10 years, 10 titles, 10 stories: first treble, Pep years and Ancelotti hopes
FC Bayern make history and write special stories. On the occasion of their tenth championship in a row, we have invited a very fine selection of authors to relate their ten most memorable moments, one from each of the past ten seasons.
In the first part of this two-part series, we look back at the first treble, three exciting Pep years and the unfulfilled promise that was Carlo Ancelotti.
By Günter Klein
Munich, the city where it is, as everyone knows, famously beautiful. Munich, the city where the tourists revel in grandeur. Shortly before eight o’clock in the evening on a Monday in February 2013, the deep, loud noise of high-revving ten zylinder engines reverberates though the pedestrian zones of central Munich, and three sports cars, flat as a pancake, pull up at the Marienplatz. Brand: Lamborghini. Lambo for short, as the Germans say in admiration. Majestically alighting from the vehicles: Franck Ribery, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri.
What a PR moment! Nike, the fashion company with which the three FC Bayern players have a private advertising contract at the time, invited them to “Sport Münzinger”, an old specialist shop at the town hall. Because it is an Adidas club, FC Bayern is keeping out of the story. But of course the PR appointment is not just about the newest shoe model from Nike, with which you can supposedly really stake your feet to the turf, but about FC Bayern and a few pithy knocks in Borussia Dortmund’s direction.
Borussia Dortmund has annoyed the Munich based team for two years. The empire must strike back this 2012/13 season and also overcome the recent Chelsea trauma from the Champions League. It needs a boost of self-confidence to match Jürgen Klopp’s. It needs the belief that you can win every game. Not just not lose, but win. “Yes, that’s what we want, that’s what we can do,” says Franck Ribery, who, like Mandzukic and Shaqiri, wears sweatpants that are more expensive than a dress suit.
This broad chested display of vigour should translate to success in the following weeks. Championship, Champions League against Dortmund, DFB-Pokal – Bayern win everything there is to win. They poach Mario Götze from BVB before following this up with an offer for Robert Lewandowski. Loud and conspicuous like a Lamborghini FC Bayern race to the top of Germany and Europe.
“Good day. Greetings ladies and gentlemen. Please forgive my German. It is a gift to be the new coach at Bayern Munich.”
In cute-sounding German, modest, almost shy, HE sat there between Uli Hoeneß and “Kalle” Rummenigge. The two FC Bayern patriarchs were beaming with pride. They could hardly believe that they had pulled off this coup. HE was actually there. Pep Guardiola, the world’s best coach at the time, had decided to join the German club Bayern München as his first destination after his sabbatical after extremely successful but also draining years at FC Barcelona.
When the contract was made in the winter break, FC Bayern were not yet where they wanted to be: treble winners. A difficult legacy for Pep, who could hardly make the world’s most successful club team of 2013 even more successful. And yet the expectations were high: the style of play was to become even more attractive, the big eared trophy was to quickly be reared on a Munich balcony again, and Pep was also to help the Bundesliga shine again and be an inspiration for the German national team.
Just 11 days after taking office, Pep Guardiola showed his not so modest side for the first time: In surprisingly unambiguous words, he publicly announced his interest in Thiago Alcantara. In no uncertain terms, Pep demanded “Thiago or nothing”. The player could play in “3, 4, 5 positions” and was “outstanding in a 1-on-1”.
Just three days later, the transfer was officially announced: for “only” €25 million, the 22-year-old had signed a four-year contract with Bayern. Just as with Mario Götze, who came from Dortmund for the then Bundesliga record fee of €37 million, so too in this case Bayern benefited from a release clause in the player’s contract.
Bayern played as dominantly as in the previous season and re-sealed the championship on matchday 27. Never before had a team become champion so early. In addition, FC Bayern won the UEFA Supercup against Chelsea, (of all clubs), the FIFA Club World Cup and the DFB-Pokal against Dortmund. It was the 10th double in the club’s history. That it was not enough for another treble was also due to Pep Guardiola: against Real Madrid, after a 0-4 defeat in the second leg, the Champions League semi-final proved to be the end of the journey. Afterwards, Pep admitted that he had followed the wishes of his players in his tactical set-up – and departed from his own convictions in the process. Despite the unfulfilled treble, the 2013/14 season was celebrated as a very successful one by the club and probably also most fans.
On matchday 13, the Bundesliga Klassiker took place in Dortmund. In the 56th minute, a deafening chorus of whistles echoed through the stadium as Götze came on. Due to the hateful atmosphere in the stadium, he had not warmed up at the sidelines but in the tunnels. After only 10 minutes after coming on, he resoundingly pulled the plug on the South Stand: from the edge of the penalty area, he placed the ball just inside the left goalpost. An “of all things” moment for players, Dortmund and Bayern fans alike. Legendary Dortmund stadium announcer Norbert Dickel commented in horror: “Who scored it? Holy shit, the 19.” As a stadium-goer, my moment of the season.
As impressive as Pep’s debut season at Bayern was, in the Champions League he was yet to leave a visible footprint with his new club.
That was to change on the third matchday of the 2014 group stages. Pep’s Bayern were visitors to Rudi Garcia’s Roma, the previous year’s runners-up of the Serie A. The reining Bundesliga champions were guests of Serie A’s runners-up. Bayern had won their first two games in Group E efficiently with 1-0 each, Roma had started with a draw against Manchester City and a 5-1 win against CSKA Moscow. In front of a crowd of more than 60,000 at the Olympic Stadium, the Roma team around veteran Francesco Totti (37) and stars like Miralem Pjanić, Radja Nainggolan and Daniele De Rossi welcomed the Bayern team.
And out of his hat Pep pulled ta back-three. With Arjen Robben as wing-back. Robben, of all people. The same Robben who, just a few years earlier, had shied away from defensive work like a guy from flat northern German Groningen from a mountain range. He had played in the role of wing-back once before, relatively unsuccessfully, against 1. FC Köln. But this time he should shine as if he had never played anything else.
After just eight minutes, he scored the opening goal after a double one-two with Philipp Lahm. In inimitable fashion, he cut inside from the right and curved the ball into the far left corner.
The early goal signaled the start to a furious half-time. Müller, Götze and Lewandowski combined in offence, Robben and Bernat repeatedly broke through on the wings, Lahm and Xabi Alonso organised the centre. The Romans never found an answer to Bayern’s tactical orientation and playful superiority – and so the scoreline read 5-0 at half-time already. After 90 minutes, with 7-1 the highest away victory in Bayern’s European Cup history was in the books. Arjen Robben scored a second time and set up Franck Ribéry’s goal with a plum pass.
It was one of those games in which it became clear what Guardiola’s positional play can do when all goes well. One of those games during which Bayern fans continually had to rub their eyes in disbelief. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge during his customary dinner speech later that evening predicted oracularly that “we will remember this evening in ten years’ time.” He was to be proved right.
FC Bayern München had just decided the German championship when a curious picture made the rounds. Pep Guardiola grabbed Joshua Kimmich and shook him repeatedly while barking loud instructions in his face. The occasion was not the goalless draw at Dortmund that had just occurred, but Kimmich’s last few minutes that were troubling the coach’s mind.
Onwards, ever onwards. Lived by the Catalan, who was desperate to say goodbye to Munich on a high of maximum success. The reason: During the game, Guardiola had brought on Medhi Benatia at centre-back for Xabi Alonso, who had to come off injured. Kimmich, in turn, who at the time often helped out as a centre-back and did so too in this match, apparently was supposed to push up into the midfield after the change – but did not do his job to the satisfaction of the coach, as Benatia revealed in 2020.
The 28-year-old told Moroccan portal AllMarssadPro: “When Guardiola brought me on, he gave me an instruction to pass on to young Kimmich.” Apparently, however, the latter did not understand the instruction. First the coach made his way to Benatia after the match. “Did you passed on to him what I instructed you with?” he is said to have said. When Benatia answered in the affirmative, the coach then went to Kimmich and told him that “he had to pay attention to what he was told” – at least that was Benatia’s account.
Kimmich himself said after the match: “That’s nothing unusual. He corrects a lot, wants to get the maximum out of each match. After the game he said a few things that I should have done better.” The relationship between Guardiola and Kimmich was a special one because it was noticeable what high demands the coach had from his still young protégé – and how he rose to the challenge, grew from game to game and became an important part of the team already in his debut season.
FC Bayern in the 2015/16 season was the strongest I have ever seen. Even the bitter elimination against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League doesn’t change that. For me, this season was the performance peak of the 2010s. This situation remained in my memory, apart from purely sporting aspects. It was representative of a team that embodied absolute world class in all areas – and which, thanks to Kimmich, remained stable defensively despite many injuries. The 0-0 at Dortmund did not make Bayern champions, but it crucially paved the way.
As a fan, the three years of Pep were pure ecstasy and highbrow footballing entertainment, but for a player the period was certainly the most demanding in their career. When despite the Pep era the Champions League still proved elusive, many looked longingly to the new coach. Carlo Ancelotti promised less tactical football, but one thing above all: success on the European stage.
Ancelotti’s first league with Bayern match took place in late August in the Allianz Arena. The guests were, thankfully, Werder Bremen, who were still a big name in 2016, but no longer a big team by a long shot. The Bayern side were vastly superior from the start and played themselves into a frenzy. After just ten minutes, maestro Alonso opened the scoring with a marvellous drop-kick goal, which was followed by Lewandowski’s hat trick and later even a rare goal by Philipp Lahm. In the end, the scoreboard displayed an impressive 6-0 stood above a sea of red and white joy in the Arena. The start under Ancelotti was a success.
The German press, which had become increasingly alienated from Pep in the previous year, rejoiced. First and foremost, former Bayern star Mehmet Scholl was elated: “They have cast off Pep’s chains”. In retrospect, this elicits a mere smug smile. After all, hadn’t Pep mercilessly dismantled overmatched opponents in the Bundesliga only to be eliminated unluckily in the semi-finals of the Champions League?
After the curtain raiser against Bremen, Bayern go in to win the next four league games, but then lose at Atlético, Dortmund, and Rostov. At the end of the season, Ancelotti, the complexity reducer, the player whisperer, stands on the town hall balcony being able to celebrate only the league championship. Half a year later, FC Bayern breaks the Carlo chains. An old acquaintance takes over: Jupp Heynckes.