My Five Cents: moments of the year 2019
The earliest Champions League exit since 2011, a historic comeback to win the league, the departure of the wide duo Robbery, a thrilling cup final and the exit of Kovač – the year behind us wasn’t a regular one, even for FC Bayern.
It was perhaps the most emotional moment of the year. So emotional that even the man next to me in the Südkurve couldn’t hold back the tears. After more than a decade, FC Bayern, the city of Munich, and the whole Bundesliga waved goodbye to the flank partnership that defined an era. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben took to the pitch in red for the final time in the last game of the season against Eintracht Frankfurt.
At least a draw was needed for the Rekordmeister to secure their 29th title on the final matchday. Coach Kovač took no risks and played his best eleven from the start – without the two aging superstars. No room for sentimentality. When, however, Renato Sanches made it 3-1 after an hour, the moment had arrived. To rousing applause, first Ribéry and then Robben took to the field.
What was to follow would maybe even be rejected as a script for a Rosamunde Pilcher film on the grounds of being too soppy an ending. First Ribéry dinked the on-rushing Trapp from 10 yards – a goal so beautiful that it would later be named goal of the month for May – before Robben tapped in a cut-back from Alaba. The Südkurve became a sea of joyous red and the celebratory spirit spread swiftly across the sometimes so stoic spectators. The title and a perfect conclusion to an era – you couldn’t have asked for more from that Saturday.
To conclude I can only acknowledge the two outstanding wingers and their at times unbelievable performances once again. Together they amassed 268 goals and 283 assists in 734 games. That puts both in the top 15 Bayern scorers and top 25 in the club’s appearance records.
Borussia Dortmund visited Munich twice this calendar year. Both times the omen were far from good for the Rekordmeister.
The first encounter was hyped as the title showdown. Dortmund arrived in the capital of Bavaria as league leaders, since Bayern had been held to a 1-1 draw with Freiburg the previous weekend. Quite a few fans were pessimistic before and on that Saturday. A sharing of the points would at least preserve a slim chance of the title, felt many fans. The match would be decisive for coach Niko Kovač and his reputation too.
What followed can only be described as a demonstration of power. From the first minute on, the hosts were superior and dominant like in the best times. With the active support of a wobbly BVB defence, the side went in 4-0 up at half-time. It was 5-0 at full-time. The gap in the table had been narrowed.
Despite the title, in the second half of the year another coach was standing on the touchline. A 5-1 drubbing against his former club Eintracht Frankfurt was a fatal blow for Kovač. For the first Bundesliga game under interim coach Hansi Flick, Borussia Dortmund also did the honours. A debut for a new coach can hardly go any better. Again the Schwarz-Gelben were utterly overwhelmed. Again an outstanding Robert Lewandowski contributed two goals, and Mats Hummels, having left in the summer, added an own goal to the final score of 4-0.
While things are still difficult at the Westfalenstadion, the clashes in the Allianz Arena have become one-sided spectacles. Since 2014 there have been no losses for Bayern in the league against their arch-rivals, with a goal difference of 26-3 from six games.
In an altogether sobering first half of the season, Robert Lewandowski was the only constant and one of the few shining lights. The Pole proved his accuracy and saved Bayern in several games. But his most superb performance came in the away game at Red Star Belgrade.
After the sides went in at the break with the score 1-0 to Bayern, the striker turned on the style. In the 52nd minute he won a penalty – admittedly a questionable one – which he coolly converted himself a minute later. Few takers make me quite so sure during the run-up that the ball is going to nestle in the back of the net than the Pole does. Yet for Lewandowski that evening, that was only the start.
In the 60th minute he poked past the Serbian goalkeeper after a cushioned header from Corentin Tolisso. Just three minutes later he was then in the right place with a header himself, finishing off a cross from Benjamin Pavard, having sprinted in front of the on-rushing goalkeeper. A hat-trick in ten minutes. If the Bayern number 9 didn’t know that this was going to be a special night, he knew now. And in fact he would go on to add another goal to his tally. He played a one-two with Ivan Perišić on the edge of the box, controlling it with his left, shifting it onto his right and firing calmly into the bottom corner.
Celebrating his final goal, he showed four fingers to the camera. I won’t be the only one who was reminded of that legendary evening when Lewandowski struck an incredible five times in nine minutes against Wolfsburg. It was his first four-goal haul since that night. No wonder the striker snapped up the match-ball for his private collection.
When the 1.FC Heidenheim players took to the Allianz Arena turf, they would hardly have thought that they could actually bring the record cup-winners to the brink of elimination. For a second division side, a cup game against the great FC Bayern is hardly more than a lucrative TV appearance without any prospect of success. In the previous season, SC Paderborn had to learn that the hard way, going home with a 6-0 drubbing.
As a spectator I experienced a genuine roller-coaster of emotions. If after 15 minutes and the first goal from Leon Goretzka it looked like a regulation win, the tables turned abruptly after Niklas Süle was sent off for denial of a goalscoring opportunity. Though Bayern ostensibly dominate the game, the Swabians turned the game around with active assistance from the Bayern back-line shortly before the break.
For the second half, Kovač brought on Coman and Lewandowski who had both been rested. Bayern’s game was clearly more structured as a result, and in a phase of dominance the hosts turned the match around. But if you thought that they would masterfully play out the match, you can’t have seen many of Bayern’s games that season.
With no urgency whatsoever, Heidenheim’s Glatzel was allowed to get a shot away from 20 yards. The striker finished coolly. When Hummels went into a duel in the penalty area too impetuously shortly after that and Glatzel converted the resultant spot-kick, the horror in the stands was palpable. This wasn’t the dominant FC Bayern of days gone by anymore. Accordingly the reaction from Thomas Müller post-match: “Maybe I need to ask my family and my wife how the game should be assessed.”
That the Raumdeuter’s answers didn’t end up being even more dramatic, FC Bayern had a penalty, given for handball and converted confidently by Lewandowski, to thank. I left the Allianz Arena relieved that evening as well, though with more questions than answers.
5. Cup winners and promoted within 24 hours
It could certainly go down as the most successful weekend in the recent history of FC Bayern: within just 24 hours the senior side won the DFB Pokal in Berlin, and the amateur side clinched promotion into the third division. Experiencing both occasions as a fan presented sporting challenges but also logistical ones. A quick retrospective.
On Saturday morning just after midnight I left the Ostbahnhof in Munich in a chartered train organised by Club Nr.12. A seemingly endless journey later, the train rolled into the destination in Berlin-Spandau around midday. In front of the Olympiastadion gates there was a brief editorial meeting with Justin and Marc before the game kicked off.
What lingers in the memory from the game? Wobbly Bayern at the start of both halves, Lewandowski’s world-class header for 1-0, the class of Coman’s touch before he made it 2-0, and of course the Polish striker’s charge across the whole pitch in the 85th minute which ended with the goal to make it 3-0, a shirt whipped off and a frenetically celebrating Bayern stand. On top of that there was the lauded Niko Kovač, who looked almost embarrassed as he walked towards the Bayern stand serenading him.
After the game, for me it was: jump on the U-Bahn, and back onto the chartered train to Munich. Upon arrival there it was a quick shower and then off to the Hermann-Gerland-Kampfbahn. After a 3-1 loss in the first leg away to Wolfsburg’s second string, a strong showing was needed from the amateur side on home soil. When Wolfsburg go in front after not even 10 minutes, promotion looks a long way off. But as FC Bayern has proved so often, there’s always a way: weiter, immer weiter.
At half-time it’s 2-1, and then two goals from Wriedt fires the amateurs to cloud nine. At the end, it gets chaotic. Wolfsburg and Bayern both pass up excellent chances. But when the referee blows, the scoreboard shows 4-1. The amateurs are in the third division again. Now the floodgates finally all burst open: complete strangers are hugging me, while the promotion heroes go on walkabout celebrating and toast the win with players from the first team also on the pitch. An exceptional red and white weekend!