Javi Martinez says confidence levels could scarcely be higher as Bayern Munich prepare to take on Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Cup last 16 on Wednesday (kick-off: 20:45 CET/19:45 GMT).
"Everyone feels phenomenal right now," the Spain international midfielder wrote in a brilliantly candid piece for The Players' Tribune. "We have momentum, but we absolutely have to keep our feet on the ground and keep working, as things change so quickly."
Martinez should know. At the start of October, Bayern were five points adrift of then Bundesliga leaders Dortmund. Following back-to-back draws against Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin, a chastening 3-0 loss away to Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League culminated in decorated head coach Carlo Ancelotti being shown the door. From the outside looking in, it was make or break time in the Bavarian capital.
"When something like that happens, it’s important to stay cool and keep believing in your abilities (and perhaps to not read the papers for a few days)," Martinez continued. "We all know that the quality is there — you don’t lose it. You simply work harder and fight more. We didn’t go crazy or freak out. We focussed on the training, and we cleared our heads, and that was it. I knew we would come back."
Watch: Javi Martinez - Bayern's midfield rock
The former Athletic Bilbao man was right to keep the faith. Since Jupp Heynckes returned as head coach for the fourth time on 5 October, Bayern have won 14 of their 15 outings in all competitions. Their lead at the Bundesliga summit at the halfway stage reads 11 points, while their eye-catching Champions League victory over PSG – although only enough for the Reds to progress as Group B runners-up – got the whole of Europe talking.
"Defeating PSG 3-1 in Munich was validation of our hard work and spirit, but now the challenge is to go on and be well prepared for April and May - the time you really have to be in a good place as a team," Martinez stressed. "We all want that feeling of holding the European Cup once again. It is indescribable."
Martinez is one of nine current Bayern players - along with Manuel Neuer, Tom Starke, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Rafinha, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller - who lifted the trophy back in 2012/13. He was integral to the cause then and – after largely being deployed at centre-back in the four-and-a-half years that sandwiched Heynckes’ unprecedented treble-winning swansong and his return – is a key component in the Bayern machine as it is today.
"That first season in Munich, we lifted that beauty of a trophy, the European Cup," Martinez recalled. "It’s hard to describe the joy of winning the Champions League. It’s the reason I came here, and the thing that still drives all of us. Right now, with Jupp Heynckes back in charge, I feel good, I feel that I’m important for the team, I feel comfortable playing in midfield, and I’m sure that I can help the team."
That is what Martinez does best, after all. The FIFA 2010 World Cup winner has made 191 appearances for Bayern in all competitions since leaving Bilbao in August 2012, and lifted five successive Bundesliga titles. His intuitive decision to put career satisfaction before economics has been fully vindicated.
"One of the clubs who really wanted to sign me was English, and the other one was German. Financially, their offers were quite similar. Actually, the English team offered me more. But when Bayern Munich asked if I wanted to come to the city and play for this club, for this team… Oh, man. It was huge. There was no doubt that I wanted to be a Bayern player."
And while his time in Munich has, at the very least, lived up to expectation, there have also been one or two surprises.
"I knew all about Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery before I got here, but the one player who surprised me most was David Alaba. When I arrived in 2012, he wasn’t the star he is now. I personally didn’t really know of him. I remember the first time training with him, I was so impressed with his strength and his quality. He was the one player who really surprised me. I could tell he was going to be a very big part of our success."