Did Bayern Complete Its Rebuild While No One Noticed?


The Bulls provide a perfect case study. Jordan and Pippen were the sorts of players who bent destiny to their will. They had ultimate agency, and so the Bulls had agency. They were the protagonists in the story: it was a story about whether they would win or they would lose.

It never seemed to occur to anyone inside the Bulls to think about what might happen when they left, and that agency disappeared. In the seasons that followed, the team became one of the worst in the N.B.A. It was six years before it so much as made the playoffs again.

For a while, it seemed as if a similar fate might await Bayern, maybe not in Germany, where the team’s primacy is so hard-baked that it can spend most of a season in a state of crisis and still win a championship, but certainly in Europe.

As recently as the summer of 2019, the club’s former player Dietmar Hamann was among those calling for a rebuild. The club needed “five or six” players, he wrote, to compete with the continent’s best. The core of the team — a group that included Javi Martínez and Robert Lewandowski, both also entering their 30s — was too old, many felt, and its style of play too ponderous to compete with the dynamism of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and the verve of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Looking back, it would be easy to say all of that worry was misplaced, that rumors of Bayern’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. It would, though, be wrong. It is not that Bayern did not need to rebuild; it is that the process had already started.

In 2017, Bayern opened its new academy amid a blizzard of promises to unearth a generation of players that would turn Bayern, and Germany, into champions in 2030. The club had been conscious of a need to produce more homegrown talent; at that stage, the well had run a little dry after Müller.

Over the next couple of years, its ethos in the transfer market would change, too, developing into what Hasan Salihamidzic, the sporting director, refers to as a “two pillar” approach: As well as looking for ready-made, plug-and-play stars — like Leroy Sané, signed this summer from Manchester City — Bayern would scour the globe for promising young talent, too.


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