Champions League Final: Can Bayern Munich now forge an era of dominance?
No team in the modern era has defended the European Cup. That is the Germans' challenge
It was around 1am in the morning that the Bayern Munich chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, addressed the 1,800 guests at the club's post-match party at the Grosvenor House hotel, and according to the club's official account, proclaimed their Champions League final victory "the sporting comeback of the year".
It was a not a comeback in the traditional sense, against overwhelming adversity and with the odds stacked against them, because Bayern are about as establishment as it gets when it comes to European football. They sit fourth in the Deloitte world money league, they have a gleaming new stadium and they buy other clubs' best players. Instead this was about the kind of comeback that only the big boys can embark upon.
There are some great sides who never win the big trophies – it is just the way it works out. It looked that way for Chelsea over the last decade until they finally landed the European Cup last year, beating Bayern in Munich, and once they had done so, the curse seemed to have passed on to Bayern who were in their third final in four years on Saturday and fearing the worst as the game headed to extra time.
"I remember it well, the final a year ago where we'd all had such high hopes," Rummenigge said, "and when we met at the Postpalast [a venue in Munich] I passed a tide of fans leaving the screening of the game at the Olympic Stadium. I looked in their faces, and I thought to myself: 'Mamma mia! What's this? What kind of shock has this club suffered? And how will we get over it?'
"I think many people expected us to fall apart after 19 May, that we'd freeze from shock and give up. I don't think that would have been very Bayern-like. I think we've done what we had to do. We got down to work, especially this team, and this coach. I think it was a wonderful final against magnificent opponents, but – and this is the most important thing – we deservedly won."
There was much other stuff of note in the speech, including a reminder to guests to heed Bastian Schweinsteiger's advice and "drink plenty". There was a tribute to Jupp Heynckes, who Rummenigge said rang him "on the stroke of 10am" every morning last summer to discuss what the team needed to move on to the next level. "I think this team has unbelievable character," Rummenigge said. "They're first-class on the field and first-class off it. They're not arrogant. They win, and they keep going."
There is no doubting that this Bayern team occupy the top perch in terms of elite European football and the decisions they have made, most of them taken well before the end of the season. Pep Guardiola in as coach, Mario Götze signed from their beaten opponents Borussia Dortmund and Robert Lewandowski on his way too, if Heynckes' post-match hint is to be taken at face value.
No one, not even Barcelona, has won the Champions League title in two consecutive years since the competition was changed to the new format. That has to be the achievement that Bayern aspire to and they are capable of doing so in a way that recent winners like Internazionale and Chelsea were just not geared up to do. They were coming to the end of their cycle with a particular team, while Bayern are yet to peak.
Their captain Philipp Lahm, only 29 himself, said that the current Bayern team, or a version of it, was capable of more. "The pressure was enormous at the beginning," he said. "I've always said that, if you want to be a golden generation, then you have to win an international title. We have finally succeeded. The team is at the right age and still has rosy times ahead."
Yet life never stands still when it comes to the very best. As Bayern's players paraded their trophy at Wembley, Barcelona were preparing to make the official announcement that they had signed Brazil's latest prodigy Neymar, from Santos. In the next couple of weeks, Jose Mourinho will arrive at Chelsea and life will get interesting.
Never before has there been such unprecedented managerial change in the English game. The summer of 2013 feels like a crossroads in many respects, just as a decade earlier life changed immeasurably when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, and, with less of an immediate impact, Manchester United bought Cristiano Ronaldo while David Beckham left for Real Madrid.
As well as new managers at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea there will be change at Bayern, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. There could scarcely be a more intriguing start to it all than the European Super Cup final on 30 August in Prague between what will surely be Mourinho's Chelsea and Guardiola's Bayern. The trophy, essentially a Uefa junket, has never felt so relevant.
What the hell does Guardiola do with a team that is on the brink of the Treble under Heynckes – the Bundesliga, the Champions League and potentially the German Cup on Saturday? Win it better, like Brian Clough infamously promised to do with the Leeds United team he inherited from Don Revie in 1974? Rather, he is there to win it again and again in a fashion that has never been achieved in the modern era.
If you look at Bayern's history they have had just one era of sustained success, that hat-trick of European Cup titles between 1974 and 1976. That is one more era of dominance than all but a handful of clubs have ever achieved but for any club wishing to break new ground in a modern era largely dominated by Barça, the next frontier is to win the trophy over consecutive years. It is a formidable task.
Arjen Robben's very neatly taken winner – just three touches of the ball required of those nimble feet – said a lot about Bayern's performance. They are not as exquisite in their execution as Barça are at their best but, in the likes of Robben, they have a number of the world's best players who compete at such tempo and with such determination that they tend to overwhelm even the best opposition.
"What a club! What quality! What pride we can all have in this Bayern Munich!" Rummenigge said in his speech. There is no disputing that. Enough quality to win it next year too? That has to be the challenge.
Five alive: Bayern move up
Most European Cups
9 Real Madrid
5 Bayern Munich, Liverpool
3 Internazionale, Manchester United
2 Benfica, Juventus, Nottingham Forest, Porto
1 Aston Villa, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic, Chelsea, Feyenoord, Hamburg, Marseilles, PSV Eindhoven, Red Star Belgrade, Steaua Bucharest
Most European Cups by country
12 England, Italy
1 France, Romania, Scotland, Yugoslavia
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