat unfair to other clubs, who are not as rich as these big clubs are. What is commonly seen is that clubs with not as much purchasing power rely on their youth academies to find their best players (i.e. the build strategy), yet they cannot hold onto these young starlets, due to smaller financial resources. To balance buying, a club must also sell players to accommodate the transfer fees.
The series of near misses in 2011-2012 has made Bayern Munich so motivated and they perfectly integrated their squad for their historic 2012-13 campaign, buying players like Mario Manzukic, Javi Martinez, Claudio Pizarro, Dante, Shaqiri. The rest is history: the treble-winning side under Jupp Heynckes may well be the most magnificent treble winners in the history of the game. This season Bayern have also made some big signings with Mario Götze (from Borussia Dortmund), Thiago (from Barcelona) and Jan Kirchhhoff (from Mainz).
Listing out their major Signings and departures in the last five years helps illustrate Bayern’s committment to a (balanced) buying strategy:
For (Seasons) Players In Players Out Net Expenditures on Transfers
- In: Thiago, Goetze, Kirchhoff.
- Out: Gomez, Can, Gustavo.
- Net Expenditures: 18.500.000 £ (outflow).
- In: Martinez, Manzukic, Shaqiri, Dante, Pizarro.
- Out: Olic, Pranjic.
- Net Expenditures: 62.000.000 £ (outflow),
- In: Boateng, Neuer, Rafinha.
- Out: Klose, Altintop, Ottl.
- Net Expenditures: 39.000.000 £ (outflow)
- In: Gustavo, Alaba.
- Out: Luca Toni, Van Bommel, Demichelis.
- Net Expenditures: 9.700.000 £ (outflow).
- In: Robben, Gomez, Tymoshchuk.
- Out: Lucio, Podolski, Hummels.
- Net Expenditures: 45.500.000 £ (outflow).
Player Life Cycle
A good team must have a perfect balance of older and younger players. However, you cannot gauge the balance simply by examining “average squad age,” which is often misleading; therefore, here we introduce the concept of “the player life cycle”.
The 2012-13 treble-winning season did not halt Bayern Munich’s ambition. It only has strengthened it to achieve more in the future. In Build, Borrow or Buy, the authors also mentions “The alliance life cycle” which, here, can be used analogously to the player life cycle concept. Here’s how it works. First, we divide a footballer’s professional career into 4 stages:
- Introduction. This is where a player comes into the scene of the professional career. At bigger clubs there are less scope of players in this stage to show their performance due to stiff competition within the team. However extraordinary players to shine in this stage.
- Growth. A player is now all set to continuously grow in his career until he reaches his peak. This stage can come as early as at age of 19 to 20 and continue till the 30.
- Peak. A player has reached his peak. He cannot further become a better play but can remain as good as he is right now depending on fitness level and hard work.
- Maturity /Decline. A player has now over his peak and now decline as he becomes older and fitness level declines. This can make a player unhappy with limited gametime and players often leave for other clubs in search of more regular football.
Now, take a look at Bayern’s first team. The squad can be mapped out according these four stages:
(Note: I’ve estimated and assigned each player points from 70 to 95.)
We can see why Bayern Munich became so successful and what a composed team they have now to dominate European Football in the coming years.
Most of the players are still growing and will only get better under Pep Guardiola. Ribery, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Robben and Dante are at the peak of their careers, while players like Goetze, Neuer, Mueller, Kroos and Martinez are already world-class and yet to reach their full potentials. With Pep Guardiola in charge this team, now the team is adapting to the new system only to become more threatening and more dominant force.
Bayern Munich have become a role model club not just in Germany but also in Europe. The club has its financial strength like many other top clubs in Europe but the strategy and the vision have really made the difference and distinguished Bayern Munich from the rest.