Munich - Quite simply, no club in Germany, Europe or the rest of the world has come close to matching the achievements of FC Bayern München in 2013.
On course for a repeat
After lifting four trophies, Germany’s most decorated club may be about to end its most successful year with a fifth, the FIFA World Club Cup, to be contested in Morocco over the next few days. As the best team in Europe, not many would bet against Bayern failing to establish themselves as the world’s finest and conclude what has been a year of unprecedented success on yet another high.
Recognition for the feats managed by the current crop of players has come from far and wide, but not least from Germany itself, where the national union of German sports journalists voted them, somewhat unsurprisingly, the team of the year on Monday, the third time the club had received the title. In 1967 their acclaim was based on success in the DFB Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, before they received the accolade again in 2001 after winning the Bundesliga title, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Intercontinental Cup (now the Club World Cup).
Yet as impressive as those achievements were, all previous hauls pale in comparison to the headlines die Münchner have made in 2013. Silverware in the last 11 months includes the Bundesliga title, DFB Cup, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup, and as we approach the halfway stage in the current season, the Reds are already in position to ensure next season’s finale will be a similar story of success: Bayern have raced to the top of the table and will remain there over the festive break, establishing what could already be an unassailable nine-point lead and making expected progress in the domestic and European cups.
Style and substance
Undoubtedly the sheer quantity of trophies accrued in this period is what marks this side out above all else, but it has also been the manner in which they have swatted aside their competitors that will live long in the memory. In last season’s Champions League knockout rounds, Bayern had beaten the likes of Juventus and FC Barcelona without conceding a goal, humbling the latter by an aggregate score of 7-0 in the semi-finals, before the first-ever all-German final against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. At the spiritual home of football, both teams contributed to one of the finest spectacles the competition has witnessed in recent years, before the Reds could at long last celebrate winning the title that had so cruelly eluded them for 12 years, most cruelly in 2012, when they were victims of a penalty shootout defeat to Chelsea FC at their own Allianz Arena.
Bayern’s Wembley triumph followed a Bundesliga title wrapped up after 28 matches - the fastest in the league’s history - and preceded victory over VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Cup final. Germany’s most successful club was celebrating its most successful season, led by one of the nation’s most successful coaches in Jupp Heynckes. It was the first ever time that a German team had won a domestic and European treble and surely the finest campaign in Heynckes’ distinguished managerial career. After the revelries in Berlin, the man who scored more Bundesliga goals (226) than anyone barring the great Gerd Müller and joined only three other men to win the Champions League as a coach of two different clubs - Heynckes lifted the famous trophy with Real Madrid FC in 1998 - retired after exactly half a century as a player and manager in football.
New direction, same result
And who did Bayern recruit to replace him? Probably the world’s best and most coveted manager outright in Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard has been charged with the unenviable task of improving a quadruple-winning team (including the 2012 German Supercup), but done so he has, in his own unique way. Wasting no time in leaving an indelible mark on FC Bayern, the man who won 14 titles in four seasons with FC Barcelona has continued, even improved the attractive football the Münchner were playing, making such tactical adjustments as using one defensive midfielder instead of two and converting Philipp Lahm, probably the world’s best right-back, into a holding midfielder.
However, the 42-year-old has crucially retained the team’s ability to win matches - 14 from 16 in the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign - and, most importantly, trophies - the UEFA Super Cup after a vengeful penalty shootout triumph over Chelsea back in August, his first honour as the Reds’ coach, and, it would seem, the first of many.
Points haul astounds
Looking at the work of both Heynckes and Guardiola in 2013, it becomes even clearer how the volume of their combined achievements are more than the sum of Bayern’s considerable parts. In 2013, FC Bayern have won 30 of 33 games, drawing three and losing none, scoring 96 goals and conceding just 19. Since beating Hamburger SV on Matchday 16, they are also now 41 Bundesliga games unbeaten – the previous record of 36 set by HSV themselves had stood for three decades.
They have scored in 53 consecutive games, also a domestic record. Their total points haul for the year - 93 - dwarfs that of their closest rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen (70) and Dortmund (68), and were it not for the three draws and a rescheduled league game against Stuttgart to come in January, that number could have been a staggering 102.
Ribery, Götze et al.
Throw in Franck Ribery’s accolade of 2012/13 UEFA Best Player in Europe and his presence on the three-man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or, or that Mario Götze, who many believe to be Germany’s most gifted player of his generation, has also joined the playing staff, and it has been a year of outstanding individual as well as collective achievement for the club from the Bavarian capital.
Should Guardiola lead them to the second trophy of his still fledgling tenure in Morocco next week, it might just get even better.