For the second successive season Bayern Munich look the team to beat as we hit the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Such is the strength of their first-choice team, the depth of their squad and the comprehensiveness of their recent form; few would bet against them retaining their European title and taking a step closer to replicating that trio of successive European Cup wins from the 1970s.
We tasked our German contributor Lukas Tank to look back over the club’s post-war history and create a best-ever Bayern Eleven for us. He’s come up with an interesting mix of players from the 70s team, the current day invincibles and a smattering from the decades in between.
On the bench: Maier, Lizarazu, Augenthaler, Matthäus, Roth, Dürnberger, Scholl, Robben, D. Hoeneß, Élber
Trainer: Jupp Heynckes
Oliver Kahn (1994-2008, 429 apps, 86 caps for Germany)
Having learnt his trade before the change in the backpass rules in 1992, the Titan was very much an old-school shot stopper and his superb reflexes enabled him to make outrageous saves. But perhaps it was his presence on the pitch more than his skills that made him arguably the best goalkeeper in German football history. Known for his fiery temper, Kahn inspired his teammates and terrified opponents alike. He reached the peak of his career in the early noughties and the penalty shoot-out against Valencia in 2001 and the World Cup the following year both featured stand-out performances from him. We’ll conveniently ignore that World Cup Final blunder though!
Philipp Lahm (2002 & 2005-14, 248 apps (7 goals), 104 caps for Germany)
“He simply cannot play badly.“ Hermann Gerland, the current assistant manager of Bayern Munich and Philipp Lahm’s former youth coach, coined the ultimate quote about the player’s unerring consistency. In contrast to the energetic style of Paul Breitner in the other full-back position, Lahm is very much a thoughtful and strategic player. He interprets his role neither offensively nor defensively; rather in an almost Aristotelean way he finds the perfect middle ground between the extremes. He is just as attacking as he needs to be while never neglecting his defensive responsibility. Lahm is one of the few full-backs around with the sort of playmaking ability that has allowed Guardiola to play him also as a pivote. If life was fair for defenders, Lahm would have been a genuine contender to win the 2014 Balon D’Or.
Paul Breitner (1970-74 & 1978-83, 255 apps (83 goals), 48 caps for Germany)
There’s no question that he belongs in this team, but as a full-back or central midfielder? The fact that Breitner is a viable candidate for two positions in such a high-quality side tells you a lot about his talents as a player – he is versatility personified. In the early seventies Breitner played as a swashbuckling full-back – think Dani Alves at his best but with better decision-making. When Breitner returned to Bayern in 1978 he formed a succesful partnership with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and led the team to two successive league titles. This time he featured as the team’s midfield conductor, a role he had first flourished in at Real Madrid. So given the surplus of excellent central midfielders in Bayern Munich’s history, I play Breitner as a left full-back.
“Katsche“ Schwarzenbeck (1966-81, 416 apps (21 goals), 44 caps for Germany)
Hans-Georg “Katsche“ Schwarzenbeck will forever be the ‘other’ central defender of the famous Bayern side of the seventies. This is both justified and something of a pity. While he lacked the epoch-defining elegance of Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck was still a highly accomplished defender. If Breitner was ‘versatile’ and Beckenbauer was ‘elegant,’ there is no better adjective to describe Schwarzenbeck than solid. He could stand his ground against almost any opponent, had very good spatial awareness, fine decision-making ability and was a ruthless tackler. And when it mattered most, like during the last seconds of the 1974 European Cup final with Bayern facing defeat, he forgot about his conservative, no-nonsense role, surged forward and scored the vital equaliser to earn Bayern a replay.
Franz Beckenbauer (1964-77, 427 apps (60 goals), 103 caps for Germany)
The first player on the team-sheet and a candidate for the title of best European player of the 20th century. There have been taller, stronger and faster defenders than the Kaiser, but seldom has there been a player more intelligent, more composed and more technically adept than him. Beckenbauer is the defining example of the proactive defender: minimising the threat of opponents through flawless positioning, great timing and stunning anticipation. Among all of his qualities, his decision-making is probably the stand-out one. With the ball at his feet Beckenbauer was a playmaker in defence. Simple short passes, long passes (often with the outside of his boot) or forward runs; he could do it all.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (2002-14+, 309 apps (37 goals), 100 caps for Germany)
Alongside Philipp Lahm he is the leading figure of the so-called ‘Generation Lahmsteiger’ that won the treble in 2013. It was Louis van Gaal who turned the decent, if unspectacular wide-midfielder ‘Schweini’ into the world-class central-midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. Since this change of position in 2009, Schweinsteiger has been one of the top midfield generals in the world. When he is fully fit, as he was in the 2010 World Cup, Schweinsteiger is probably the greatest midfield all-rounder of our times. He orchestrates the play from deep, breaks down opponents’ attacks through sharp positioning and physical strength and makes dangerous forward runs. Just take a look at the World Cup 2010 Quarter-Final game against Argentina as a demonstration of his talents.
Franck Ribèry (2007-14+, 168 apps (59 goals), 80 caps for France)
There was a time when Ribèry was typical of world-class midfielders in wide positions. He executed many fine dribbles, scored goals, set up his teammates and did all the things you expect from a player in that position. Defensive work? Nah, don’t be silly, he’s an artist! Those times are gone. For a while now Franck Ribèry has shown us what the wide midfielder of the future looks like: hard-working, tactically astute, always helping his teammates while at the same time sacrificing none of his offensive qualities. He is as dangerous as ever and as hard-working as never before. Ask yourself: Can the same be said about Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
Stefan Effenberg (1990-92 & 1998-2002, 160 apps (35 goals), 35 caps for Germany)
It was a close call between him and Lothar Matthäus but ‘Effe’ just makes the cut. This is mainly because Matthäus, although the better player, had his best years at Inter rather than Bayern. Very much like Oliver Kahn, Effenberg’s personality and competitiveness were a big part of his game and he was the undoubted leader of the Bayern side that won the Champions League in 2001. An all-rounder in midfield, Effenberg’s game had few obvious flaws. Sometimes teams lost games because they were too nice – none of them included Stefan Effenberg.
Gerd Müller (1964-79, 453 apps (398 goals), 62 caps for Germany)
… is a magnificent goalscorer, unrivalled in his ability to fashion a goal out of pretty much anything. You already knew that? Well, then here is something you might not know: Gerd Müller was much more than that! Yes, he was a ruthless poacher but he also frequently tracked back to help his team defend, as well as being quite adept at playing fast passing combinations. Not really so much of a dribbler and lacking Rummenigge’s heading ability, but apart from that a complete striker who scored goals in abundance. Just about one every game. But that you already knew.
Uli Hoeneß (1970-79, 239 apps (86 goals), 35 caps for Germany)
While Uli Hoeneß is certainly more recognised in modern times as a Bayern manager and later President, he was also a sublime player for the club in his day. Take a look at the 1974 European Cup Final replay and witness a player who is as fast and powerful as any of his contemporaries in the game at the time. His physical superiority over opponents resembles that of Cristiano Ronaldo over the typical footballer of today. Sadly Uli’s career was cut short by injury, but he left a fine legacy as one of Bayern’s most spectacular players during the most successful era in the club’s history.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (1974-84, 310 apps (162 goals), 95 caps for Germany)
The mighty presence of Gerd Müller sometimes makes you forget that his direct successor at Bayern was a striker of rare quality too. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge can be considered to be a rather more complete player who scored frequently, but also had significant playmaking capabilities and exceptional technique. Together with Paul Breitner, Rummenigge, a two-time Balon D’Or winner, was the most important player of the Bayern teams of the early 80s.
I won’t go into minute detail given that this is a fantasy team, but I could imagine this side playing some very nice football because I picture them fitting together seamlessly. This team would play cultured possession-based football and look to control the game and dictate the tempo. Perhaps not ‘tiki-taki’ based but more of a conservative style of football, like that of Heynckes’s 2013 Bayern team. The defence is very capable of passing the ball out from the back effectively with Beckenbauer, Breitner and Lahm all having played in midfield at times, and as a result they form a defensive line this is extremely hard to press. Effenberg and Schweinsteiger are both versatile midfielders who alternate their positions freely and are hard to figure out for an opponent.
Given the lack of a real No. 10 then a lot of chances will be created on the wings. The fullbacks make overlapping runs in order to get behind the defence and create havoc by either crossing or cutting inside. Both Lahm and Breitner are dynamic enough to do so. Ribèry and Hoeneß are of course always capable of beating a defender or two. If the team should need more presence behind the striker, Rummenigge can play deeper and more as a playmaker. Without the ball the team forms a 4-4-2 block, pressing the opponent when he passes the half-way line. Higher pressing should be avoided because the defense shouldn’t play too high a line. Olli Kahn is too conservative a goalkeeper to play behind one, although he did compensate for this shortcoming with his extraordinary capability in one-on-one situations.
A note on the inclusion of currently active players
Choosing currently active players for a team forged from the history of a club might seem a bit questionable. Do they really rank as high as those legends of the past? In the case of Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Ribèry this question can be answered with a yes. All three have spent many years at Bayern Munich and performed consistently well. Their careers at Bayern, even if they were to end today, are up there with some of the greats players in the club’s history. After all, these individuals have shaped the second most successful team that Bayern fans have known.
Bayern has fielded many excellent midfielders over the years, although compared to their goalkeepers, defenders and strikers there has been perhaps a lack of true historic quality. Beckenbauer and Müller would make it into the Post-War Eleven of any team on the planet, whereas the same might not be said for the likes of Schweinsteiger and Hoeneß.
That Bayern has historically largely relied on German players is reflected in this team with Ribèry the only foreigner to feature. Even most of the players I found hard to omit from the team are German like Maier, Augenthaler and Matthäus. The absence of a prominent No.10 is another interesting feature of Bayern’s history with the club never having players like a Platini, Zico or Zidane. This is a good fit with the fact that most of the best German No.10’s surprisingly never played for Bayern either: Overath, Netzer, Schuster, Littbarski, Häßler, Möller and Özil.
Each of the players I chose was part of a European Cup winning Bayern team although this was not a prerequisite for selection.