There’s more to this issue than just facts. It’s absurd to claim that Bayern’s players have less quality than in previous World Cups, or that they’re all, collectively, out of shape.
All too often, football focuses too much on individuals. Ronaldo scored three times for Portugal in 2016, but that wasn’t what won them the title. He was even missing from the team for the biggest part of the final. For Real Madrid, the superstar scored several crucial goals in past Champions League seasons, but these, too, need to be set up, initiated, and appropriate runs made in order for them to happen.
Without a doubt, Ronaldo’s contribution to his teams’ success has been great, but there was never a solo effort. Neither is Messi responsible for Argentina’s poor performance. He’s only partly to blame, if at all. If one does not constantly look at football in these extremes, a realistic and objective evaluation of performances is also easier.
We love these extremes and they are part of the game. Of course some players will be measured more by their individual performance than others. But if there’s one thing this World Cup has shown so far, it’s that football is still a team sport. When the collective works, the stars often perform on a completely different level. There may have been players in the past who carried an entire team all the way to the title. But football has evolved and it only works if a team is strong together.
The Bayern curse?
Including new signing Goretzka, FC Bayern had 12 players at this World Cup. Goretzka, Rudy, Süle, Thiago and Tolisso often sat on the bench and, with that, had a good chance of scoring one collective goal at most. Hummels and Boateng are centre backs. The two are not measured by goals, although the former had a great scoring opportunity against South Korea. Surprisingly, Neuer didn’t score any goals, either. This leaves us with James, Lewandowski, and Müller as purely offensive players, as well as Kimmich who, as a full-back, has no scoring chances to offer.
Lewandowski and Müller in particular would have been expected to score a goal or two. However, the Pole was not involved at all. If his team’s passes reached him, they usually did so outside the penalty area, and his runs into deep spaces were not rewarded. It’s not fair to tie Poland’s exit to him. The team as a whole was not able to develop enough pressure going forwards.
Lewandowski often found himself in one-on-three situations that he simply could not win. The bitter realization for the striker: more just wasn’t possible. Poland was too static and sluggish overall. The problems were in the build-up game and in midfield.
We already discussed Müller’s situation in our German podcast. Out of all the players we’ve named so far, he’s the one who could be blamed most, because his bad form is independent of the weak performance of the German team.
His involvement wasn’t good either, but that only partially relieves him of his responsibility. Müller, who used to always find the goal somehow, has not been able to help his team this time.
For James, too, the tournament ended in the Round of 16. The Colombian had only one game where he could show that he is the most important player in his team. Unfortunately, he was hampered or injured in the other games. Otherwise, he might have been good for the first Bayern goal at the 2018 World Cup.
However, it should be noted that the rating by goals is not a fair indicator of the quality of FC Bayern. Football is too complex for that. However, there are criteria that allow such conclusions to be drawn.
The performance of the German national team in particular should also be an issue for FC Bayern. Five Bayern players and two players from other Bundesliga clubs played against Mexico. In the second game there were again five from Munich and three Bundesliga players. In the last game, the number of Bayern players was reduced to four. However, there were still three Bundesliga players.
The quality in the Bundesliga has decreased. Bayern are increasingly moving away from the competition and even in weaker seasons they are the champions by a clear margin. Other teams often only bring their best game to the pitch if it’s against the serial champions from Munich. There is no consistency.
The national team was therefore also a reflection of a league that has not been in a position to be at the top in international comparison for a few months now. The League of World Champions has become a collection of very decent teams. The results in the Europa League and Champions League were also an indicator of the weakening German football. Ideas will be needed in the future on how to reduce the gap to the competition.
For FC Bayern, however, the early retirement of their players at the World Cup in Russia can also bring with it many positive aspects.
“World Champions are harder to motivate”
Kovac will be able to welcome the international players earlier than was originally suspected. Only Tolisso is still in the tournament and – based on impressions so far – he will at best be subbed in. A fresh Bayern squad is therefore expected at the start of the season.
The new coaching team will have enough time to prepare themselves and the team for the important first third of the season. At his first press conference, Kovac replied to the question whether it would be harder to motivate players that it would, in fact, be easier. Top players would be much hungrier after failures than after a title. “World champions are harder to motivate,” said the Berlin-born coach.
The current situation offers Kovac advantages that Guardiola and Ancelotti did not have when they took office. Despite many titles in recent years, FC Bayern has become vulnerable. The status of invincibility has finally suffered at national level. Of course this gnaws at the club’s self-perceived image, but it should also increase the motivation of the players.
If Kovac can put his empathy and eloquence, which he demonstrated again during the week, into practice in team speeches and one-on-one conversations, he has already gained a lot. If the necessary competence in the sports and tactical area is added, as the coach likes to call it, FC Bayern can look to the future with a little more optimism than just a few months ago.
As long as Bayern players score goals while wearing the right jersey, it does not matter to the record champion how many goals they got during the World Cup.