Munich - With FC Bayern München once again bestriding the summit of the world game, honorary president Franz Beckenbauer could well be forgiven for proclaiming the advent of a new era of dominance, perhaps on a par with that of the great team he captained to three successive European Cup titles in the mid-1970s.
Rosy prospects for Bayern
Hyperbole, however, has never been the style of der Kaiser, who in his heyday not so much refined as defined the role of the ball-playing sweeper and who belongs, with Mario Zagallo, to an elite two-member club of men who have won the FIFA World Cup as both a player and coach. Reflecting in interview on the outlook for the coming months with the Bundesliga freshly back underway after the winter break, Beckenbauer was understandably optimistic about FC Bayern's chances of defending their national and international titles. By no stretch of the imagination, though, is he anticipating a shoo-in on either front for the club's star-studded ensemble.
As far as the Bundesliga goes, the 68-year-old Munich native acknowledged he had been “as impressed as most people by Bayern's performances over the first season-half – but the deck's been reshuffled now. All the top sides have rested up and seem to be happy, by and large, with how the winter preparations went. I think the second half of the season could potentially be a bit more exciting than the first”. Not so exciting, mind you, as to deny his hometown club their first successful title defence since 2006, for while, theoretically, “all sorts of things could still happen” to derail Bayern, “I don't honestly see it happening”. The record champions' unrivalled strength-in-depth, he is convinced, would allow them to “compensate for any injury problems that arise”.
On the subject of injuries, Borussia Dortmund have been positively plagued by them this season and Bayern's putative rivals have also “given away too many cheap points”. That said, Beckenbauer believes Jürgen Klopp's side are still more than capable of nabbing second place if they do manage to work up a head of steam. He agrees with those who see VfL Wolfsburg's star as very much ascendant, not least in the wake of the Wolves securing the services of Kevin De Bruyne from Chelsea FC. The Belgian midfielder is “a top-drawer player”, whose acquisition is “an important step in the process of gradually strengthening of the team” currently being undertaken by the Volkswagen-backed club. With De Bruyne on board, Beckenbauer certainly considers a return to the UEFA Champions League “a real possibility” for the 2009 Bundesliga title-winners.
As far as this season's edition of Europe's premier club competition goes, the 103-time West Germany international is really looking forward to the commencement of the knockout phase, when the teams “get down to the nitty gritty, with more football and less tactical jousting”. And while “the opportunity is undoubtedly there for Bayern to retain their title”, they first have “a tough nut to crack in Arsenal” in the Round of 16. “It's an exciting challenge and I hope Bayern come through it,” said Beckenbauer. “Dortmund will progress (against FC Zenit St. Petersburg) for sure.” Indeed, while reluctant to jump the gun, he reckons that, “with the rub of the green you need in any knockout tournament, a similar constellation to last year's all-German final between Bayern and Dortmund can't be discounted”.
Growing global awareness of Bundesliga quality
Regardless of who makes it all the way to Lisbon this time around, the traditional showpiece finale will be trumped by the World Cup finals that follow hot on its heels. Germany are among the hot favourites to lift the trophy in Brazil and unsurprisingly, Dortmund and above all Bayern players are likely to feature heavily in national team coach Joachim Löw's plans. “It's pretty much always been the case that whenever Germany have won a major international title, the core of the team was formed from one or two clubs,” Beckenbauer agreed. “At the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, there were a lot of Kaiserslautern players in the side. In '74, Bayern and Mönchengladbach provided most of it and in 1990 (when he led Germany to victory from the dugout), there were a lot of (host nation) Italy-based players involved.”
Whatever the eventual makeup of Löw's starting XI, Beckenbauer believes “Germany are strong enough to win the tournament – although history is against them, with no European country ever having finished top of the pile in South America”. The World Cup, of course, invariably attracts a huge global audience, but there is also a fresh awareness “that the Bundesliga's one of the best leagues in the world again”. At any rate, and be it the national team or the club scene, “people are watching German football again - and there's no reason to believe that's going to change in 2014”.