Seldom ever do Bayern Munich go a year without winning a title. Even rarer are two consecutive years without a single trophy. Suffice to say, their two year drought signalled quite a few alarm bells and one of the casualties of this dry spell was sporting director Christian Nerlinger. Replacing him is a man who has success seemingly sown into his DNA, Matthias Sammer. According to club president Uli Hoeness, Sammer was the only candidate for the role and the “missing piece.” So why are Bayern so adamant that Sammer is the right man for the job?
First, it is difficult and even unfair to pin Bayern’s disappointing seasons on Nerlinger alone. After all, he did reduce the average age of the squad notably, secured key players to long term contracts and signed some very promising young players. That said, his transfer policy left a bit to be desired. Nils Petersen, Rafinha and Takashi Usami did not have quite the impact many desired while players like Jerome Boateng and Luiz Gustavo cost the club 30 million Euros and are still raw and developing. Under Nerlinger, Bayern also failed to sign some of the club’s biggest transfer targets like Arturo Vidal, Marco Reus and Fabio Coentrao. All the while, there was always the feeling that Nerlinger was not on the same wavelength as his predecessor in sheer ambition and ability to get things done. The club’s official statement only confirmed that sentiment, citing a difference in their directions for the club.
That’s where Sammer comes in. To many, football, and success for that matter, is all about the right mentality and if Sammer was known for one thing it was his unyielding desire to win. And nowhere is the pressure for success greater in Germany than at Bayern. As club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge reiterated this week, “We were runners up three times. We want titles again.” And he is not the only one to stress the importance of winning again. After their disappointing season last year, Jupp Heynckes kicked off the summer training camp by calling for a greater desire and will to win from the team, “We all need to develop a greater desire for success. That is what FC Bayern needs.”
From Sammer’s early days as a footballer in the old East Germany to his back to back titles with Borussia Dortmund to almost single handedly carrying Germany to their EURO 1996 triumph, Sammer is no stranger to success and tailor made for Bayern’s renewed ambitions. In fact, Sammer thrives on success. His determination and unrelenting drive to win was always written on his face as a player and he carried that into his managerial career as well. In only his second year as Dortmund coach, Sammer snatched the league from favorites Bayern and Leverkusen on the final day of the season while also reaching the UEFA Cup final. He won the league three times as a player, the Champions League, the Intercontinental Cup, the European Championship and several individual honors.
Sammer epitomizes a more traditional approach to football in terms of his aggressive and no holds barred personality and maybe that is why Uli Hoeness sees him as such an appropriate fit. Like Hoeness, Sammer’s standards are high. “Our national team players have a three week holiday. As a player, I never had three weeks off. I see no reason for excuses. You can make excuses elsewhere but not at FC Bayern.” That kind of harsh pressure is perhaps exactly what is deemed necessary after last season’s failures and is directed at a lot of the criticisms that has painted some of the players as too soft or lacking the right mentality.
But it’s not all about the past with Sammer. He was also brought in because of his experience and success in youth development. No doubt also influenced by Borussia Dortmund’s recent success with young players, Bayern realize that to maintain success one has to also focus on the future. Up until his appointment at Bayern, Sammer had been a big part of the DFB’s youth development. As their technical director since 2006, he was in charge of the success of various youth national teams ranging from the ages eleven through eighteen including incorporating new training methods and a unified tactical approach through all levels.
Sammer aims to continue that work at Bayern as well. “We have an extremely interesting team including a number of younger players with the potential to develop. I want to contribute to the sense of a fresh start at Bayern. Given the ambitions we have here, we need to define new paths and new targets. Self pity and personal grievances cannot matter anymore.” Hoeness stated that his experience and success at the youth level was decisive in his appointment and something they had been monitoring for some time now, “We observed Matthias Sammer’s progress for a while. He was responsible for outstanding success in German junior football and we were always impressed by all that. We want to send out a signal and follow new paths in this area too.”
His track record as a player and manager is why Bayern have made such a commitment with Sammer and also why they have entrusted him with a lot more responsibility than previously with Nerlinger, who was not a member of the board in his tenure. “Effective immediately, Sammer will take responsibility for the sporting dimensions as a member of the board” said Rummenigge at the beginning of the week. “Without question, it’s an extremely important job, it’s the core of FC Bayern. If this area runs satisfactorily and successfully then everything else at the club is certainly much easier.” Sammer will be in charge of the coaching staff, the youth section and the scouting operation, no shortage of responsibility or pressure but if anyone is up to the task, it is Sammer.
Whether so many strong personalities can effectively cooperate together remains to be seen but with Sammer Bayern have a man with strong convictions and an unquestionable drive for success. “I come to FC Bayern which is full of big personalities and I want to work side by side with them but also bring my own perspective. I approach this task with the necessary modesty and humility but I’m also confident enough to take on the vital and major challenges facing FCB in the new season.” Either way, Bayern will no doubt benefit from a personality so focused on winning. Sammer’s grand opening at his own presentation was perhaps after all a self fulfilling declaration of his ambitions at the club, “We want, must, and will be immediately successful. We have absolutely no time to lose.”
While Nerlinger never shook his image as Uli Hoeness’ apprentice, Sammer is seen as the kind of personality to step out of Hoeness’ shadow and make his own mark much like Hoeness did when he took over decades ago. Bayern tried to sign Sammer before, back when he was a player in the 1993/94 season, unsuccessfully so, but they got their man now. Although he no longer kicks a football Sammer still maintains the same attitude that made him one of the greats of his era and if he can replicate that success at a managerial stage for Bayern it will have been one of the best decisions made in recent club history.
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