Bayern Munich have coped with the losses of Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Oliver Kahn, Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery before – they’ll do the same with Robert Lewandowski. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
Bayern Munich have coped with the losses of Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Oliver Kahn, Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery before – they’ll do the same with Robert Lewandowski. - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
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From Müller to Robbery and now Lewandowski: how Bayern Munich have always replaced the irreplaceable

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Robert Lewandowski may be leaving Bayern Munich behind after eight glorious, goal- and trophy-filled years. But even after greats such as Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery left, it never stopped the club powering on.

"We’re well aware of what we have to thank Robert for, but big players have left Bayern in the past and the Bayern world didn’t fall apart,” said club CEO Oliver Kahn. “On the contrary, the club often went on to be even more successful.”

It is not mere rhetoric designed to soften the blow of Lewandowski’s departure. A dive into the history books reveals how the record German champions have seemingly always managed to fill even the biggest of shoes.

Gerd Müller
Games: 584
Goals: 531
Years at Bayern: 1964-1979

Bayern great Beckenbauer (more on him below) once said that “without Gerd Müller's goals, Bayern would not be where they are today. What Bayern have today, their palace on Säbener Straße, that would still be a shed without Gerd Müller.”

Watch: An ode to Gerd

It is no overstatement. The modern-day behemoth that is Bayern was born out of the success the team from the 1970s enjoyed – success that in large part was thanks to Müller. In 15 years at the club the stocky forward was synonymous with goals and remains the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorer with 365.

Müller scored at least 20 Bundesliga goals in 12 of his 14 seasons with Bayern, even breaking the 30-goal barrier five times in six campaigns between 1969 and 1974. As such, he was always going to be missed when he left for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the age of 34 in 1979.

Step forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Ten years Müller’s junior, the forward had spent the previous four campaigns under his mentor’s wing, honing his craft.

Suddenly with the expectation of being the main man up top, Rummenigge – who went on to become club CEO before being replaced by Kahn last year – did not disappoint.

The striker hit 26 Bundesliga goals in the 1979/80 campaign and 29 the following year, helping the Reds to the league title in both seasons. Indeed, he registered at least 20 league goals in four of the five seasons following Müller’s departure, and 162 in 310 Bundesliga outings all told.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (l.) emerged from Gerd Müller’s (r.) shadow to be one of Bayern’s most prolific goalscorers himself. - imago sportfotodienst via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Werner Otto

Franz Beckenbauer
Games: 550
Goals: 60
Years at Bayern: 1963-1977

Look up the definition of ‘sweeper’ in any footballing dictionary and you will invariably find Beckenbauer’s name given as the leading example. While the position is rarely used today, the Munich native was an expert at it, sitting behind the defence to “sweep up” any loose balls before the goalkeeper needed to intervene.

Such was his reading of the game and sense of anticipation that Beckenbauer excelled, eventually earning the nickname “Der Kaiser” (The Emperor) due to his statesmanlike composure on the ball.

Not only was he gifted in breaking up opposition attacks, however, he was also adept at starting them. Beckenbauer would gracefully move forward and casually ping passes to all corners of the pitch, later putting that skill down to having spent countless hours playing one-twos against the wall of his house.

“That wall was the most honest teammate you could wish for,” he declared. “If you play a proper pass, you’d get it back properly, without the need to run.”

Watch: Beckenbauer the legend

Beckenbauer won four Bundesliga titles, three successive European Cups, the European Championship and the FIFA World Cup during a glittering career for Bayern and Germany, so when he joined the New York Cosmos in 1977 at the age of 32 it was as if the very foundation on which the team had been built was removed.

However, a 20-year-old Klaus Augenthaler had been with the team for a year by that point and such was his impact that he would remain at the club for his entire playing career, retiring 15 years later in 1991 as a serial champion.

His feathery mullet may have implied otherwise, but the defender had a steely will to win and is described as a player who “pursued and harvested honours like no other” by the official Bayern website. At one stage Augenthaler was the most successful individual in Bundesliga history, winning seven league titles and three DFB Cups.

Nicknamed 'Auge' as a nod to his surname but also because of his ability to read the game (‘Auge’ means ‘eye’ in German), he made 551 appearances for Bayern all told, scoring 74 times.

Augenthaler (r.) would not only fill Beckenbauer’s (l.) boots on the pitch but also become his assistant as coach. - imago sportfotodienst/imago sportfotodienst

Oliver Kahn
Games: 783
Years at Bayern: 1994-2008

Bayern are well aware that while goals win games, defence wins championships. As such, they pay particular attention to their goalkeepers – and when they find a keeper they, well, keep them. Sepp Maier was at the club for 17 years through the 1960s and 70s, later followed by Jean-Marie Pfaff (six years) and Raimond Aumann (seven years).

Kahn, the club’s current CEO, enjoyed a 14-year stay between the sticks in Munich, sharpening his reflexes under the watchful eye of goalkeeping coach Maier.

A brilliant shot-stopper and equally adept in claiming high balls into his box, Kahn was more notable for what he termed "positive aggression". In a 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund in April 1999, he squared up to Heiko Herrlich and appeared to nibble his cheek, before rushing off his line and only just missing Stephane Chapuisat with a wild kung-fu kick.

"I often use my body language to show my team 'complete presence' – and to instil respect, or even better fear, in my opponents," Kahn said. "Goalkeepers need an element of insanity.”

Watch: A tactical analysis of Kahn and Neuer

When he hung up his gloves for good at the age of 38 in 2008, that ‘insanity’ had translated into silverware galore (eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Cups and one UEFA Champions League in which he saved the decisive penalty), as well as countless records, including 204 league clean sheets.

His replacement may not have been immediate – although Hans-Jörg Butt did a superb job in his three years as first choice – but when Manuel Neuer became available in 2011, Bayern did not hesitate.

Now in his 11th season at the club, Neuer has also followed in Kahn’s footsteps as captain but has gone further in that he is widely regarded as the finest goalkeeper ever to play the game, revolutionising the role with his interpretation as a ‘sweeper-keeper’, while stockpiling honours and records of his own. And he’s far from done yet.

Philipp Lahm
Games: 517
Goals: 16
Years at Bayern: 2002-2017

Pep Guardiola once described Philipp Lahm as “the most intelligent player I’ve ever coached,” while Jupp Heynckes hailed him as “one of the greatest ever players in Bundesliga history”. And who are we to disagree with two of Bayern’s most successful coaches?

After joining the club as a 12-year-old in 1995, Lahm went on to establish himself in the first team following a two-year loan spell at VfB Stuttgart.

He may have been just 5’7”, but what Lahm lacked in height he more than made up for with his positioning, will to win and reading of the game. After starting out as a left-back he eventually switched over to the right, regularly contributing to attacks with overlapping runs but never neglecting his defensive duties. He even morphed into a world-class defensive midfielder in the latter stages of his career.

Watch: Kimmich following in Lahm’s footsteps

An eight-time Bundesliga winner, he also lifted the DFB Cup on six occasions as well as captaining Bayern through their treble-winning 2013 campaign, and leading Germany to the 2014 FIFA World Cup

So when he retired in 2017 there was understandably some concern as to what Bayern would do without him. They needn’t have worried. In Joshua Kimmich they already had a ready-made replacement on the books.

Just 22 at the time, Kimmich was already a full Germany international, having been signed under Guardiola’s reign. Famed for his never-say-die attitude as much as his composure on the ball and eye for a pass, Kimmich slotted right in for the 2017/18 season. So much so, in fact, that all the talk of filling Lahm’s shoes was quickly forgotten.

‘Robbery’: Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery
Games: 425 (Ribery), 309 (Robben)
Goals: 124 (Ribery), 144 (Robben)
Years at Bayern: 2007-2019 (Ribery), 2009-2019 (Robben)

Arguably the best wing pairing ever, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery defined a decade at Bayern, their double-trouble pincer-like approaches more often than not proving too much for defences to handle and earning the duo the nickname ‘Robbery’ in the process.

Both blessed with pace, skill and tricks in abundance, right-footed Ribery favoured the left wing, while left-footed Robben was inverted on the right. Indeed, the Dutchman became famous for his trademark move: jinking down the wing before cutting inside onto his stronger foot and curling a shot into the far corner. Defenders knew it was coming but could do little to stop it.

Watch: Robbery’s top 5 goals

So good were they, in fact, that both were first-team regulars well into their mid-30s. They left the club at the end of the 2018/19 season as serial Bundesliga champions and DFB Cup winners, while Ribery provided the assist for Robben to score the winner in the 2013 Champions League final triumph over Dortmund.

Without their supply line, where would Bayern’s goals come from? How would they break down deep-lying, compact and stubborn backlines? Once again, any such concerns have since proved to be unfounded.

Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane have taken up the mantle, keeping Bayern’s grip on the Meisterschale as tight as ever, while it was Coman who scored the winner as Bayern won the Champions League in 2020.

Last season alone, Gnabry registered 14 league goals and five assists, while Coman (six / two) and Sane (seven / seven) were also regular contributors. It will come as no surprise, then, that the former duo both extended their contract with Bayern last season, while Sane, who joined in summer 2020, already has a long-term deal of his own.

Robert Lewandowski
Games: 375
Goals: 344
Years at Bayern: 2014-2022

Lewandowski goes down as one of the all-time Bayern greats, having plundered goals galore during his eight-year stint in Munich. The most prolific foreign-born scorer in the Bundesliga and second only to Gerd Müller in the all-time chart, the Polish sharpshooter will not be easy to replace.

Yet in Julian Nagelsmann they have a tactically astute head coach famed for experimenting with his line-ups to find new solutions. And in Sadio Mane, Thomas Müller, Coman, Gnabry, Sane and Jamal Musiala, among others, he is not short of options to work with.

Watch: All 312 of Lewandowski’s Bundesliga goals

“We have a lot of attacking players who are very flexible,” said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic in response to how the side will adapt to a post-Lewandowski transition.

“We need to find 40 to 50 direct goal involvements and the other lads will need to step up, but it can also give them freedom. The coach feels very comfortable with the players at his disposal right now.”

So while Bayern and the Bundesliga will miss Lewandowski’s goals, history has shown time and again that someone invariably steps up when needed. Now it is just a question of who.