The darkest hour comes before the dawn. It’s difficult to think of a club whose prospects look brighter than Bayern Munich.
May 20 last year; Munich airport. Hundreds of supporters, most but not all German, packed into the club shop. Bayern shirts everywhere, in bags and on backs. Not what i was expecting after events of May 19. But hiding or sulking doesn’t seem to be in the DNA here.
Bayern somehow threw away their chances to win their home Champions league final, the feted ‘finale dahoam’ in front of their own fans in the wonderful Allianz Arena
Reporting on the match for Al Jazeera I had concentrated on the event more than the tactics and teams news; as a sports news correspondent you are often asked to provide ‘colour’, the atmosphere and feel surrounding a major event, but there’s a need to be careful because cheering fans, however colourful, need to be supported by creditable angles and news.
So I was relieved to arrive in Bavaria and witness something genuinely fitting the proverbial ‘carnival atmosphere’. People across this city were fiercely proud of staging the final, had reached near frenzy over the event….and yes they thought they’d win.
Chelsea perhaps still haven’t been properly given the credit they deserve for hanging on and finding a way to win, arguably the most miraculous achievement over a competition to win this tournament.
But Bayern should have won it. To the neutral it became almost painful watching the profligacy. Those misses, that penalty, then the ultimate failure in the shoot out.
It will still hurt in decades to come but the response of Bayern Munich has been outstanding, and in some ways astounding.
No panic. Jupp Heynckes, who hadn’t been without criticism, stayed in the manager’s seat with a ship to be steadied.
The summer signings were confident and clever.
Javi Martinez didn’t come cheap, at €40 million from Athletico Madrid.
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic arrived in a €14 million transfer from Wolfsburg.
Then there’s Dante, the Brazilian just about tall enough at 1.88 metres for the nickname The Towering Inferno, if he hasn’t been given it already. He has quickly become an imposing defender in the central defence of this team. Signed from Monchengladbach at the cost of under €5 million.
None of these signings had Europe’s top clubs quaking in their boots, but by the end of 2012 the impact was clear. This was going to be Bayern’s Bundesliga, their 21st in less than 50 years.
In the Champions League they won their group with such assurance that many pundits were already tipping them for this year’s trophy.
They are a delight to watch. For me it’s mainly Robben. Can a player that good be underrated? Very possible. Yes he fluffed big moments in that final but his dynamism is the team’s biggest threat, and there are plenty.
The quality is everywhere. From the sometimes unfairly criticised Boeteng, to the irrepressible Lahm, the gregarious Schweinsteiger and as for Gomez, fit again and scoring but not assured of a place in the team. He ‘knows where the goal is’ as they say.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was gracious enough to admit there have been times this season where he hasn’t had to break sweat. By the end of February he’d conceded just seven goals.
And it was last month that the true extent of their recovery was inflicted on Arsenal at the Emirates. This is not a great Arsenal team, but could any opponents have exploited them more ruthlessly. It finished 1-3 but Bayern had more if it was needed.
So what Bayern really need is to have landed the manager they pretty much all wanted.
Pep Guardiola taking over from the retiring 67 year-old Henckes in the summer. Makes sense doesn’t it? He’s no fool Guardiola – I’m not sure he needed the pressure cooker of the EPL quite yet. One day.
First he can prove at Bayern that there was more to success at Barcelona than being the right man in the right place. They’ll have too much domestically and every chance of success in Europe.
And mostly they have class.
From the great Franz Beckenbauer as honorary president, down through general manager Uli Hoeness, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and Paul Breitner, these are not just legends of the club, the country and the game but men whose actions still ooze authority and commonsense. Dare I say some of the soap opera that accompanied previous management – Trapattoni’s histrionics in the 90s for instance – have gone for good.
Guardiola knew that financially, tactically, strategically he’d be better off here than more turbulent waters.
You’ve only got to the look at the long term relationships with sponsors, and the effect of the Allianz Arena. It’s not often stadiums are this cool inside and out. And with 68,000 fans flocking into games, it has helped give the club new impetus and strength after their move from the Olympic Stadium in 2005.
When German football is praised, and traditionally it has been through gritted teeth, the efficiency of the national team, has been usurped by the fan friendly, sensible model for its club football.
And who knows, maybe Bayern’s short term challenge lies there.
For also making excellent progress in the Champions league are Dortmund and Schalke. Could one of these commendable outfits win the competition? Has German football been underestimated yet again, progressing without fanfare while those who are feted continue to fall?
And if Bayern are stopped again in 2013 I think we can now be absolutely certain that they will bounce back quickly.
What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Al Jazeera broadcasts into 300 million homes across the globe, in 130 countries and millions more online at www.aljazeera.com. Follow Lee on Twitter at LeeW_Sport