Premier League’s pull could spell trouble for Bayern Munich and Bundesliga | Bayern Munich

From 2013 to 2022, the title winner in Germany bears the same name. Bayern Munich are celebrating a 10th championship in a row. A decade of dominance is a novelty in the five strongest leagues in Europe. Such statistics are otherwise known in Europe only from clubs such as Skonto Riga, Dinamo Zagreb, Rosenborg or Dynamo Berlin from the East German Oberliga.

Bayern are a club who win titles. In the past 50 years of the Bundesliga, they have ended up on top 30 times. They owe this to their unique identity: as the club of players. One successful generation takes over from another. And former players have been at the helm for a long time.

The foundation was laid by Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, homegrown players and world-class 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 70s, a footballer, Uli Hoeneß, took over responsibility for the club. He led it for more than 40 years, for a long time with his former teammates 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 it can afford in Germany. The best Germans or the best in the Bundesliga are identified and bought by Bayern. There they have to assert themselves among strong competition.

A regular German player at Bayern practically automatically plays for the national team. In the early 80s they were called Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, in the late eighties Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme and Klaus Augenthaler, from the mid-90s Oliver Kahn, Jürgen Klinsmann, Matthäus again and later Michael 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, just like 40 years before, a team of homegrown players of world class grew up. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and I gave a special touch to “mia san mia”: the attitude that the club always trusts itself with everything and everyone else always trusts it with everything. Today, Müller and Manuel Neuer guarantee titles with Robert Lewandowski. In 2020, the team repeated the treble of 2013.

Manuel Neuer celebrates this season’s Bundesliga title. Photograph: Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

Bayern and Munich have everything that helps with success: a modern stadium, a great city, lots of fans. Currently, there are enough locations in Germany with similar potential. But Hamburg borrowed money from the fans and were relegated like Schalke, Frankfurt, Berlin and 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.

On the one hand, this makes things comfortable for Bayern. Because the national competition is no match for the international competition, they benefit more than anyone else in Germany from the economic growth in top European football. Since 1998, they have increased their turnover more than sixfold. Hardly anyone else bids for the players they want. This huge advantage even allows for phases of weakness.

On the other hand, danger now looms. From the late 1980s, when Italian industrialists cross-subsidized football as patrons, Serie A was the dominant league for a good decade. Matthäus, Brehme, Klinsmann, Rudi Völler and Thomas 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 Milan, Bayern did not win the Champions League.

Lothar Matthäus playing for Internazionale in the 1991-92 season.  Several of Germany's best players in that period moved to Italy.
Lothar Matthäus playing for Internazionale in the 1991-92 season. Several of Germany’s best players in that period moved to Italy. Photograph: Action Images

Now we may be facing a decade of the 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 2019-20 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 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 two years earlier, and there is speculation about Serge Gnabry leaving.

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

Bayern will not be able to count on support from Germany in this competition between leagues, and the weakness of the Bundesliga could also weaken the club in the long run. Perhaps this process is already under way. From 2010 to 2016, Bayern reached the semi-finals six times and the final three times in seven attempts. From 2017 to 2022 they made the last four twice in six attempts. This season they were eliminated before the semi-finals for the second time in a row, this time against outsiders Villarreal.

This comes at a time when the old management generation is saying goodbye. For a long time, Hoeneß, for whom Bayern was a life’s work, led the club like an owner. Today, two former players are again at the helm, Hasan Salihamidzic and Kahn, Champions League winners from 2001.

Their mandate 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. Belonging at the top of Europe – that is the aspiration of Bayern Munich.

Philipp Lahm’s column appears regularly in the Guardian. 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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