They did it. Bayern proved, at long last, that they can rise up to a big occasion when they need to. The point is made, and it raises a whole truckload of questions.
I will gladly admit that I was surprised after the end of the first half at the Allianz Arena. Not least because of the result, but also because of how the result had been attained. Yes, Dortmund have been faltering of late, but their brand of scintillating football gave them an extra gear in the reverse fixture. Bayern’s own lack of such an extra gear remained the biggest question mark in this campaign. It wasn’t there against Ajax and it wasn’t there against Liverpool.
And there it was against Dortmund.
…for the most part, that is. I do not want to generalise and suddenly say that Bayern deleted their psychological shortcomings and would beat Liverpool by a similar scoreline were they to meet them tomorrow. But the term “big games” stopped being an insurmountable mountain for the team. They now know they can dominate in big games.
After the ups and downs this year has brought, and ad portas of the overhaul in the summer, this is the most significant victory Bayern can get in 2018-19. Anything else is irrelevant. Including winning the league.
It has been said that this season is one of transition. That doesn’t simply mean shedding the skin of 2013 and bringing in people born after Bayern beat Valencia in Milan. It means setting the mental foundation of a winning generation. Laying the groundwork of a team that can define an era.
The groundwork, in my opinion, is largely set. Now comes actually building the thing.
The hard choices
One of the core issues of the transition Bayern is going through is the worthiness of the players. Can they take charge of difficult, crucial games? Are they able to maintain a certain level of performance throughout a season to deliver at the end of it? In short, do they have what it takes? These are important questions to make. It is also important that the answer to them is affirmative. Because it doesn’t matter how many players you bring in in any given summer. If the existing core isn’t solid enough, there is no chance of long-term success.
An ensemble cast
As with everything Bayern in the last ten years, think of 2013. A core of Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry provided the basis of a team that took a qualitative leap with the signings of Javi Martínez, Mario Mandžukić, Dante, Manuel Neuer and Jérôme Boateng, among others.
Just exactly who is part of Bayern’s current core is still a matter of debate, but names like Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski should meet the approval of most fans and commentators. Many of the others still have a point to prove, but it’s safe to say that bets are solid on Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry, to name a couple.
And that is precisely the main issue here. Which of these players will carry on into the next generation? Robben and Ribéry are already on the way out, but who else will be?
This leads us to the next part of this whole picture. The time it takes for a rebuild of this scale to settle and yield results – if done correctly, of course – is an important factor to consider. That goes two ways: both with regard to the necessary patience the club must have with the technical staff, and in consideration of the technical staff’s aptitude for a task of this magnitude.
Let me be clear: I am not issuing a judgement on whether Niko Kovač is the right man for the job. That is an ongoing debate, certainly outside the club and likely inside it. And that is precisely the point: Kovač’s hold on the job is a debatable matter. The manager has so far failed to get a majority of fans and commentators behind him. There are credible arguments on either side of the fence.
This puts pressure on the directors. They will have to decide if they want to trust Kovač with what they have endlessly sold as the biggest investment in the club’s history. If they do, how much credit will they grant him? If they don’t, who will they shove into the spotlight?
Of course Bayern’s obliteration of Dortmund is a good thing. It’s a good thing because it clears the team’s present so that both the team and the directors can focus on building on what they showed and proved is already there. It allows the fans to get the feeling that there is something there, that the team can progress from the generation that triumphed in 2013. In essence, it dissipated the clouds that darkened the team’s immediate present.
They found the raw material in them. Now they can focus on the future.