As Pep Guardiola prepares to take his Bayern side back to the club where he made his name as a manager, Susie Schaaf looks at how they overcame the loss of the team doctor, injuries and a two-goal deficit against Porto to book their place in the Champions League semi-finals.
In the 1990s, Bayern Munich were known as much for their irascible players and off-field antics as they were for their footballing pedigree. The press would derisively rename the team ‘FC Hollywood’ in light of the manic atmosphere surrounding the club.
That nickname has stuck over time with Bayern’s detractors. Indeed, almost nobody that watches football in Germany has a neutral opinion about the team – they are loved and hated in equal measure.
The insulting sobriquet would make a fresh appearance after Munich’s humiliating 3-1 defeat to FC Porto in their opening Champions League quarter-final tie, and was only made worse when Bayern’s team physician, Dr Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, abruptly quit the next day.
There has been tension between Pep Guardiola and Dr Müller-Wohlfahrt since the Catalan coach began his tenure with the German champions, but the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back would be CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s “animated” chat about player health with the medical team after the Porto loss.
With no doctors, key players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Javi Martínez, and David Alaba out, and facing a two-goal deficit (a number that had never been met by any previous Bayern side in knockout competition), Guardiola was again feeling the full force of the hot seat – a parallel to his position after FCB were dumped out of the previous season’s semi-finals by Real Madrid.
Many Bayern supporters were calling for his head, while he would put the blame for the loss solely on himself. If you bothered to look, it was obvious that individual mistakes had led to all three Porto goals – not Guardiola.
Approaching the return tie, he would not be bowed. Confident in his exhausted team, he sent out a nearly identical starting XI in the second leg to the one that lost the first. A couple of tweaks tactically – getting wide play from Philipp Lahm and Mario Götze – worked wonders as Bayern overturned that 3-1 deficit in a romp, winning 6-1 at the Allianz Arena.
“These have been the toughest months of my career,” Guardiola remarked after making the Champions League semi-finals. But Bayern Munich are not quite able to stroll down easy street just yet. Guardiola will have to make a visit to his former stomping ground, Camp Nou, as the two FCBs face off to see who goes to Berlin in June.
Bayern will be buoyed by the fact that the majority of their walking injured should be healthy for either one of – if not both of – the semi-final matches. Also of note, Barcelona have only beaten Munich once in 10 tries.
Guardiola won the European crown as a player in 1992 with Barcelona, and twice again against Manchester United in 2009 and 2011 at the club’s helm. The highly decorated trainer – with a domestic double well in hand in Germany – will look to improve on that with an appearance in the final.
Though many thought a Bayern Munich-Barcelona Champions League final would be ideal, the narrative still stays the same. The parallels will be drawn between two of the mightiest clubs in Europe, and Guardiola’s role with both. You couldn’t write it any better.
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