Bayern Munich will probably be the most-watched team in the world for the next month or so.
As the Bundesliga season resumes, the Bavarians are in pole position to stretch their monopolisation to eight consecutive league titles. While their dominance domestically may be boring to some, Bayern’s continental excursions – intertwined with no fewer than four English clubs – is one of the most compelling narratives in football history.
This story begins in 1975 when the German club met Leeds United in Paris. It was the Whites’ first and only European Cup final to date and one steeped in controversy. Leeds lost 2-0 as Franz Roth and the prolific Gerd Muller scored second-half goals but the Yorkshire club were denied two strong penalty claims and had a goal disallowed for an offside call that many feel was misjudged.
The feeling of injustice was so strong on Leeds’ part, the Elland Road faithful still chant about it to this day, hailing themselves as ‘champions of Europe’. From Bayern’s perspective, victory in Paris was just the middle act of their overarching hat-trick of European crowns that established them the continent’s newest superpower.
Their stranglehold on the prestigious trophy ended in 1977 as Liverpool spearheaded a period of English supremacy, winning three European Cups in five years – with Nottingham Forest winning it back-to-back in 1979 and 1980. As if to sign-off on this paradigm shift, Bayern were defeated by Aston Villa in the 1982 final.
Bayern’s feud with English clubs reduced to a simmer for many years until it was brought to the boil in the most dramatic way possible in 1999.
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side took the lead against Man United in the sixth minute at the Nou Camp in the final of what had been re-branded as the Champions League. Peter Schmeichel combined with the woodwork to deny the Germans what seemed like an inevitable second goal. The game pivoted in stoppage time as Teddy Sheringham equalised before nodding a corner down for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to stab a winner into the roof of the net. The 1999 final cemented the aura of ‘Fergie time’ but, more importantly, it meant Man United became first English side to win a treble.
Here’s where the story becomes one of extreme peaks and troughs.
Two years later, with the scars of Barcelona yet to heal, Bayern met Valencia in the Champions League final. The Spaniards were on their own quest for redemption, having lost to Real Madrid in the previous year’s final. Inevitably, the contest boiled down to a penalty shootout – football’s instrument of fate. Bayern prevailed and many cited the heartbreak of ’99 as a reason to relish the success with greater gusto.
However, some narrative threads were still be to woven.
In 2010, Bayern lost to Inter in the Champions League final. Just like Man United in ’99, Inter’s conquest of Bayern earned them an historic treble.
Two years later, Bayern were heavy favourites to beat Chelsea in the 2012 final, particularly because the venue was their own stadium. The hosts overwhelmed the Blues at the Allianz Arena, racking up 13 shots in the first half alone. Chelsea defended desperately, repelling Bayern until the 83rd minute when Thomas Muller finally converted his side’s superiority into a lead.
However, Didier Drogba’s habit of scoring in finals proved to be superpower without limits. The Ivorian guided an emphatic near-post header past Manuel Neuer to equalise with two minutes of normal time remaining. An English club had scored a decisive late goal against Bayern via a corner in the Champions League final. Echoes of ’99 were impossible to overlook.
After 120 minutes, Bayern had registered 35 shots to Chelsea’s nine but the score was locked at 1-1. Arjen Robben’s missed penalty in extra time made the experience all the more insufferable for the Bavarians. The teams huddled at the halfway line and readied themselves for the nerve-shredding conclusion. 2001’s redemption had come in the form of a shootout victory over Valencia but this time fate snubbed Bayern as Drogba (who else?) slotted his spot-kick into the bottom corner.
What often goes unmentioned is that the 2012 final was supposed to rescue Bayern’s season. Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund had won the league and beat them convincingly in the DFB-Pokal final. Defeat in their back garden to Roberto Di Matteo’s mob meant an unwanted treble of near-misses: second in the league and runners-up in both major finals.
With all this history stacked up, the 2012/13 season conspired to avenge Bayern’s losses and satisfy the club wholly.
Having triumphed on both counts domestically, Jupp Heynckes’ men met rivals Dortmund in the first all-German Champions League final. Just like in 2001, they were set on avenging a painful defeat, only this time there was more at stake. Where before they had slumped in dejection as Man United and Inter celebrated trebles at their expense, conquering Dortmund would mean Bayern’s first treble.
As if to underline the significance of the evening, the fixture was played at Wembley. The home of English football played host to many ghosts of the past that night, from the finals against Leeds and Aston Villa, to the heartbreaks inflicted by Man United and Chelsea.
Using 2012 as motivation, Bayern won 2-1 by virtue of an 89th minute goal – one minute later than Drogba’s header in Munich. It was scored by Robben, the man who had missed a penalty in extra time against Chelsea and perhaps thought his only chance to score the winner in a Champions League final had been squandered. Everything concluded so neatly it allowed Bayern to savour their achievement with unbridled satisfaction.
Unfortunately, football and fate are never finished with you.
For those wondering when the next chapter in this epic tale might occur, the 2022 final is scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena, ten years on from Chelsea’s famous win. And the 2023 final, a decade on from Bayern’s finest hour, will be played at – you guessed it – Wembley.