Bayern seek return to the days of 'luck'

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Franz Beckenbauer lifts the 1974 European CupPA PhotosFranz Beckenbauer lifts the 1974 European Cup

It's probably no coincidence that, at exactly the same time as Bayern Munich were forging the record that confirmed their status as one of Europe's super clubs, they also developed the reputation that would underline every result ever since.

The phrase 'Bayern-Dusel', which literally means 'Bayern's undeserved luck', first came into use in German football in the mid-1970s while the club were entering the elite group of those that have won three European Cups in a row. When an FCB TV presenter once put the stereotype to one of the heroes of that period, Uli Hoeness, he became so incensed he threatened to have the presenter sacked.

To a degree, that anger is understandable. The whole idea of repeat league wins being down to mere luck is insulting and, generally, down to envy. Quite simply, when a team develops such a capacity to so frequently force late goals as well as favourable bounces of the ball, it has more to do with fortitude than fortune. League seasons, after all, don't really come down to individual moments but an accumulation of them.

That isn't the case with cup competitions, though, where one single freak game can either prove fatal or provide immortality.

And it's here, really, that the notion of 'Bayern-Dusel' really applies - but not in the manner many detractors think. In the European Cup, it has worked both ways for Bayern - and in the most excessive ways. No other big club seem to have so conspicuously and constantly surfed the waves of fortune. Just look at the two most extreme examples. If we're talking about notionally minor moments having major effects, Bayern are the only club to have seen two separate finals completely swing in the final minute - 1974 and 1999.

As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge laughed ahead of the 2010 final, "you could say Bayern were lucky to win the finals in 1974, 1975 and 1976 and then unlucky in the next three". Rummenigge probably wasn't laughing two years later, though, when luck again played a large part in a Bayern final, against Chelsea.

It's oddly fitting, though, because that was the case right from the club's first forays into the European Cup. Just consider the sheer quality of the team at that point. There is a strong argument Bayern were a better side between 1971 and 1974, when they won repeat leagues for the first time, than between 1974 and 1976, when they completed European football's gold-standard feat.

The more reliable guide of league tables certainly says so. Whereas Bayern finished as low as tenth and third in 1975 and 1976, they were relentless in the previous three years, providing two of the top three points-per-games records in the history of the Bundesliga.

With an integrated, adventurous style, and an incredible spine of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, Bayern were often overwhelming.

As midfielder Franz Roth said of the period: "In the Bundesliga, we were peerless." The only problem was that wasn't the case in Europe. Far from it. Basically, Bayern were plain unlucky they were around at the same time as arguably the greatest team of all time: Ajax.
"There was no real rivalry with them," Roth has said, "because they were in a class of their own."

That reality was rammed home on the only occasion the two teams met in this period, the 1972-73 quarter-final. In the first leg, Ajax showed Bayern exactly where the bar was with an astounding 4-0 win. But, if it was a reality check for Bayern, it was also something of a crescendo for Ajax.

"We knew they were still too good for us but there was a sense they might be at the end of their cycle," Roth said. And, as the tide turned, so did Bayern's luck.

With the likes of Johan Cruyff leaving Ajax, that elite group were never actually defeated. Instead, it was as if they abdicated and left a gap. So, although Bayern never had to actually beat the finest team of their era, they were best equipped to follow them.

In 1973-74, the Beckenbauer side reached their own highest point as they completed the double of league and European Cup. Even that, though, involved the kind of incident that would suggest the coming decline of the team as well as the knife-edge finals such a dip would bring.

Because, in the 119th minute of their showdown with an abrasive Atletico Madrid, it again looked like Bayern would be denied. The Germans had been outfought and, thanks to Luis Aragones' free-kick, outscored. Until, with time all but up, Georg Schwarzenbeck strode forward and seemed to waste his team's last chance with a speculative 30-yard strike. It's hard to know what the defender was thinking given that, in his entire club career, he only scored 21 goals in 416 games. Amazingly, this was one of them.

"It had to be a fluke," Beckenbauer conceded. "But it was the perfect fluke." And, to be fair, it resulted in the perfect performance. In a unique replay, Bayern routed Atletico 4-0 as fully deserving European champions.

It was the beginning of an incredible summer that saw many of those players also win the World Cup with West Germany... but also the beginning of the end. After four years of continuous achievement at all levels, the side naturally couldn't sustain the same levels.

But, although that brought a dramatic drop domestically, it in turn fostered the fortuitous European Cup wins to come. Out of contention in the Bundesliga, an ageing side were still able to use their experience and ingrained excellence to better navigate the nuances of knockout competition, and the next two finals certainly saw plenty of them.

In 1975, Leeds United were denied two penalties as well as a Peter Lorimer strike that was ruled offside. The Parc des Princes showpiece ended in controversy, crowd violence but, also, another Bayern win. Not for the first or last time, Roth and Muller scored the key goals.

The following year, then, came the infamous case of the 'square posts'. A sensational St Etienne dominated Bayern and saw Dominique Bathenay and Jacques Santini hit the frame of the goal. Had the posts been round rather than angular then it's probable one, if not both, would have bounced in. Instead, Roth scored the only goal of the game and Bayern became the last team to win three European Cups in a row.

Yet, while many of those victories may have been down to the short-term vagaries of knockout football, Bayern were at least looking to the long term. In 1979, president Wilhelm Neudecker appointed Hoeness as business manager. Such an approach was to prove influential, if not initially.

At the outset, Hoeness was obsessed with the notion of "value". For the next decade, talents like Rummenigge were sold at a profit and merely replaced by reliable ones, like Hoeness' brother Dieter.

The policy did bring a quantity of league titles but the lower quality may well have been responsible for the club ending up such hostages to fortune at the higher level of the European Cup final.

In 1982, they were on the wrong side of one of the most remarkable stories in the competition's history. Nigel Spink came on as a sub for only his second Aston Villa appearance to make the saves that secured the European Cup. In 1987, Bayern arrogantly assumed one goal against FC Porto would be enough, with Hoeness even talking about "the dawning of a new, great era". Instead, after Rabah Madjer had backheeled an equaliser and Juary turned in a winner, the same man was describing it as the worst defeat of his life. Little did he know.

To be fair, the club themselves did know something needed to change. And, in 1991, they brought back Beckenbauer and Rummenigge to update the business model significantly.

Initially, it didn't change their luck in finals. When Bayern at last reached the highest stage again, in 1999, the defeat of 1987 would be put into perspective as the club also suffered traumatic inverses of the triumphs of 1974 and 1976. Having gone ahead early on, they hit the frame of the goal twice only to be sensationally overturned by Manchester United.

Eventually, though, brilliant manager Ottmar Hitzfeld himself overturned 25 years of history with the club's fourth Champions League, in 2001. Of course, that victory over Valencia also came thanks to what is supposedly the luckiest situation of all: a shootout.

By then, Bayern had perfected the business model that would justify labels like FC Hollywood. The only problem was that, again, someone was just doing it that bit better. The height of the Hitzfeld era just happened to coincide with the peak of Real Madrid's Galactico project. The two clubs even met four times in five years, with Real winning three of those ties, as well as three European Cups.

Such lavish expenditure, of course, ensured English and Spanish sides would streak ahead over the next decade, with Bayern one of the few clubs capable of keeping up. But only just. In 2010, they would lose out to the most expensive manager in the world in Jose Mourinho. In 2012, they would lose out to one of the wealthiest club owners in Chelsea's Roman Abramovich.

Of course, luck would notoriously play a role in the latter. By then, though, it was oddly appropriate.

ESPN Conversations