As David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez prepare to call time on their glittering careers with Bayern Munich, bundesliga.com pays tribute to three footballing giants who have contributed to one of the most successful eras in the club's history.
On the Bayern books since 2008, 2011 and 2012 respectively, Alaba, Boateng and Martinez are among the five players to have won the treble twice with the Bavarian giants, alongside Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer.
Three of the club's longest-serving lieutenants, they will be leaving on a high note after helping to secure yet another Bundesliga title in 2021…
Watch: Bayern's season highlights
Joined Bayern: 1 July 2008
Games played: 430
Goals scored: 33
Trophies won: 27
Alaba has been an integral part of the Bayern setup for so long that it's hard to believe he is still only 28. The Austria defender arrived at the club almost 13 years ago, just after his 16th birthday, describing himself as "a little rascal" who "never gave up believing in his big dreams". Although even he probably couldn't have predicted how far those dreams would take him.
He now shares the all-time record of 10 Bundesliga titles with Müller, the first coming in 2009/10 – although it wasn't really until 2011/12, following a successful loan spell with Hoffenheim, that he became a first-team regular for Bayern. Neuer and Boateng had arrived that summer, with Jupp Heynckes taking over from Louis van Gaal as head coach.
Alaba made 47 appearances in all competitions, although around 20 were as a substitute, and Heynckes seemed unsure of the Austrian's best position. He deployed him as a central midfielder, wide midfielder and left-back in a campaign which saw Bayern miss out on silverware across the board: second behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, beaten finalists in the DFB Cup (Dortmund again), and worst of all, beaten finalists in the UEFA Champions League, after a heart-breaking loss to Chelsea on home soil at the Allianz Arena.
Watch: Alaba's Bundesliga mixtape
Alaba had been a playmaker with boyhood club Austria Vienna and a defensive midfielder for Hoffenheim, before being repurposed as a left-back by van Gaal. "He's a left-back, even if he doesn't think so himself," the Dutch coach famously quipped, and his successor Heynckes ultimately arrived at the same conclusion. Alaba was Bayern's starting left-back throughout 2012/13 as they bounced back to dominate all comers, claiming an unprecedented treble (for a German club) of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League. He went on to make the position his own, emerging as one of the world's best wing-backs.
"Talent is one thing, but attitude and desire is another, and David has this unquenchable desire to improve and develop," observed Bayern scout Werner Kern, the man who spotted Alaba's potential at a youth tournament in Manchester and brought him to Bavaria. "He has that bite you need."
That 'bite' has kept Alaba performing at the highest level for the past decade, and continuing to win over teammates, coaches and fans at one of the most demanding clubs in world football. He has made over 400 competitive outings for Bayern, and will leave with an eye-watering collection of 27 trophies, practically one for every year he has been alive.
"The club is my family, my home, my special place," he told the Bayern website after the announcement of his departure. "Munich has become much more than a second home for me. My son was born in Munich and his grandparents live here, so there will always be a close connection."
The Austrian's versatility was there for all to see in 2019/20, when the absences of Niklas Süle, Lucas Hernandez and Boateng forced then caretaker coach Hansi Flick into playing him at centre-back. While many players would have been out of their depth, Alaba took it all in his stride, doing far more than plugging a gap – instead proving he was the same world-class performer even in an unfamiliar position. His adaptability had already drawn extravagant praise from Pep Guardiola during his period in the Bayern dugout: "David Alaba is our God! He has already played is practically all 10 outfield positions."
"He's one of the best in the world at centre-back," enthused teammate Joshua Kimmich more recently. "I've told David that. His body language is amazing, he has great build-up play and keeps calm under pressure."
As well as bringing stability to the Bayern backline – they had the best defensive record in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, conceding 32 goals in 34 games – Alaba was able to give invaluable advice to Alphonso Davies, the turbo-charged teenager who slotted into his former position. "He's one of the best left-backs in the world and he's helping me out," the Canadian acknowledged. "I'm very grateful for that."
Unassuming off the pitch and an undisputed leader on it, Alaba will be missed at the Allianz Arena, where he had become a genuine fan favourite. Having worked his way up through the U17s, U19s and reserves to the first team, the "little rascal" from Vienna leaves as one of the most decorated players in the club's history. "Thank you to the fans for everything," he concluded. "I'll never forget this relationship and it will always be in my heart."
Joined Bayern: 1 July 2011
Games played: 362
Goals scored: 10
Trophies won: 25
The same is true for Boateng.
When the former Hamburg man joined Bayern in summer 2011, he had spent the foregoing campaign filling in as a full-back for English Premier League outfit Manchester City. Sixteen top-flight appearances wasn't a bad return for a 22-year-old playing abroad for the first time in his senior club career, but his deployment on the flanks was hardly conducive to the development of a dyed-in-the-wool central defender.
"It was important to me that Bayern had me marked in for a specific position," Berlin-born Boateng said at the time, after putting pen to paper on a four-year deal with Germany's record champions. "I believe it will end up with me playing at centre-back for the national team more often. Above all, I've come here to make the defence more solid."
Boateng has delivered on his word. Bayern had finished third in the Bundesliga in 2010/11, conceding 18 goals more than champions Dortmund. Although they fell seven points short in Boateng's debut campaign - coming up second best to BVB - the Bavarians ended 2011/12 with the meanest defence in the division. The foundation for the most successful era in Bayern's bejeweled history was laid.
Bayern have claimed 24 titles on Boateng's watch, shipping less than 30 single-season Bundesliga goals on seven occasions, whilst failing to break the 80-goal mark just twice. Their system evolved considerably in that time, but so did Boateng and, as he hit his late 20s, the Berlin visionary was considered the gold standard for modern-day centre-backs.
“I was incredibly touched and proud to have done that as a defender," Boateng said of his lasting legacy in an interview with the Bayern website. "But that doesn’t happen without playing in such a great team. I always try to soak everything up - not necessarily to copy but to ask himself 'why he's so good at that?'"
Continual self-reflection served Boateng well. He took the prerequisite qualities of a central defender and married them with the laser-guided distribution of a deep-lying midfielder, regularly ranking among Bayern's top five players for challenges won, touches and pass completion.
"It's incredible to be able to open up the game like that as a centre-back," Müller once beamed, the gleeful recipient of more than a few Boateng punts down the years. "He's like a quarter-back, and has developed into a world-class player."
Boateng received individual recognition in 2016, two years after lifting the FIFA World Cup with Germany, when he was named his country's Footballer of the Year. The Bayern No.17 was the first out-and-out defender to claim the prize since Jürgen Kohler in 1997.
There were set-backs, including injuries and inevitable dips in form. Restricted to just 20 Bundesliga appearances under Niko Kovac in 2018/19, Boateng's time at Bayern appeared to have run its course. Then came the renaissance.
Boateng posted 38 appearances in all competitions in 2019/20 - his highest count since 2014/15 - as Bayern swept all before them. Of all centre-backs at Flick's disposal, only Alaba made more starts.
"He faced an unquestionably difficult situation and responded with incredible improvement," said Bayern's head coach of Boateng. "He's worked very hard to get himself back up to this level. He was also one of the anchors who assured we won the triple. I'm extremely grateful to him for that."
Flick is not the only member of Bayern's 2020 sextuple-winning cast who owes Boateng a debt of gratitude.
"In the time we’ve spent playing together at centre-back, I was able to learn a lot from you," commented Alaba. Canadian left-back Davies also doffed his hat to Bayern's long-serving muse: "Thanks for everything you’ve taught me. You’re a real leader, you took me under your wing and guided me."
Boateng once cited Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin, Barcelona's Gerard Pique and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos as the defenders he most admires in the modern game. The next generation of defensive greats will almost certainly look to Peak Boa for inspiration.
Joined Bayern: 29 August 2012
Games played: 267
Goals scored: 14
Trophies won: 24
Martinez was a stalwart of a different kind.
Only Müller and Alaba have lifted more Bundesliga titles than the Spaniard, but not even they can match the 32-year-old’s record of having won the Meisterschale in all nine of his seasons on German soil.
"It's been a dream," Martinez said succinctly of his decorated stint in Munich.
Watch: From the archives - Martinez, Bayern's midfield rock
It all began against the backdrop of 2011/12, when Bayern has finished as Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League runners-up. Then sporting director Matthias Sammer led the rebuild, bringing in Wolfsburg striker Mario Mandzukic, Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Dante and prising Martinez from Athletic Bilbao's grasp for what at the time was a club-record fee.
"Nobody knew who he was when we signed him," recalled celebrated former coach Heynckes. "Franz Beckenbauer thought he was a type of coffee!"
More battering ram than caffeine-fuelled beverage, Martinez came with quite the kick as Lionel Messi & Co. experienced first hand in the 2012/13 Champions League semi-finals. Bayern ran out 7-0 aggregate winners over the Catalans on their way to defeating Dortmund in the final.
The Champions League represented the second of three debut-season trophies for Martinez. He added a fourth in the UEFA Super Cup after forcing a penalty shoot-out with an extra-time equaliser against Chelsea. Seven years on and another continental treble richer, he scored a 104th-minute winner against Sevilla. Müller anointed him "Mr. Supercup", though it's his description of the Basque enforcer as "one of the toughest guys I've come up against" which is most fitting.
Making the dirty work look like an art form, Martinez gave Bayern a ruthless edge that Guardiola re-interpreted in a central defensive and even sweeper role. Had the 2012 UEFA Euro winner not missed 92 competitive matches though injury during his countryman's three-year tenure, Bayern might have had more than domestic dominance to celebrate.
"Javi Martinez is very important for us," Guardiola said of Martinez at the time. "I think it was incredible that Bayern purchased this player. He has a great will and determination, and we absolutely need him."
Martinez remained an integral part of the furniture under Carlo Ancelotti, though it wasn't until Heynckes was parachuted back in a few months into the 2017/18 season that he was returned to his rightful place in front of the back four. Bayern conceded 10 goals with Martinez in a deep-lying role over the remainder of the campaign, losing only one of the 15 Bundesliga games he started.
"My predecessors were right to put him at centre-back, as he can play there as well - but for me, he's a central midfielder, no question," asserted Heynckes.
Martinez ranks among the longest-serving players at Bayern. In nine years in Munich, he has won the Bundesliga nine times, five DFB Cups, four German Supercups, and each of the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup twice. And while he has fallen down the pecking order with age, his commitment to the cause has never faltered.
"You can always rely on Javi," said Flick, singing from the same 'Martinez Will Rock You' hymn sheet as Heynckes. "He is a tremendous fighter."
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