FOX Soccer Exclusive
Bayern Munich lives up to club mantra
There’s a saying at Bayern Munich: Mia san mia. “We are who we are,” in English.
The club mantra, scripted onto the back of Bayern’s jerseys, symbolizes its winning mentality, insatiable desire for success and indisputable status as the premier club team in Germany.
Yet over the past three years, Bayern's motto had turned into a national punch line.
Two losses in the UEFA Champions League final, two consecutive league titles conceded to rivals Borussia Dortmund, and a devastating 2-5 Cup final loss to BVB last year triggered wide-spread panic in the Bayern camp. The club’s confidence (or arrogance, depending on who you ask) and winning mentality seemed lost. Mia san mia lost its panache. German tabloids quipped that “what they were” was second-best.
Not so fast.
This season, Bayern responded with a dominant campaign unparalleled in league history. Never before has a team wrapped up the Bundesliga title with six matches to go. The previous mark was set by Bayern as well, when they clinched with four games left in 1973 and 2003
Their 23rd league title was never in doubt. Bayern opened the season by winning a Bundesliga record eight games in a row. The title-clinching win at Frankfurt on Saturday made it 11 straight wins since the turn of the calendar, another league record. Perhaps the most telling statistic is their away dominance—Bayern dropped just two points on the road all season, a 1-1 draw at Nurnberg, and conceded only two away goals.
More records are likely to fall. With 75 points on Saturday, Bayern needs just seven more from their remaining six games to break Dortmund’s record of 81 total points in a season. If Bayern win two more games, they’ll also reclaim the wins record with 26 (Dortmund had 25 last season). Their goal difference is currently also an all-time Bundesliga best at +66.
''We spoke about it for a long time, about taking it from game to game,'' said Bayern captain Phillip Lahm. ''It was a long road and I think it was totally deserved. If you look at the statistics for the season you can see we were clearly the best side.''
How did Bayern regain that championship swagger? Every player bought in the summer has made a huge impact. The defense improved dramatically from the past two seasons. And most important of all, Bayern’s hunger for silver was back.
“If you don’t win a title at Bayern for two years, everyone is hungry for success again,” Jupp Heynckes said before the Frankfurt game, “The entire community was excited. We said: We have it all together again.”
Bayern went out and boosted its already world-class roster. More offensive depth was desired, more quality in the back was required. So in came Dante, Javi Martinez, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro. All five have been hits for the Bavarian club.
Mandzukic has been the most visible addition on the stat sheet. The Croatian forward has 18 goals in all competitions so far, and impressed so much that he’s supplanted Mario Gomez—only the second-leading scorer in the UEFA Champions League last season—full-time.
However, it’s been the defense that’s made the biggest difference for Bayern. New signings Dante and Javi Martinez have been spectacular additions to a back line that last year looked disjointed and prone to mental mistakes. Martinez has formed a brilliant partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger in holding midfield, while Dante proved essential after starting center back Holger Badstuber suffered a season-ending leg injury in December.
The defense has been so stout, that Manuel Neuer — considered by many to be the world’s best keeper — went entire halves this season without moving a muscle. Neuer even admitted last month that he’s often had to “go to one of the ballboys and ask for a ball, just to hold one once in a while.” Another record may fall: Bayern’s defense has allowed just 13 goals all season. The record, held by Bayern’s 2007-08 team, is 21.
Despite Bayern’s unprecedented march to the “ugly salad bowl,” as the German trophy is admirably known, there was no celebration Saturday. Bayern bosses Uli Hoeness and Mathias Sammer forbid the players to celebrate with the traditional toasting of three-liter beer glasses. Too important is the Champions League return leg at Juventus (live, Wednesday, FOX Soccer Plus, 2:30 p.m. ET), where a step to the next title could be taken.
“Of course today is a wonderful day, but we have a very important game on Wednesday,” winger Arjen Robben said, “We want more this season. When you’re still alive in two tournaments, you want to win both of those as well.”
Being German champions isn’t enough for this club. There’s an expectation to reach for more. The hunger for titles hasn’t been satisfied.
And once more, Bayern are who they are.