Bayern Munich: a shining example of a well-run club with nobody left to conquer in their own land

The Bavarians are rightly held up as a class operation in European football. But where do they go from here?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 4:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 4:52pm

February 6, 2018. A group of Manchester United fans have organised a memorial in Munich to mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster which decimated Sir Matt Busby’s great side.

Bayern Munich, Germany’s leading football club are approached by fans and agree, without hesitation, to send their top two officials, club president and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness. Both were legendary players, stars of the Bayern side which won three successive European Cups in the 1970s.

“Manchester United became a reference point in my life as a footballer and of chairman of Bayern Munich,” said Rummenigge to an assembled crowd of 2,000.

“Manchester United are more than wins, defeats, titles and lost trophies. Manchester United represents unconditional devotion, great joy and deep mourning. To this day I’m impressed by how the memory of those who were lost is passed on by fans. They provide a wonderful example of how to honour those who are no longer with us – by never forgetting them.”

The Bayern officials handle themselves with grace and respect. They stay longer than they should, they joke with fans about United being lucky in the 1999 Champions League final. Despite the disaster being little to do with their club, they have a section dedicated to it in their club museum.

Though rival fans of German clubs who watch them win the Bundesliga season after season – they’re currently on a six season run – might object to their dominance, Bayern are a class operation.

All their finances are self-generated and they do a lot right.

Bayern have successful safe standing sections where tickets are affordable and the atmosphere is spectacular. They play in modern stadiums in front of the largest crowds in the world. They have a team with a mixture of German and international stars who are just short of being the best in the world. In the last two years they’ve been eliminated by eventual winners Real Madrid at penultimate stages. Bayern attacked Madrid in the Bernabeu in both games, making for the most thrilling encounters in football in 2017 and 2018. They were right to consider themselves unlucky to lose.

But Bayern and German football have an issue which underlies the failure of the German national side in World Cup finals, four years after becoming world champions.

Bayern are too good. It’s not beneficial for a league when the best team can buy the best players of the second best team, as Bayern routinely do from Borussia Dortmund. Bayern won the title by an unhealthy 21 points last season. There’s no title race, just a procession of excellence overseen by coaches from Pep Guardiola to Jupp Heynckes.

“The Bundesliga has been declining internationally,” explains journalist Jonas Beckenkamp who regularly covers Bayern. “Only Bayern are doing well in Europe now, others have struggled. In Germany, Bayern will admit that they need real opponents, genuine competition.”

Rummenigge and Hoeness are not afraid to talk about the issues which confront them. Bayern feel that their rivals now are the top five or six teams in the world rather than Hoffenheim or Nuremburg. But there, they hit a wall.

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Talking about football’s ownership model which means Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG have access to far bigger riches, Hoeness said:

“We’re playing against states, not other teams. In the future, if teams don’t exist because the states have pulled their money, FC Bayern will still be here.”

Rummenigge recently wondered if it would be better if German clubs would be allowed to change their “50+1” ownership model, which protects the club and supporters, to attract more outside investment. Bayern’s ownership model allows for 25 per cent of shares to be owned by outsiders – Adidas, Audi and Allianz. They helped them pay for and finance the impressive 75,000-capacity Allianz Arena. Bayern are proud that they have made a profit every single season for the last 26 years and have no debt. They are the fourth biggest club in the world by revenue.

They don’t feel like it’s boring being brilliant, more that the results on the pitch are because they’re well run and successful, though they have tweaked their system.

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“We decided that our youth system needed to be better,” explains Dr Martin Hagele of the club. “Transfer fees were escalating (Bayern’s top transfer is€41 million [US$47.4 million, £36.6 million] for Corentin Tolisso) and we decided that we wanted to develop and buy younger players and bring them through our system, which wasn’t working as well as it should. We built an academy to attract the best young Bavarian players, German players and international players. We want to be proudly Bavarian and German but also have international appeal and for players to have the Bayern DNA.” FC Bayern campus opened a year ago.

“That’s why we recently bought young Canadian and American players like Alphonso Davies (the US$13.5 million fee for the 17-year-old made him the most expensive MLS transfer). Our global scouting network is extensive.”

As Real Madrid turn to the best of Spanish youth, so Bayern want the best German prospects, partly to avoid the transfer fee arms race.

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Bayern’s problems, in their eyes, are with their rivals. Is it their fault that traditional rivals from powerhouse German cities have been so erratically run for so long?

Bayern and German football does much right. They are right to protect their traditions. But it appears the other Bundesliga teams are incapable of playing catch-up given the level of dominance Bayern have achieved. Bayern’s strength leads to the weakness of everyone else.