Monday, October 21, 2013

If HSV slipped unexpectedly, but still had enormous potential, Bayern was clearly in crisis. They finished 7th the previous year – looked like the Bavarians could not do anything worse, for the disappointment will wake them up. But they outdid themselves in 1977-78 , finishing 12th, with 32 points. 11 wins, 10 ties, and 13 losses. 62:64 goal difference. A single point more than the 15th placed Werder, but 16 points less than the contenders for the title. Since the crisis of Bayern was seen in coming – potentially, since 1975, and really in 1976-77 – strong measures were more than expected, for if anything had not only strong organization, but also lots of money in the Bundesliga, it was Bayern. The failure deserves closer look – a case study even.

Familiar and painful problem: great stars inevitably aging. When and how to replace legendary players? Bayern seemed better prepared to deal with such thing – in theory. The richest, best organized, carefully planning, and cruelly efficient German club. Yet, they failed to address looming crisis, noticed about 1974 and presenting itself in 1975, when the team finished 10th in the Bundesliga. Bayern did not win a title since 1974. The last time they won the West German Cup was 1971. After that Bayern was unable to reach even the final. It was obvious that major changes were needed, but seemingly nothing was done. The summer of 1977 provided big opportunity for starting something new, yet the clear signal was just a signal. So far, the only big change happened in the winter of 1974-75 disastrous season – Udo Lattek was fired and Dettmar Cramer hired. Under Cramer, heavily supported by Beckenbauer, Bayern did not win anything in Germany, but saved face with 2 consecutive European Champions Cups. Moreover, the development of the squad was very strange: by 1977 the core of the team was still based on players introduced by Zlatko Cajkovski back in the 1960s. The last player with star capacity – Rummenigge – was found and introduced by Lattek in 1974. Cramer practically did not add any player to the getting increasingly old team built by Cajkovski-Lattek. He was heavily criticized for his passive management, success was clearly getting out of reach, yet Cramer was not replaced. The squad was increasingly becoming bland and depending on the form of the megastars. But in the summer of 1977 Kaiser Franz moved to Cosmos (New York) – the transfer loudly spelled out the inevitable need of younger players! A new squad! With the mightiest player gone, the moment appeared ripe, if not even overripe, for radical changes. Along with him, three foreigners departed, every one of them emphasizing the dire need of rebuilding: Torstensson, Andersson, and Seneca. The little known Dane Kjell (or Kjeld) Seneca exemplified the strange frugality of Bayern – cheap player, who was barely used. Not on the level of the club, consequently, nailed to the bench. Many like him came and went... Seneca's departure to Sturm (Graz, Austria), was practically unnoticed, for few were even aware there was such player in Bayern. Bjorn Andersson was slightly different: at the time, his transfer made lots of sense – the Swede had strong World Cup performance and appeared meaningful replacement of Breitner. But he did not adapt to Bayern and failed to establish himself as a starter. A failure, who was also getting a bit old. Now he was going back to his native country to play for Osters. The other Swede Conny Torstensson fitted well at first and became important starter – but then he missed almost a whole season because of injuries and when came back, he was never the same. Aging too. He went to Xamax (Switzerland). The new clubs of the departed clearly spelled downhill – aging, lack of form, meager talent. The only question was why waiting until 1977? But the other question – actually, more important – was who was coming in their places? The last relatively big transfer Bayern made was also in the long gone days of Udo Lattek – Jupp Kapellmann. Bayern had money, but preferred to recruit either their own juniors, or young unknown players from smaller clubs and lower leagues. The only real strike so far was Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The summer of 1977 required different approach even if only because the departure of Beckenbauer opened a huge hole. Yet, Bayern continued its old policy. Looked like Cramer was not worried and did not insist on major purchases. The only new big name was Branko Oblak – perhaps his move from Schalke 04 to Bayern was the biggest transfer between Bundesliga clubs in 1977. The transfer, on the surface, made sense: the Yugoslavian midfielder was one of the best European playmakers. He quickly adapted to the harsh German football and established himself as star. Bayern badly needed a player to take Beckenbauer's role, organize, and conduct creatively the game – Oblak seemed the best choice. As good as the transfer appeared, it was more a temporary patch instead of starting a new great squad. Oblak was already 30 years old. His peak seemingly was between 1974-76. He suffered from injuries – often! At the end, he was not really the answer of the complex problems Bayern was facing – a wonderful playmaker, but midfield was the most crowded line of Bayern. The rest of the new recruits hardly meant anything... of them only three deserve mentioning: two came from just relegated Karlsruher SC – the 22-years old defender Kurt Niedermayer and the 27-years old striker Norbert Janzon. Strange decision, to say the least... Bayern chose to fortify its weakened squad with players from weak club. Janzon was fairly familiar name, considered potential national team player – but this was four-five years ago. He moved from one small club to another, not a great career. By 1977 it was very clear he was not going to be the next big star. Niedermayer was much more promising, yet Bayern needed something much better than him – Beckenbauer was World Cup star at the same age, when the new talent so far distinguished himself by helping his former club to relegation. The last player was 19-years old, coming from the lowly Viktoria (Hamburg). He was the only one recruited just in case, just because he may be needed in the future, for Kurt Junghans was goalkeeper. Clearly, he was not going to play, and his future depended not only on his talent and ambition, but mainly on Sepp Maier. Depended on how long the great goalie was going to play... for many years nobody paid any attention to the reserve goalkeepers of Bayern: they were just making the numbers and after a year or two were gone. Junghans, however, was lucky and played - but not in 1977-78. As a whole, facing deep crisis, Bayern still made their typical frugal and insignificant transfers. Which automatically meant that the remains of the old great team will be the main players this year too.

Strange team, full of run-of-the-mill players. Mighty names at the key positions, but old... Gerd Muller, the new team captain, was 32. Sepp Maier – 33. Franz Roth – 31. Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck – 29. Jupp Kapellmann – 28. Branko Oblak – 30. Kapellmann and Roth were already going downhill. And so was the case of three younger players – Horsmann, Weiss, and Gruber – who were already a few years in the team, unable to establish themselves. The team immediately displayed problems, unsolvable, as it turned out. The attempt to change things came late – just like in 1974-75. Cramer was forced to resign in the winter midseason break, but at the end was swapped for the Hungarian coach of Eintracht (Frankfurt) Gyula Lorant. Cramer took Eintracht and quickly disappointed his new employers, who sacked him right after the end of the season. It was too late for Lorant to save Bayern – it was not a matter of form, or motivation. The problems was fundamental and the squad was quite crooked for any meaningful reshaping. Lorant did not last, but to a point he was made a scapegoat – the problems were old, started years before Lorant arrived; the squad was not his selection and there was no way to hire new players during ongoing season. Of course, Lorant failed... 12th place counts severely against him and in any case somebody must be found guilty for the worst season ever. But Lorant had little chance anyway with a team like that. Sepp Maier had strong season – in which received 64 goals in 34 matches. Close to 2 goals per game... so many goals when the keeper is in great form points at very weak defense. Schwarzenbeck played his best football next to Beckenbauer – without him, it was not the same. Now he was the key defensive player – nobody wanted him to replace the Kaiser as a libero, yet, the leading role was not Schwarzenbeck's forte. The absence of Beckenbauer reduced the usefulness of him: in the past, his rare attacks benefited greatly Byaern, for they took the opposition by surprise – Beckenbauer was expected to go ahead and no one paid attention to Schwazenbeck. Now the surpirse element was no longer possible. And heavy-built Schwarzenbeck was getting slower and less effective at 29. The rest of the line was rag-tag... Wolfgang Rausch was the only player along with Schwarzenbeck who played in every match of the championship. As for his quilities... anybody remembering Rausch? Niedermaier played 31 matches and scored 31 goals. Promising beginning? Depends... Udo Horsmann appeared in 25 games – one more of his up-and-down seasons. By now, it looked like Horsmann was often fielded only because there was no one better. Young and unknown Klaus Augenthaler played 23 matches, scoring 2 goals. Not exactly seen as a regular, even less a potential star yet, Augenthaler points at the desperate situation in defense: so many matches a fifth defender may acquire mostly as a regular substitute. Nobody satisfied, therefore... Some hopefuls were no longer hopefuls – Peter Gruber appeared in 14 games. Josef Weiss played only once. There was no compare between this defensive line and what Bayern had in 1973: Hansen – Beckenbauer – Schwarzenbeck – Breitner.

The attack was even worse. Long-time dependence on Gerd Muller reduced the line to him and Rummenigge. The rest were not even normal reserves – just few players sitting on the bench. No matter who they were... they were not to play at all. Three players did not appear at all in the 1977-78 season. Another three played less than half of the championship matches – Rainer Kunkel had the most matches among them, 15, in which he scored 0 goals. Janzon appeared in 14 matches, scoring 3 goals. The Turkish striker Erhan Onal played in 8 games. Practically Bayern used only two strikers – Muller and Rummenigge. With Muller in front, there was no other option, but to use Rummenigge on the wings. Which was reducing him to supportive role – there was no other way. It was impossible to utilize the full potential of Rummenigge – the game was based on Muller lurking in the penalty area reserved for him. The rest of the team had to create havoc in front of the gate and in the melee the old fox eventually scored. Muller was useless anywhere else, but with him Rummenigge was more or less redundant. His style required a play focused on him, bigger role for him and more operational space – none of it was available with Muller alongside. Replacing Muller was especially tough – he was already old, but still a goal-scoring machine and there was no stop: in the terrible season, when Muller himself looked over the hill, he still finished the best goal-scorer of the Bundesliga with 24 goals. True, he shared with Dieter Muller (1. FC Koln), but first he was nevertheless. Rummenigge played 29 matches and scored 8 goals – it was not all that certain Rummenigge, already national team player and the perhaps the brightest young player in Germany, would be a starter in Bayern. As long as Muller played... imagine 5 more years... and Rummenigge's talent would be wasted for he would be coming close to 30. It was either Muller or Rummenigge – the wise thing was to bet on the younger player with his leadership potential. Muller had to go – perhaps the best time was in 1976, but the moment was missed and with that – the chance of quicker and less painful recovery and transition into a new team. It is widely recognized that Rummenigge really blossomed in 1979 - with the arrival of another Hungarian coach, Pal Csernai. Yet a small detail is missing: in 1979 Gerd Muller was no longer with Bayern. In 1977-78 Byaern's attack was high risk: only two strikers, somewhat doubling each other. At the end, it was worse than ever – the whole striking power of Bayern depended on Muller. There was no other option, no variety.

The shortages in both defense and attack placed the weight almost entirely on the midfielders. Nominally, the best and longest line Bayern had. Very experienced too, sturdy, determined, and, on the surface, providing various options. Reality was very different... Franz Roth, the iron defensive midfielder, was getting old and in decline – he played only 10 matches. Hoeness and Oblak were the obvious players to make a difference, but it was clear by now that Hoeness suffered chronic injuries. From a distance, it looked like strong season for Hoeness – he played 30 matches and scored 11 goals, second best after Muller. But he was not the excellent player of only three years ago... and couldn't be. The end was written on the wall – full recovery was impossible and this was the last full season Hoeness played. Next year he retired prematurely. It was unreasonable to place hopes on Uli Hoeness, but Oblak unfortunately was not very different: he also suffered from injuries. Perhaps his role in Byaren was not clearly defined, or he was not exactly the player able to conduct the game of the team - Oblak played only 23 matches and scored a single goal. The giant hole left by the departure of Beckenbauer remained open – both in terms of conducting the game and inspirational leadership. With troubles in every line, options were limited and, unfortunately, very familiar – Durnberger and Kapellmann filling gaps. Both never had clear regular position in the team – they were plugging holes for years. Durnberger was perfect for that, but Kapellmann had different potential once upon a time. Alas, no more... Both were fit, sturdy, reliable, universal... and no starters precisely because of their specific functions. Emergency players – in defense, midfield, attack, left, right, everywhere. A twelve player, really – a constant substitute. With time, Durnberger was the more useful, but neither was thought as a starter, even less as a potential leader. Helpers they were, not stars. The plugged holes this season too – Durnberger played 27 matches, scoring twice; Kapellmann appeared in 24, scored nothing. Midfielders were the most used this season, but it was just one emergency after another, there was no strength. Bayern was weak in every line. It was a team not even at the end of the line, but well beyond. There was no future. The alarms were on for quite some time and nothing was done. Bayern missed the moment for starting building a new team and inevitably crashed. Instead of smooth transition, it was plummeting to the bottom. Of course it was incredibly difficult to simply get rid of aging giants like Beckenbauer, Muller, etc, but the price for waiting and hesitating was huge: Bayern was coming dangerously close to the relegation zone. Bayern in second division? It was not a bad joke anymore. Bayern had nothing to start a new team with... Rummenigge was essential, but he was alone. Maier perhaps was good for one-two more years – goalkeepers are usually fine when old. May be Niedermayer and Augenthaler. May be Durnberger... but the trio was not really a possible new backbone, just support. Bayern had to start from scratch, looking around for suitably young talent, spending money. And patiently waiting for results... a few more years. By now, Bayern was not the kind of club comfortable with small role and waiting for better days. Pride had to be swallowed, unfortunately.