Munich - First place in the mid-season table duly secured with a game to spare, FC Bayern München have swapped chilly Germany for warmer climes as they seek to round out an unforgettable year by adding a world title to their domestic and European ones.
'What's at stake'
The 3-1 victory over Hamburger SV on the penultimate matchday made it 16 Bundesliga wins out of 16 on home turf in 2013 for Bayern and stretched their record overall unbeaten run in the league to an incredible 41 games. Seven points clear of closest pursuers Bayer Leverkusen, the Munich Reds have been excused duty on the home front this weekend, as they take a tilt instead at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
“It's maybe not a tournament people talk about very much. But once you're there and it's underway, you realise what's at stake - namely, an awful lot of prestige,” the German record champions' coach Pep Guardiola explained. His charges clearly take the same view, dispatching Chinese and AFC Champions League title holders Guangzhou Evergrande FC 3-0 in Agadir on Tuesday evening to book a final date in Marrakech on Saturday (21 December) with Morocco's very own Raja Casablanca, surprise 3-1 victors over Brazilian Copa Libertadores holders Atletico Mineiro.
Should they prevail there as well, Bayern would hoist their fifth major trophy of the calendar year, after the Bundesliga, the UEFA Champions League, the DFB Cup and the UEFA Supercup. “It's an opportunity we want to make the most of,” club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge made clear ahead of tournament start. At the German Sports Personality of 2013 awards ceremony in Baden-Baden last Sunday, where the quadruple-winners walked away with the Team of the Year prize, Rummenigge noted that, “FC Bayern have never been more respected globally. We've enjoyed every positive experience possible, it's all gone wonderfully from January through to December.”
'Leapfrogged Manchester United'
The records continue to tumble, on and off the pitch. In November, the club revealed it had posted its highest-ever turnover in 2012/13 - 432.8 million euro. “The FC Bayern brand is booming like never before. I really can't remember it ever being better than this,” said president and former midfield star and long-time sporting director Uli Hoeneß. Rummenigge was only to happy too endorse that assessment, summarising, “We're playing good football, we're in full control of our finances and the future's looking very rosy.”
More important than the bare numbers to president and chairman alike, however, is the wider perception of the club which, Hoeneß believes, has undergone a period of “sustained” improvement recently, and “not only in Germany.” Rummenigge, himself one of Europe's deadliest forwards in his playing days in Munich, concurs that Bayern's current global standing is “perhaps higher than ever before.” Jörg Wacker, the board member in charge of international marketing, pointed out that, “After winning the treble we're one of the best clubs in the world in concrete terms. And as far as brand value goes, we've leapfrogged Manchester United and claimed the number one spot worldwide.”
Out on the pitch, there is little dispute that the men from the Bavarian capital are the current top dogs and Rummenigge has been at pains to stress the role played in that process by the two men to occupy the hot seat in 2013. Former head coach Jupp Heynckes set a new benchmark in guiding FC Bayern to that unprecedented treble success last season, leaving his successor Guardiola with quite an act to follow.
The Catalan master tactician is rising to the task with aplomb and thus far, Bayern have been firing on all cylinders across the board. And when league action recommences in January 2014, they might well be pursuing the defence of their three titles as club world champions for good measure.