"You are prostituting yourself to Manchester United," Uli Hoeness, Bayern Munich general manager, to Owen Hargreaves in August 2006
If you think that sounds like one angry German wait until you hear Bayern Munich having to face up to the reality of losing Franck Ribéry this summer. With Hargreaves, Bayern were only losing their holding midfielder: this time it promises to be their star player, not to mention their credibility as one of the seriously big clubs in Europe.
Last week Ribéry discovered that Bayern Munich are not only vulnerable in the Bundesliga (that 5-1 home defeat to Wolfsburg) but that they are miles off the pace in the Champions League (that 4-0 defeat to Barcelona). He has two years left on his contract this summer, he is 26 years old and he is at a club that, despite its venerable reputation, is currently going nowhere in Europe.
Ribéry will attract the interest of the richest clubs in the world – and who do we mean by them? The English, of course. Manchester United, especially if they lose Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and obviously Manchester City. Beyond them you could imagine Real Madrid or Barcelona potentially staking an interest but this has all the makings of an English auction. It is almost certain to be portrayed in Germany as a battle between good and bad and you can imagine who will be cast as the latter.
At stake for Bayern is their last faint claim to be a credible challenger in the Champions League, provided they qualify for next season (they are level on points with Hamburg in second place). Sell Ribéry and they can have little hope of attracting another world star. They will be obliged to fight on every front to keep him, which will doubtless involve accusing the English clubs who come looking for Ribéry of being scoundrels representing the very last word in greed.
It was a weapon that Bayern used to great effect against United when they tried to sign Hargreaves in that summer of 2006 after his World Cup red-letter day against Portugal in Gelsenkirchen. Bad planning by United cost them Hargreaves on a free transfer: he was due to be out of contract that summer and only reluctantly signed a new deal in October 2005 because no English club showed any interest. In the end United had to wait until May 2007 and spent £17m on him.
Bayern got paid – rather fortuitously because they had previously allowed Hargreaves to drift within three months of being able to sign a pre-contract with an English club – and they also afforded themselves the moral high ground. That same summer of 2006, Bayern spent £7m on Lukasz Podolski from Cologne, then regarded as the brightest young player of his generation. Turns out he isn't. He is going back to Cologne this summer.
In fact, rather like United – and the clubs Bayern will no doubt demonise for trying to sign Ribéry – the Bavarians are quite acquisitive themselves. They took most of the very best players from the Bayer Leverkusen team that reached the 2002 European Cup final, including Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto and Lucio. They signed Miroslav Klose from Werder Bremen. Hamit Altintop came on a free from Schalke.
The Croatian striker Ivica Olic, who did so well against Steve McClaren's England, has decided his future does not remain at Hamburg with Martin Jol. He has already agreed a deal to join Bayern this summer on a free transfer. Funnily enough, when Ballack left Bayern for Chelsea on a free transfer in 2006 he was accused by his former club of being obsessed with money. Does anyone see a pattern emerging?
Bayern are no different to the rest, no different to any club who – over the history of the shifting wealth of world football – have found themselves targeted by richer, more successful predators. They are no different to the European Cup-winning Liverpool team of 1977 who lost Kevin Keegan to Hamburg. No different to Everton when they lost Gary Lineker to Barcelona in 1986. No different to Scotland's Old Firm, who cherry- pick the best players from their Scottish Premier League cousins and then grumble that they cannot compete in the transfer market with English clubs.
When Bayern lose Ribéry this summer, as they surely will, they will have to console themselves that the pact German football has made with its domestic audience is the right one. Their BSkyB equivalent – Premiere, in which Rupert Murdoch has invested – does not make a profit because the tradition of free-to-air Bundesliga highlights at 6.30pm on a Saturday afternoon has meant demand for subscription channels is minimal.
If the crash comes in English football's unbridled wealth that the rest of the world so eagerly anticipates, then German football will be able to congratulate itself on the path it has taken. Until then they will have that nagging fear that maybe their game has taken the wrong route. Maybe that is why Bayern are building an academy in Calcutta to try to plunder the emerging football market in India.
Ribéry's weekly wage is estimated to be around £150,000 now because of the falling value of sterling against the euro. That puts him on a par with Robinho, who is the top earner in English football and will mean that the sums thrown at him this summer will be even more outrageous than usual. Bayern and their many spokesmen – Hoeness, Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, you do lose count – will portray it as the breakdown of civilisation.
The rest of us will recognise it for what it is: the inevitable football tradition of bullying the clubs just that little bit less rich than your own.
Terry's all gold when it comes to nicknames
Makka, Duffa, Bridgey, Baly, Belle, Coley, Big Pete, Flo, Wrighty, Bosy, Decs, Didi, Riccy, and Stochy. What I love about John Terry's Chelsea match-day programme notes is his steadfast refusal to use the full name of any Chelsea player (past or present). Terry is your classic nickname connoisseur. Throw a tricky foreign name at him – Branislav, for instance – and he will lob a nickname straight back at you: "Brana" in this case.
But his pièce de résistance will always be Frank Lampard's "Lampsy".
Most would have been content just to go with "Lamps" but Terry took it away, worked on it and came up with a whole new twist. Lampsy is, I would hazard a guess, the only double-affix nickname in English football.
Volley of praise for Hughes' stunner
The debate over whether Emmanuel Adebayor's overhead kick against Villarreal was better than Trevor Sinclair's against Derby County or any number by Marco Van Basten or Hugo Sanchez can go on for ever. As spectacular flying (half) volleys go there will only be one for me: Mark Hughes for Wales against Spain at Wrexham in 1985. Barcelona bought him on the strength of it.
Gerrard shows who is big beast at Anfield
Want to know who the alpha male is in any big football club? Watch closely when the players have their team group shot on the pitch just before kick-off – who breaks away first? For years, Gary Neville gave photographers at England matches approximately 0.4 seconds to take the team picture before springing up. On Wednesday at Anfield, Steven Gerrard was off before Pepe Reina had even jogged over.
More of a mini-mind
Peter Cavanagh, the former Accrington Stanley player who allegedly helped set up a match-fixing operation and then put a £5 accumulator on it: if it's true, he's not exactly Professor Moriarty, is he?Reuse content