September 24, 2017

Reflections on Bayern Munich’s 5th Straight Bundesliga Title

With three Matchdays to spare in the 2016-17 Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich has won its 5th consecutive Bundesliga title, building on the league record for most consecutive titles. Moreover, Bayern has now won 27 German domestic titles, 26 of which were won during the Bundesliga era. During its five year reign over the Bundesliga, this title was arguably the hardest to win for Bayern, who was not pushed this deep into a season to clinch the title since the streak began back in 2012-13. Thanks to close competition from RB Leipzig, at least during the Hinrunde, Bayern had to push deeper into the domestic season to clinch the title than it ever did during Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning season and the following three Pep Guardiola seasons. Nevertheless, Bayern won its 5th title in a row — and the Bavarians won it in style on the road at Wolfsburg, who didn’t seem interested in challenging its visitors.

Now that Bayern have won its 5th title, it’s worth reflecting on the event, and its wider significance not only for the club, but also for German football itself. After all, Bayern winning a 5th consecutive title certainly won’t quiet down the “Bayernliga” criticisms directed at the league by detractors. And yet, this 2016-17 season arguably could be viewed as a disappointment for Bayern, who were knocked out of the Champions League and DFB Pokal in consecutive weeks. So what does it all add up to?

Your Bundesliga Fanatic editorial staff shares some reflections on the occasion of Bayern winning its 5th consecutive Bundesliga title.

Abel Meszaros

This isn’t Pep’s Bayern anymore. Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso are retiring, and neither is at the same ridiculous heights that we’ve grown accustomed to. David Alaba had a down year and drew the ire of many Bayern fans. Jerome Boateng at least doubled his Bundesliga minutes (from 640 to about 1300 so far) but spent large portions of the year injured. Javi Martinez has had to fill in and has done so admirably, though it’s easy to argue that his red cards crippled Bayern vs Real Madrid in the first leg of the UCL quarterfinals and his errant back pass gave BVB new life in the DFB Pokal semis. Juan Bernat will yet again be at around the 1k minutes part and wonder if he should elsewhere. Joshua Kimmich, despite a torrid start of the season can only get minutes in blowouts. 35m wonderkid Renato Sanches can’t even say that much. Douglas Costa who tore up the Bundesliga in the 15\16 Hinrunde has been mailing it in all year (though did beat Darmstadt with a fabulous strike). Kingsley Coman got his two goals in the 8-0 thrashing of HSV and picked up his first assist in the 6-0 in Wolfsburg this weekend. Arturo Vidal’s recklessness might have cost Bayern the UCL, though a certain Hungarian referee was also heavily involved. Thomas Müller’s 20 goal season was followed by five so far. Even the great Manuel Neuer went down injured. Evidently nobody liked Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3.

WAIT YOU MEAN THAT THEY STILL RAN AWAY WITH THE TITLE?

Such #Bayernproblems.

Seriously, with the amount of issues faced and successfully solved by Bayern it’s incredible what they achieved. Not only did they destroy the Bundesliga in every single model and statistical category, but players like Thiago (still the MVP), Bob Lewandowski (on pace to tie Gerd Müller with back to back 30 goal seasons), Franck Ribéry – does anyone still remember that he has 10 assists already ? – Thomas Müller (tying a career-high with ELEVEN assists in a “bad year”) or Arjen Robben (the Bundesliga’s Benjamin Button has 11 goals 7 assists on 2.8 shots per match in an eerily similar campaign to 2014\15 where he posted 17\7 on 4.2 shots per game) or Mats Hummels (apparently capable of playing world-class defense without sprinting) carried them to a rather ho-hum Meisterschale.

Sigh.

Travis Timmons

Unlike the prior four titles, I have mixed feelings about this most recent title. Of course, part of me loathes seeing Bayern celebrate another title. As I’ve written before, watching Bayern lose in the Bundesliga brings me particular satisfaction. This season was no different, even with Pep Guardiola and that crushing sense of invincibility around Bayern gone. This Bayern seemed slightly more vulnerable, “drawable,” or conversely slightly less capable. However, I shouldn’t delude myself: this version of Bayern was pretty damn invincible, utterly dominating the Bundesliga in all metrics and still able to give out many a “Bayern Treatment” whipping. And, after yet another season of watching Bayern once again dominate the league, I freaked out a bit about the possibility that another German club will ever win the Bundesliga again. Of course another club will win the Bundesliga someday — it could be as early as next season with Bayern aging and BVB’s young stars growing up — but right now it seems like us ‘anyone-but-Bayern’ people have been wandering a proverbial 40 year desert in search of milk and honey. I mean, the part of me that loathes Bayern’s success doesn’t loathe its success per se, but rather loathes Bayern’s ability to purchase success, which I mean quite literally given the Bavarians’ financial might and ability to buy off everyone else’s best players every season. I see no end in sight to this larger systemic phenomenon; Bayern’s success is exponential, not merely additive.

However, as icky as it feel for this BVBer to admit, I would have found it dissatisfying to see this particular Bayern side not win anything this season, especially with Philipp Lahm retiring. A perverse part of me really hoped Bayern would win the Champions League this season. I thought (and perhaps still think) that Bayern were Europe’s best side this season, and, after enduring a season’s worth of televised “Bayern Treatments” in the Bundesliga, it’s cathartic to see the likes of Arsenal getting just absolutely demolished by Bayern. Moreover, the aesthetic part of me really enjoyed Bayern this season — more so than the three Pep Guardiola versions of Bayern. This “uncoached” Carlo Ancelotti Bayern was effortless, by which I mean the players performed with a stunning grace. Unfettered by auteur tyranny. Free to evolve on its own as a unit of eleven parts. More natural in their tendencies. Moreover, with Thiago finally being healthy for an entire season, I witnessed new possibilities for midfield play turning into final 3rd menace routinely, gracefully, and almost invisibly. This Bayern side deserves success in the same way that our greatest cultural art deserves recognition. Of course, the trick with sport — as a cultural art — is that competition and tournaments ruin everything. However, after running the crap-shoot of competition, Bayern still managed to win a major title this season.

Gerry Wittmann

I didn’t wish Bayern to win the Bundesliga title this season.  I did wish them to win the treble, which of course, includes the Bundesliga title.  Major contradiction, illogical and impossible, yes –but wishes aren’t necessarily the product of logic but more the products of whimsy.  The point of the wishes were twofold — first off, it’d  just be interesting to see another German club grab the salad plate ahead of the Bavarians this season. But to the contrary, it would also be rewarding to see Munich’s team win the treble and put a historical, inarguable stamp on this outstanding era of Bayern football led by three different coaches.  My wishes didn’t come true, but the rekordmeisters did win a record fifth consecutive Bundesliga title.

I am not a Bayern Munich supporter.  I don’t become ecstatic when they win or depressed when they lose (except in European competition).  I am more a supporter of the Bundesliga, the competition involving 18 clubs, than a supporter of any particular one.

I am a Bayern Munich fan, however.  The difference perhaps between being a supporter and a fan is, in this case, is that while Bayern have am already a huge, worldwide mass of loyalists that doesn’t require my allegiance, their consistent excellence makes it impossible not to be a fan.

Because, despite a lifetime of rooting for the striving, the yearning, the underdog clubs on the cusp of great things  I deeply appreciate what Bayern does, year in and year out. The club represents German football abroad with a  panache and results that few clubs in the world can match, and if they are the bit of bullies domestically, it is only because, they are so focused on being the best they can be. They don’t apologize, they just achieve.  Mia san Mia.

My take on Bayern’s domestic dominance is simple — beat them, or live with it.  Others can gripe and moan about Bayern’s ruthlessness, their money, their arrogance …but the fact is that they weren’t the DFB’s choice to represent Munich when the Bundesliga was organized a little over 50 years ago –1860 Munich were.  They built their incredible success themselves, without the largesse of a foreign billionaire.  They’ve helped out other German clubs struggling financially and have, along with other German clubs, kept their ticket prices low.  And besides being astute at recognizing and signing elite talent, the Bavarians never lack vision, as exemplified by their reach abroad to open club offices in New York City and China  Bayern does not rest on their laurels, ever….in its quest to be the best.  They win, and they do it by generally playing thrilling, entertaining football.

It’s certainly a disappointment to Bayern supporters that the club failed to reach the Champions League final, and their semifinal loss to Borussia Dortmund in the Pokal means that the Bavarians can only claim one trophy this season.  But the flipside — winning five consecutive league titles — is an incredible accomplishment.  In five consecutive Augusts, every German club starts out even, and in five consecutive months of May, Bayern ends up as the best.   It’s only right to not only congratulate the Bavarians, but also to realize how difficult it is to achieve what they’ve accomplished with another title this Spring.  Bayern Munich sets the bar for German football, and it’s up to the other clubs to try to meet it.  Congratulations !!!

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