Nearly 69,000 were hissing their own players at the Allianz Arena over the weekend. Three draws at home already this season, Bayern Munich welcomed league leaders Bayer Leverkusen to their home ground. After taking the lead through Mario Gomez in the eighth minute, Stefan Kießling equalised for the visitors six minutes later and that was how it stayed, leaving Bayern 7th, six points behind Leverkusen. Bayern has quickly descended into crisis over recent weeks, the 1-1 against Schalke before the international break led to two players making outbursts of different kinds.
Luca Toni was substituted at half time for Arjen Robben during the Schalke game and stormed straight out of the ground. Then after the match in an interview with Sueddeutche Zeitung, Bayern vice-captain Philipp Lahm launched an outspoken attack on the club, players and manager Louis van Gaal. Both players were fined heavily, according to chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge, Lahm would be fined the heaviest amount in the club’s history, rumoured to be a mere £26,000, both have apologised unreservedly for their actions.
The situation has revealed however an undercurrent at the club which has continually hampered the Bavarian giants development into a leading European side. The return of the days of “FC Hollywood” has been much talked about. The phrase was first denoted during Giovanni Trapattoni’s time at the club back in 1996. Players were taking over control of the club, egos were rife and chairman Rummenigge said it was like a “daily soap opera.” Under the guise of Ottmar Hitzfield, such an atmosphere dissipated, the German coach had a sterner grip on discipline, as he once remarked he was aware of the need to stamp his authority on the team when he reprimanded Oliver Kahn for leaving a Christmas party early:
I had to set an example so everyone at Bayern knows how they’re expected to behave. Otherwise, this club will turn into a madhouse.
It looks like the madhouse has returned with the journalists enjoying the comparison to the in-fighting and ego-trips of Hollywood. Hitzfield could control the circus but new coach van Gaal seems completely at sea with what is going on around him. Van Gaal has never been the one to control dressing rooms, as his time in Spain with Barcelona was a testament too, and he has been given until Christmas by Franz Beckenbauer to sort problems at the club out.
This might be easily said and done, three huge problems face any manager wanting to be successful at Bayern. 1) Franz Beckenbauer 2) General Manager Uli Hoeness 3) Player power. Even solving one of these three problems is nearly an impossible task. Starting with the first issue, honorary president Beckenbauer. Like Cruyff at Barcelona, German legend Franz Beckenbauer has a massive say in team affairs, managers and players have come and gone under the president’s whim and van Gaal will not be safe from criticism. Beckenbauer has a regular column in German tabloid newspaper Bild, and this no doubt gives any Bayern manager huge headaches. It would be like Roman Abramovich or Malcolm Glazer writing in the Sun every week about football matters, although of course Beckenbauer does have more expertise than these two owners. A bit of luck maybe around the corner for van Gaal however, Beckenbauer will be replaced as president by Uli Hoeness at a general meeting of the Bayern board on November 27th. This appointment however just opens up more issues in terms of problem number two in regards to Uli Hoeness.
Transfer policy at most continental clubs is directed by general managers or sporting directors rather than managers, and Uli Hoeness in recent years has been the architect of Bayern’s transfer policy. Bayern spent €75million last summer on players such as Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben , but none were bought under the advice of van Gaal. There is no real direction or philosophy to the clubs transfer policy, no players are bought to play in a system, they are just bought as they are good players. This was the crux of Philipp Lahm’s criticism which got him heavily fined:
If you want to compete with Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United, then Bayern needs a playing philosophy, that has to be the goal of the club. In the past, the transfers were not always very successful. Clubs like Manchester or Barcelona have a system and then you buy personnel for the system. You bring specific players and then you have a team. Something like that doesn’t exist here. The club has to say, ‘When a new coach comes, this is how we play’. We have many players that have no position now in a 4-3-3 system that our coach would like to use, for example our strikers. We have really good forwards but if you play 4-3-3, two or three of them are always on the bench. If you buy Mario Gomez, then you have to say, okay, we play with two strikers. We played the entire pre-season with two strikers. And then suddenly, we get (Arjen) Robben, a great player who fits with us – and who prefers the 4-3-3 system. You can’t simply buy players because they are good.
Lahm has become exasperated at a club which has no clear direction. Players bought by Uli Hoeness for a system determined by a manager who has a completely different style of play to most of the players at the club. You either tell a manager that the club plays a certain way like they do at Barcelona or you let the manager dictate the formation and the players like Ferguson does at Manchester United. It is simple answer which Lahm has hit the nail on the head.
Lahm’s outburst does however highlight another problem: player power. It is a direct consequence of a transfer policy that doesn’t give the manager control of who he is signing. Some players will just not fit into a system of the manager and they will be shunned from first team affairs. As Lahm stated, if van Gaal prefers playing 4-3-3, three out of four main strikers will be on the bench. Before Mario Gomez scored against Leverkusen at the weekend, he hadn’t scored for two months and had been played mostly on the bench by van Gaal after a €35million move from Stuttgart. Toni left the ground at half-time during the Schalke match frustrated at the lack of first team opportunities at Bayern, a feeling of disillusionment which has spread throughout the entire team.
Such a situation is not helped by board members stating that players like Lahm should go to the board if they have issues about team affairs in the future. Nobody wants a situation where a player like Raul at Real Madrid has a direct line to the chairman like he did with Florentino Perez during the “Galactico” years. A new philosophy and management structure has to be put in place if Bayern Munich want to become European champions once again.