27 September ~ In a previous stint at the helm of Germany’s top club, Jupp Heynckes reached the European Cup semi-final on two occasions, bowing out to AC Milan and Red Star Belgrade in 1990 and 1991 respectively. Going one better than that this season would be doubly special, as the Champions League final will be played at Bayern Munich’s home stadium, the Allianz Arena. For many, such success would also be a vindication of the stringent financial regulations placed on German clubs by the footballing authorities there.
No team is allowed to spend beyond their means (running up huge debts can be punished with demotion to a lower league) and the “50+1 rule” means that no single person can take a controlling stake in a football club. Bayern have continued to spend freely on new players, chalking up over €30 million (£26m) in transfer fees this summer, but they operate free of debt and are vocal in their support of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations.
This is in stark contrast to the situation in England, where many top-flight clubs are dependent on the largesse of a wealthy benefactor and where operating at a loss is seen as perfectly normal: and that despite being the recipients of the most lucrative TV deal in English football history. Manchester City are often held up as the clearest example of this distorted reality in the Premier League, and they shelled out £63m on new players this summer alone. Quite how Sheikh Mansour’s massive investment in the club will comply with UEFA’s new financial framework in 2012 remains to be seen.
It does seem that Roberto Mancini is finally starting to mould an attractive team from his expensively assembled collection of superstar signings. If he sticks to the fast, attacking football that has characterised some of City’s league performances this season, then this could pose the first real test of Bayern’s new defensive solidity.
Sergio Agüero has settled very quickly and Edin Dzeko’s track record at Wolfsburg means that Bayern will be well aware of his goalscoring ability. However, it seems just as likely that the Italian coach could revert to the rigid defensive tactics that characterised his first full season in charge in Manchester and decide to play for a point in Munich.
Either way, the form and fitness of Bayern’s star wingers could be decisive, especially as Franck Ribery is close to the form that persuaded Bayern to make him the best-paid player at the club. However, Arjen Robben, instrumental in Bayern’s run to the Champions League final in 2010, has hardly featured this season due to recurring injury problems, and there are even rumours that his return tonight would unbalance the side that has shot to the top of the Bundesliga table.
Just as importantly, Heynckes seems to have made good progress on sorting out the defensive problems that plagued the club last season. New signings Jerome Boateng and Rafinha have slotted in at the back and made a major contribution to the recently set club record of eight consecutive victories, with no goals conceded. Meanwhile, Mario Gomez has continued to plunder goals at will, with two hat-tricks already this season. If this Bayern team can avoid the in-fighting and tactical confusion that cost them so dearly in the last campaign, then they will prove a major obstacle to Manchester City’s dreams of European glory. John Van Laer