Hungry for Victory The Secrets of FC Bayern Munich's Success
FC Bayern Munich already holds this year's German league title, and its drubbing of FC Barcelona puts the European championship just a match away. What makes this year's team so much more dominant than all its other star-studded predecessors?
Several of the over 95,000 FC Barcelona fans had already left in resignation when loud singing filled the enormous Camp Nou stadium in the Spanish city. "One can only lose against Bavaria," chanted the visiting Munich fans, and all who could understand the German cheer from the upper stands nodded in secret acknowledgement. By then, FC Bayern had shown its absolute dominance in two games against Barça in the semifinals of the Champions League tournament. And with the 7-0 cumulative victory came the question: If not FC Barcelona, the powerhouse team that has dominated European football for years, who could defeat FC Bayern Munich?
"We want to be the best team in the world," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of Bayern Munich, had said before the second game. And now it would appear that his team is in the express lane to reaching that goal.
In Germany, Bayern captured the title of the Bundesliga, Germany's premier soccer league, in record time and with record figures. Now it awaits two final matches: the German Football Association (DFB) German Cup title match against VfB Stuttgart on June 1, and the Champions League title match against its Bundesliga rival Borussia Dortmund on May 25.
"The team has already made history today," Rummenigge said. But if FC Bayern succeeds in winning all three titles, it would be a first in the club's already storied 113-year history. Even during the golden years of players such as Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer, the team never enjoyed such a triple success.
Quality on the Bench
Indeed, even fans back home in Munich seem a bit puzzled by why things have gone so smoothly this season, given all the other star-studded squads the club has boasted in the past. "The good results are the upshot of hard work" DFB sports director Matthias Sammer matter-of-factly concluded after Wednesday's victory. But, one might ask, hasn't the team always worked hard? Additional insight was provided by Rummenigge, who has been with FC Bayern for some 30 years and knows the club better than almost anyone else. "I learned this year that a team is made up of 24 rather than just 11 players," he said, touching upon the team's much praised depth and the quality of its players all the way to the far end of the substitutes' bench.
Rummenigge also drew attention to what clearly sets this Bayern team apart from previous ones -- extraordinary team spirit. Of course, as always, trainer Jupp Heynckes has players whose individual performances make them stand out from the team as a whole. But these days he hardly has any player who makes a show of doing so. The team has rarely been so homogenous, with each player subordinating his individual desires to the shared mission of the team. And Heynckes has also told them in no uncertain terms that they should never be content with doing just what is necessary to win. Keep digging deeper. Never be satisfied.
In both the Bundesliga and the Champions League, this attitude can be seen most prominently when FC Bayern scores the first goal. Then there has to be another, and yet another. Indeed, Heynckes has transformed the natural competitive appetite of his players into a genuine hunger. None of them simply performs his duties with stoicism. Instead, each of them thinks and feels as part of a team and contributes as much as he can.
Focusing on What's Important
Of course, things haven't always been this way. "I still think about how crestfallen we were in Munich last year," Rummenigge said. But, he added, this year's "determined bunch" is different from the team that suffered a 3-4 loss on penalties in the 2012 Champions League final to Chelsea in Allianz Arena, Bayern's home stadium. Likewise, he said that, even with all of this year's successes, the club has stuck to water and never broken out the champagne. He admits to regretting the fact that earlier teams got caught up in celebrating victories rather than "thinking about the next game."
The concept is simple, yet hard to implement: concentrating on what's important and refusing to be sidetracked by any disruptive influences. But neither a supposedly invincible opponent such as FC Barcelona nor the tax-evasion scandal surrounding club president Uli Hoeness has been able to distract Heynckes' team from its focus.
Which brings back the question of which team could possibly beat Bayern. Will it be Borussia Dortmund? Naturally, the team doesn't seem particularly worried about the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium. "It doesn't matter who we play against," says Mario Mandzukic, the team's Croatian striker.
Thomas Müller, who plays as both a midfielder and forward and scored three goals in the two shut-out games against FC Barcelona, is somewhat more concrete. "I have a good feeling this time," the 23-year-old says with a grin. "After all, we won 7-0 against Barcelona. That hasn't happened that often in the last century."
Both teams in the Champions League final will be able to practice a bit already on Saturday, when Bavaria travels to Dortmund for a first-against-second-place Bundesliga match against Borussia. But, warns FC Bayern full back and team captain Philipp Lahm, one shouldn't view the match as a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final. "The Dortmunders celebrated yesterday, and we are celebrating today," he said. It's time for a bit of well-deserved fun, but then it's right back to business.