On balance, it’s not been a bad month for Bayern Munich.
On Saturday, Germany’s record champions wrapped up a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title without even kicking a ball. RB Leipzig’s dramatic 3-2 defeat away at Borussia Dortmund saw Bayern crowned champions ahead of their own game against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
For head coach Hansi Flick, it’s a seventh trophy in just 18 months in the job, to add to last season’s historic sextuplet. It’s also his last, with Bayern out of the Champions League and German Cup and with the 56-year-old to be replaced by Julian Nagelsmann at the end of the season.
But for those who will remain, Bayern Munich’s 30th Bundesliga title, and 31st German championship overall, caps a tumultuous period in European football from which Bayern have emerged in a powerful position. Which is just as well, given the rebuilding job that a new-look club hierarchy now has on its hands.
‘Bayern are the big winners in all this’
Last month, when football was rocked by an attempt by 12 self-appointed elite clubs to break away from UEFA and create their own closed-shop Super League, Bayern Munich – and their German counterparts Borussia Dortmund – were conspicuous by their absence.
Were they listening to the demands of their supporters who, in accordance with the 50+1 rule, have a legal stake in their clubs? Or did they have their own commercial motives? A Super League contract leaked to Der Spiegel magazine suggests they weren’t actually among the initial invitees.
Be that as it may, while the ringleaders of the coup beat a hasty retreat, shamed for their sheer arrogance and greed by furious fans, Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was swiftly elected as the European Club Association (ECA)’s new representative on UEFA’s executive committee.
Meanwhile Bayern’s director of legal affairs, Dr. Michael Gerlinger, also became the ECA’s new vice-president in the wake of Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli’s resignation following his involvement in the Super League.
“The big winners in all of this are Bayern,” Alexander Fischer of Club Nr. 12, the umbrella organization representing Bayern’s active, match-going fan groups, told DW.
“In terms of marketing and PR, they got everything right. Along with UEFA and Paris-Saint Germain, Bayern have been left looking like knights in shining armor, the saviors of the people’s game. It’s absurd, really.”
Left to right: Salihamidzic, Rummenigge, Hainer, Hoeness, Kahn. The era of Rummenigge and Hoeness is coming to an end
A new Bayern hierarchy
Absurd, because when it comes to modern football’s embrace of hypercapitalism and rampant commercialization, Bayern Munich are hardly the innocent, helpless traditionalists being dragged along against their will.
As Der Spiegel reported in 2018, Dr. Gerlinger had already launched official enquiries into the legal feasibility of Bayern one day breaking away from the Bundesliga, while the club’s sponsorship deals with Qatar have also come in for strong criticism. Indeed, one Bayern supporter is currently in court appealing a club ban which his lawyer believes was issued for his Qatar criticism.
Now, in Gerlinger and Rummenigge, Bayern men hold key positions at both the ECA, whose board members launched the Super League coup, and UEFA, which has tried to restyle itself as the defender of the people’s game but has also just voted through reforms which will see the Champions League become a Super League in all but name.
No wonder the Bayern hierarchy felt powerful enough to refuse Hansi Flick the added influence over transfer policy and squad planning he wanted, instead throwing their weight sporting director and club man Hasan Salihamidzic.
And it’s Salihamidzic, along with Herbert Hainer, who replaced Uli Hoeness as club president in 2020, and Oliver Kahn, who is set to take over from Rummenigge as chief executive in January 2022, who will now be responsible for providing the necessary structures and personnel for Nagelsmann to succeed.
Nagelsmann wants a larger squad
It’s the start of a new era; the first time since 1979 that Bayern have appointed a coach without either Hoeness or Rummenigge leading the negotiations. This time, it was Salihamidzic and then finally Kahn who agreed to pay RB Leipzig €15 million to release Nagelsmann from his contract, rising to €25m with performance-related bonuses.
But there’s work to be done on the squad as well. According to Sportbild this week, Nagelsmann has already expressed a desire to increase the depth of a Bayern squad which was dangerously short on numbers in the Champions League quarterfinal defeat by PSG. And despite Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting’s two goals in that tie, the reliance on Robert Lewandowski remains significant.
The core is there, and discussions will soon begin with the so-called “2023 group” of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Lewandowski to extend their contracts beyond that year. Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle, of whom the latter played under Nagelsmann in Hoffenheim, have contacts ending 2022, and their extensions remain the priority.
Otherwise, Bayern will be hoping for a more successful transfer window than last summer, when the replacing of Thiago Alcantara, Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic with Bouna Sarr, Marc Roca and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting contributed to the rift between Flick and Salihamidzic. Reserve goalkeeper Alexander Nübel is also reportedly unhappy at his lack of game time.
There will be further departures this year, with David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Douglas Costa all set to leave. Bayern are reportedly open to letting Corentin Tolisso go for the right price too. And having already spent €42.5 million on Dayot Upamecano in a year in which Bayern’s turnover fell by €150 million due to the pandemic, the fabled war chest is hardly bursting.
Bayern may look to players returning from loan spells, but the likes of Michael Cuisance (Marseille), Adrian Fein (Eindhoven) and Joshua Zirkzee (Parma) are yet to show the sort of quality which will help Bayern compete with Europe’s best.
Bayern may have emerged from a tumultuous 2021 in an influential political position within European football and with another Bundesliga title, but they’re entering a new era, and there’s work to be done.