BAYERN Munich could be eyeing the “impossible treble” this season as they look ahead to the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League in August. Not many clubs have managed to win their two main domestic prizes and the UEFA Champions League, in fact it has been achieved just eight times, the last in 2015 with Barcelona.
Bayern recently completed their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title and followed that by winning the DFB Pokal. They’ve won 13 domestic trophies in eight years out of a possible 16. It is time, perhaps, to win another UEFA Champions League, a prize they haven’t secured since 2013.
At home in Germany, Bayern still refuse to be overthrown. Each season, the same question gets asked – “are FC Bayern showing signs of slipping?” – and even when they hit a lean spell (admittedly rare), they act, regroup and go about their business. In November, they were beaten 5-1 by Frankfurt, a result that left the Bayern top brass ashen-faced and ready to swing the axe.
Niko Kovač, in his second season at the club, was sacked after they had a business-like discussion and declared, “the consensual result was that Niko is no longer coach of FC Bayern”. Kovač even said he felt it was the best thing for the club – such is the pressure of being coach at Bayern. The old cliché, “he’s lost the dressing room”, had been circling the beer halls of Munich for weeks.
For the past few years, people have predicted an end to Bayern’s monopoly as their key players started to age. Robben, Ribery and Lahm have now all gone now and the club has been bringing in fresh talent.
Kovač didn’t seemed to fit well at Bayern as far back as the halfway point of his debut campaign and in the summer, he irritated Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge over comments made about the possible signing Manchester City’s Leroy Sane. It doesn’t pay to upset the men in the comfortable seats at the magnificent Allianz Arena.
Although Kovač won the double in 2018-19, the club crashed out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage, losing to eventual winners Liverpool. That represented Bayern’s worst showing in the competition since 2011 and obviously hit the club’s wallet.
When it looks as though the machine is stopping, Bayern invariably look within and they came up with Hans-Dieter Flick, who had returned to the club when Kovač was appointed as an assistant coach in 2019. Heidelberg-born Flick played for Bayern in the 1980s, so he was no stranger, but in some ways it was a gamble, or at least, a stop-gap decision. Flick did enough to get a new contract in April that takes him through to 2023. His win rate is 90.63% and he’s already won two trophies. At the moment, it looks like an excellent appointment. Bayern’s grand old men are impressed, notably Franz Beckenbauer, who claims Flick has brought togetherness to that lost dressing room.
Bayern have not only benefitted from younger players like Alphonse Davies, Leon Goretza, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich, but Robert Lewandowski, at 31 years of age, has been in spectacular form, scoring 51 goals, including 34 in 31 Bundesliga games. In addition, Bayern’s 34 year-old keeper and captain has been outstanding this season.
Bayern ended 13 points ahead of Dortmund in second place, with a goal difference of 68, their best since 2014. Bayern’s determination and resilience – apart from one week early in the season they didn’t hit the top until February – has become a characteristic of the club for many years. When they were beaten in consecutive games in December, the second a 2-1 loss at resurgent Borussia Mönchengladbach, the doubters were predicting an end to the seven year run at the top as Bayern languished in seventh place. However, they returned from the winter break focused and energised, beating Hertha Berlin 4-0 away and Schalke 5-0 at the Allianz. Furthermore, for the second time in a matter of months, they went to London and left behind scorched earth – following-up a 7-2 win at Tottenham with an emphatic 3-0 victory at Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg.
Bayern will undoubtedly come through the delayed second leg against Chelsea and many people are predicting they will win the competition this year. Certainly, Bayern had their shaky period early on in the campaign and seem to have a very confident team at present. With Barcelona squabbling, Real Madrid almost out of the way, Manchester City vulnerable in defence, PSG possibly a little rusty and Liverpool eliminated, Bayern could be in a good place at the right time.
Can anyone depose Bayern in Germany? Dortmund have been runners-up in five of the last eight seasons, but the club does not have the financial clout of Bayern. Dortmund have actually spent more than Bayern over the past eight years, but they sell their best players out of necessity, hence their net transfer activity results in a positive of around € 100 million. Bayern, on the other hand, have a negative spend of almost € 300 million. Leipzig continue to be a rising force, but they also excel at player-trading, hence they have sold Timo Werner to Chelsea.
Bayern’s advantage over their opponents is substantial and shows no sign of being eroded. The club’s revenues for 2018-19 totalled € 660.1 million, compared to Dortmund’s € 377.1 million and Schalke’s € 324.8 million. Bayern’s commercial prowess is evidenced by their total revenues in this stream of € 356.5 million, comparable to the entire income of Dortmund and more than Schalke’s overall amount. Little wonder the margin between Bayern and their closest competitors has averaged 14 points per season since 2012.
The only way a club is going to overtake Bayern, it would seem, is for them to become complacent or simply an unfortunate slip-up, but when things start to go wrong, steps are quickly taken to remedy the problem, as seen in the past when Carlo Ancelotti was sacked early season and most recently with the removal of Kovač.
So it really has been business as usual in Germany, although in the first half of the season, Bayern had to work harder than usual. After the winter break, Bayern won 16 out of 17 games, the form of champions. The next step is to have a real stab at winning the UEFA Champions League. Ultimately, European success is how Hansi Flick will be judged.