Cologne - FC Bayern München returned from their pre-season tour of China best satisfied with a productive week's work promoting themselves and the Bundesliga in the world's most populous nation.
A penalty shootout loss to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobo FC in the last of their three scheduled games denied the German record champions the pleasure of getting to round things out by hoisting the Volkswagen Cup. That aside, however, the eight-day visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou was an unqualified success in the eyes of the senior management.
"These tours are essential, because we're looking to play a leading role on the international stage as well," chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge explained at the end of the trip: "We're up against some huge clubs there and if you want to keep pace, you simply have to factor-in globalisation these days. And as far as that goes, Bayern are on the right path."
Success on and off the pitch
As well as playing attractive opponents in each of their destination cities, head coach Pep Guardiola and his star-studded ensemble fulfilled a raft of marketing duties, accompanied every step of the way by crowds of fervent Chinese football fans. "It's stressful, but at the same time it's great when you see the people here," said Thomas Müller: "We're so far from Munich and the enthusiasm and euphoria of the fans is fantastic. It's fascinating, as well, how knowledgeable they are. All-in-all, it's more fun than work," the World Cup-winning forward summarised.
The aforementioned knowledge was on display in the opening friendly against Valencia CF at the capital's Olympic Stadium, when local Bayern fans struck up a chorus of "Star of the South," among other club anthems. The Bundesliga visitors responded with a 4-1 win and went on to chalk up a 1-0 victory over FC Internazionale Milano in Shanghai, with only that shoot-out defeat to Guangzhou, currently chasing their fifth straight Chinese Super League title, blotting the copybook.
"We'd have liked to have won our third game as well, but obviously it's another treble we're prioritising," said keeper Manuel Neuer, adding that it was "a nice way to round things out, all the same. We made the people happy." A lot of people, at that, with Jörg Wacker, Bayern's head of internationalisation and strategy, estimating the Munich club to have some 90 million potential fans in China.
With pre-season preparations hotting up, the tour paid for itself out on the pitch as well, according to director of sport Matthias Sammer. "At this stage, you really have to be working and training hard. We managed that here, because the journey times were minimal and the overall organisation top-notch," Sammer said. At the end of the day, though, there's no place like home and as far as training goes, Bayern have always done it best back where they are now, at their own Säbener Straße HQ in the Bavarian capital.