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Philipp Lahm: Returning to the top of European football is Bayern’s priority

From 2013 to 2022, the winner in the German Bundesliga bears the same name.

Bayern Munich is celebrating its tenth championship in a row. A decade of dominance is a novelty in the five strongest leagues in Europe.

Such statistics are otherwise only known from Skonto Riga, Dinamo Zagreb, Rosenborg Trondheim or Dynamo Berlin from the East German Oberliga.

Bayern Munich is a club that wins titles. In the last 50 years of the Bundesliga, it has ended up on top 30 times. It owes this to its unique identity: it is the club of players.

One successful generation takes over from another. And former players have been at its helm for a long time. Bayern has acquired its core competence in football on the pitch.

The foundation was laid by Maier, Beckenbauer, Müller, all home-grown players and world footballers. They were a gift to the club and the football nation. From their team, which won the European Cup three times, the leadership of the following decades was recruited.

At the end of the seventies, a footballer, Uli Hoeness, took over responsibility for the club. He led it for over 40 years, and for a long time with his former team-mates Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

They combined an understanding of football with leadership qualities and helped the club to achieve an exceptional position in Germany.

Since then, the club has relied on a principle that only they can afford in Germany. The best Germans or the best in the Bundesliga are identified and bought by Bayern Munich. There they have to assert themselves among strong competition.

A regular German player at Bayern Munich practically automatically plays for the national team. In the early eighties they were called Rummenigge and Breitner, in the late eighties Matthäus, Brehme and Augenthaler, from the mid-nineties Kahn, Klinsmann, Matthäus again and later Ballack.

If the players come from the city or the region, that unleashes a power, an additional identification with the club. This is how great teams are formed.

From 2005 onwards, just like 40 years before, a team of home-grown players with world class talent grew up.

Schweinsteiger, Müller and myself gave a special touch to “mia san mia”, i.e. the attitude that the club always trusts itself with everything and everyone else always trusts itself with everything.

Today, Müller and Neuer guarantee titles with Lewandowski. In 2020, the team repeated the treble of 2013.

FC Bayern and Munich have everything that helps with success: a modern stadium, a great city, lots of fans.

Actually, there are enough locations in Germany with similar potential.

But Hamburg SV borrowed money from the fans and was relegated like Schalke, Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne.

Dortmund almost went bankrupt two decades ago, hanging on the drip of Bayern Munich.

And so, the Bundesliga, the second most financially powerful league in the world, has been waiting since 1997 for someone other than Bayern to win a European Cup.

Domestic dominance

On the one hand, this makes things comfortable for FC Bayern.

Because the national competition is no match for the international tournaments, it benefits more than anyone else in Germany from the economic growth in top European football.

Since 1998, it has increased its turnover by more than sixfold. Hardly anyone else bids for the players the Bavarians want. Their huge advantage even allows them phases of weakness.

On the other hand, danger now looms.

From the late 1980s, when Italian industrialists cross-subsidised football as patrons, Serie A was the all-dominant league for a good decade.

Matthäus, Brehme, Klinsmann, Völler and Hässler, the bulk of the German world champions of 1990, played in Italy in their best years.

During this period, when hardly a final was played without Juventus and AC Milan, FC Bayern did not win the Champions League.

Now we may be facing a decade of the English Premier League, financed by very rich entrepreneurs from all over the world, but also states that want to improve their reputation with big sporting events.

This year we may see the third English final in four years. Only the 2020 season, when the Champions League was played in a mini format and under complicated pandemic conditions, was the exception.

This parallel to the Italian era could have consequences.

In 2014, Lewandowski came to Bayern Munich from Dortmund. Today, the best coaches in the world succumb to England’s pull and the most sought-after players in the Bundesliga no longer switch to Bayern as a matter of course.

Erling Haaland will probably go to the Premier League, like Kai Havertz did two years ago, and there is speculation about Gnabry leaving.

If several of the outstanding talents of this generation see the bigger appeal in the English league than in the German one, this will become a problem for both Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga.

Bayern Munich will not be able to count on support from Germany in this competition between leagues, and the weakness of the Bundesliga could also weaken it in the long run.

Perhaps this process is already underway.

From 2010 to 2016, Bayern Munich reached the semi-finals six times and the final three times in seven attempts.

From 2017 to 2022, on the other hand, they only made the last four twice out of six occasions. This season, they were eliminated before the semi-finals for the second time in a row since 2009, this time against outsiders FC Villarreal.

This comes at a time when the old management generation is saying goodbye.

For a long time, Hoeness, for whom Bayern Munich was a life’s work, led the club like an owner.

Today, two former players are once again at the helm, Hasan Salihamidzic and Oliver Kahn, two Champions League winners from 2001.

The mandate to both of them is to strengthen the team now that everyone is crying out for investment and no one is talking about their own young talent – in a way that suits the club and the nation, with national and international stars who will make their home in Munich.

Establishing themselves at the top of European football is clearly the main objective for Bayern Munich.

Note: Philipp Lahm was talking to Oliver Fritsch, Zeit Online

Author

  • Philipp Lahm is the tournament director for Euro 2024. His “Views of a footballer” column will appear regularly in The Sunday Times of Malta. It is produced in partnership with Oliver Fritsch at Zeit Online, the German online magazine, and is being published in several European countries.

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