Sport Soccer

Sunday 26 January 2020

'This team is at right age and has rosy times ahead'

Skipper Lahm backs Bayern to dominate Europe after Robben strike exorcises demons

Sam Wallace

It was around one o'clock yesterday morning that Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge addressed the 1,800 guests at the club's post-match party at the Grosvenor House hotel and, according to the club's official account, proclaimed their Champions League final victory "the sporting comeback of the year".

It was a not a comeback in the traditional sense, against overwhelming adversity and with the odds stacked against them, because Bayern are about as establishment as it gets when it comes to European football. They sit fourth in the Deloitte world money league, they have a gleaming new stadium and they buy other clubs' best players.

Instead this was about the kind of comeback that only the big boys can embark upon.

There are some great sides who never win the big trophies – it is just the way it works out. It looked that way for Chelsea over the last decade until they finally landed the European Cup last year, beating Bayern in Munich, and once they had done so, the curse seemed to have passed on to Bayern, who were in their third final in four years on Saturday and fearing the worst as the game headed to extra-time.

"I remember it well, the final a year ago where we'd all had such high hopes," Rummenigge said, "and when we met at the Postpalast (venue in Munich) I passed a tide of fans leaving the screening of the game at the Olympic Stadium.

"I looked in their faces, and I thought to myself 'Mamma mia! What's this? What kind of shock has this club suffered? And how will we get over it?'

"I think many people expected us to fall apart, that we'd freeze from shock and give up. I don't think that would have been very Bayern-like.

"I think we've done what we had to do. We got down to work, especially this team, and this coach. I think it was a wonderful final against magnificent opponents, but – and this is the most important thing – we deservedly won."

There was much other stuff of note in the speech, including a reminder to guests to heed Bastian Schweinsteiger's advice and "drink plenty".

There was a tribute to Jupp Heynckes, who Rummenigge said rang him "on the stroke of 10.0am" every morning last summer to discuss what the team needed to move on to the next level. "I think this team has unbelievable character," Rummenigge said.

"They're first-class on the field and first-class off it. They're not arrogant. They win, and they keep going."

There is no doubting that this Bayern team occupy the top perch in terms of elite European football and the decisions they have made, most of them taken well before the end of the season.

Pep Guardiola in as coach, Mario Gotze signed from their beaten opponents Borussia Dortmund and Robert Lewandowski on his way too, if Heynckes' post-match hint is to be taken at face value.

No one, not even Barcelona, has won the Champions League title in consecutive years since the competition was changed to the new format.

That has to be the achievement that Bayern aspire to and they are capable of doing so in a way that recent winners like Internazionale and Chelsea were just not geared up to do. They were coming to the end of their cycle with a particular team, while Bayern are yet to peak.

PRESSURE

Their captain Philipp Lahm, only 29 himself, said the current Bayern team, or a version of it, was capable of more.

"The pressure was enormous at the beginning," he said. "I've always said that, if you want to be a golden generation, then you have to win an international title. We have finally succeeded. The team is at the right age and still has rosy times ahead."

Yet life never stands still when it comes to the very best. As Bayern's players paraded their trophy at Wembley, Barcelona were preparing to make the official announcement that they had signed Brazil's latest prodigy Neymar, from Santos.

In the next couple of weeks, Jose Mourinho will arrive at Chelsea and life will get interesting.

Never before has there been such unprecedented managerial change in the English game. The summer of 2013 feels like a crossroads in many respects, just as a decade earlier life changed immeasurably when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, and, with less of an immediate impact, Manchester United bought Cristiano Ronaldo as David Beckham left for Real Madrid.

As well as new managers at United, Manchester City and Chelsea, there will be change at Bayern, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.

There could scarcely be a more intriguing start to it all than the European SuperCup final on August 30 in Prague between what will surely be Mourinho's Chelsea and Guardiola's Bayern. The trophy, essentially a UEFA junket, has never felt so relevant.

What does Guardiola do with a team that is on the brink of a treble under Heynckes – the Bundesliga, the Champions League and potentially the German Cup on Saturday?

'Win it better', like Brian Clough infamously promised to do with the Leeds United team he inherited from Don Revie in 1974?

Rather, he is there to win it again and again in a fashion that has never been achieved in the modern era.

If you look at Bayern's history they have had just one era of sustained success, that hat-trick of European Cup titles between 1974 and 1976.

That is one more era of dominance than all but a handful of clubs have achieved but for any club wishing to break new ground in a modern era largely dominated by Barca, the next frontier is to win the trophy back-to-back. It is a formidable task.

When Bayern fans reflect in years to come on this cathartic victory, they will raise glasses to Manuel Neuer's supreme efforts early on, the goalkeeper denying Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Marco Reus and Sven Bender.

Neuer had a strong case to rival Arjen Robben as man of the match. To think that Bayern ultras issued Neuer with a code of conduct when he joined from arch-rivals Schalke.

The tide then flowed Bayern's way. Now it was Roman Weidenfeller demonstrating the fine art of goalkeeping, thwarting Mario Mandzukic and Robben twice before the pair combined and the Croatian pounced to score on the hour.

The tide turned again. Within seven minutes, Bayern lost their lead and should have lost a player. Dante had already been cautioned for a foul on Reus (after the half-hour) and then went in with a knee to the player's chest.

The punishment was clear, a penalty (effortlessly despatched by Ilkay Gundogan) and a minimum yellow card, arguably red. Dante should have been sent off.

For such a good referee, Nicola Rizzoli made a colossal error of judgment. He ignored the laws. He let down his peers.

Bayern should have been down to 10. Their mind-set might have become more cautious, probably with an attacker sacrificed to allow the introduction of a centre-half in Daniel van Buyten (or Javi Martinez dropped back).

One shudders to imagine the splenetic convulsions from an English side should such an injustice have befallen them.

A euro, too, for the thoughts of Alex Ferguson, who saw Nani sent off for a lesser offence in the quarter-finals.

Rizzoli could also have dismissed Franck Ribery for smashing an arm into the face of Kevin Grosskreutz.

Dortmund were remarkably sanguine about the referee's failures, perhaps recalling sheepishly Lewandowski's stamp on Jerome Boateng, and should really focus on their own shortcomings in the final 15 minutes.

They waned, a contrast to the waxing Bayern. A medal should really be presented to Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt for his medical expertise in helping Bayern's players reach such peak condition for such an occasion.

They were also fresher after playing fewer games, a tribute to their squad strength. Bayern were far more ambitious as well as sleeker. Ribery backheeled the ball to Robben, who dribbled his way through Dortmund's defence and into Bayern folklore. (© Independent News Service)

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