Bayern end their decade of dominance on a somewhat sour note
A league title every other year would be enough for most clubs, but not for Bayern Munich. Bayern are heading toward another caesura and have yet to decide what life will be like after Uli Hoeness.
The Bundesliga title is a goal too far, Bayern’s players acknowledged after this Saturday’s unlucky loss to Schalke. Barring a miracle comeback, which would also assume a disastrous collapse by leaders Borussia Dortmund, 2010-11 will mark the third time on the trot that Bayern have failed to defend a Bundesliga crown.
Bayern’s focus will now be on qualifying for the next Champions League season, a must since the 2012 final will be held at their home ground, the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Bayern’s bosses are trying to keep the team’s current struggles in perspective.
“I’m sure we’ll win lots of titles with Louis van Gaal,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told supporters at the largely positive annual team meeting last week.
But the Van Gaal era is slowly but surely coming to an end. The Dutch coach has indicated he’d like to lead one of the big national teams to the 2014 World Cup, leaving Bayern at the latest by the end of next season.
In addition, relations with the number-one man in Munich, Uli Hoeness, are frosty after the Bayern president criticized van Gaal as overly headstrong and uncommunicative on a television chat show.
“A football club today isn’t a one-man show,” club president Hoeness fumed. “He’s difficult to talk to because he doesn’t accept other people’s opinions.”
Ironic words from the head honcho of a club in a curious position. The team’s future is up in the air despite possessing excellent balance sheets and a host of young of talent.
Heading the list of unresolved questions is: Who, if anyone, can fill the role of the 58-year-old Hoeness? And will Hoeness let himself be replaced?
The house that Uli built
Bayern and Germany soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer once famously opined: “Bayern is FC Hoeness.” And arguably, the cantankerous striker-turned-commercial manager-turned president is the most successful football executive of all time.
When Hoeness became manager in 1979, at the age of 27, Bayern was Germany’s number-two club with an annual turnover of 12 million DM (6 million euros) and 7 million DM in debt.
Hoeness commercialized the club and made it Germany’s undisputed top dog, holding off challenges from Hamburg in the 1980s and Dortmund in the 1990s. Meanwhile, as rivals were borrowing money to try to compete, Bayern’s accounts were swelling.
Bayern’s domestic football dominance has been unchallenged in the new millennium, with the team capturing six of the past ten Bundesliga titles. What’s more, the club’s turnover last year, when Hoeness became president, was a record 312 million euros ($418 million), and the club’s capital worth is 206 million euros.
Bayern’s international record may lag behind that of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man United, Liverpool and AC Milan, but none of those clubs can boast the financial transparency and solidity Hoeness has achieved at Bayern.
And yet Bayern have never achieved the sort of automatic consistency the boss would like to see.
“You know what our dream in the team leadership is,” Hoeness said in an interview with Munich’s Merkur newspaper. “To just sit in the stands and enjoy without having to say anything. If a coach comes and everything is super, then we’re happy. Then we sit in the stands and slap our thighs and don’t have to do anything but applaud.”
The problem is, of course, that no coach has lived up to those expectations. Felix Magath was fired in 2007 after winning two domestic doubles. Van Gaal has come in for a verbal barrage despite the team playing perhaps its most attractive football ever last season.
And the perennially tenuous position of Bayern coaches has contributed to what’s becoming something of a cycle in Munich.
In search of an heir
Bayern have maintained their dominance of German football by investing heavily in transfers after non-title years. Luca Toni and Franck Ribery, for instance, were brought in 2007, and Arjen Robben and Marco Gomez before the start of last season.
That strategy has worked because Bayern have more than adequate resources and Hoeness is among the most astute judges of talents in the game.
But what happens when the boss gets too old to do the job?
Juergen Klinsmann was hired as coach in 2008 amidst great ballyhoo about how Bayern Munich was reforming to meet the demands of the 21st century. That experiment lasted as long as the Buddha statues at Bayern’s practice grounds, and it’s the only time there’s been a coach significantly younger than Hoeneß in Munich.
Van Gaal has brought some needed tactical acumen to Bayern, who now play modern, possession-oriented 4-3-3 football. What Munich now need for the long term is a young coach capable of building on that and of helping manage the empire that Hoeness has established.
If Bayern follow their established pattern, they’ll be investing heavily in some new stars next season, raiding, wherever possible, the teams in the Bundesliga they consider their most serious threats. That’s bad news for Dortmund.
And what’s worse is that young coaches with enough status to fit in at Bayern are a rarity. Dortmund’s Juergen Klopp, assuming he can lead his current charges to the title, would be one of the few who fit the bill, and it’s possible to imagine the down-to-earth Swabian getting along with the gruff Hoeness.
Klopp has a contract with Dortmund until 2014, but Hoeness is a man who used to getting what he wants.
And what he wants most of all for the long term is a suitable heir.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner