Thomas Müller stated, then denied the obvious in his summary of Bayern Munich’s 0:4 preseason debacle against AC Milan: “Milan clearly looked fresher, but there’s no need to make excuses.” Bayern’s 2017 tour of Asia, for all its fanfare, has exacted a heavy toll. Unbearable playing conditions and unending events have arguably defeated the purpose of the preseason entirely.
Bayern had constantly downplayed the weather conditions in China - notwithstanding Franck Ribery’s joke at a sponsor event in Shanghai that one “breaks into a sweat even doing nothing.” But the weather has been nothing to laugh at. The day Bayern lost to Arsenal on penalties, Shanghai saw a record-setting high of 100 F (37.8 C).
Bayern in fact escaped just in time: while the team played Milan in Shenzhen, Shanghai roasted at 105 F (40.6 C). Shenzhen meanwhile was a balmy 91 F (32.8) for Bayern’s loss to AC Milan - but with higher humidity. Even Bayern’s training sessions look like extended water breaks:
After the loss to AC Milan, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge finally acknowledged what so many had suspected, echoing Thomas Müller:
Yesterday was the dead day. The day on which the players were tired from the strain, which is undeniably great. [The result] was also definitely due to the weather. We simply were not fresh.
Rummenigge went on to explain how officials with AC Milan told him they had experienced their own “dead day” in a 3:1 loss to Dortmund the week before. But the story is no more than an attempt to normalize the consequences of training and playing in such wilting conditions, as if it was something that had to be accepted - which is precisely what Rummenigge said they had to do - “accept it.”
The reason for putting the team in such inhospitable conditions is the other half of the story behind Bayern’s lifelessness on the pitch: an endless parade of PR events for a hypothetical audience of 90 million Bayern fans (by Bayern’s optimistic count; a study puts the actual number at 10.2 million fans). When not training or playing, members of the team are participating in events for fans and Bayern's major sponsors - Addidas, DHL, Lufthansa, Paulaner, Proctor and Gamble, and, of course, Audi.
Ribery thus dances the night away,
while Thomas Müller, David Alaba, and James Rodriguez build chemistry by demolishing a Chinese volleyball team at a Far-East version of soccer tennis:
And on and on (see Bayern’s twitter feed for more).
With the combination of extreme playing conditions and extreme publicity day in and day out, Bayern’s preseason tour is even more demanding than the rigors of the regular season: back-to-back “English weeks” with high heat, humidity, and constant distractions.
Only the club can truly answer whether the Audi Summer Tour 2017 is worth it. Will the brand Bayern Munich grow enough in the world’s largest market to justify the stress? That is impossible for me to answer, but it is disconcerting that the two most important PR events of all - the games in China - are failures that will not leave fans with warm memories of the club. They moreover seem to show a team unprepared for the season ahead.
Bayern reached in Singapore late yesterday, and Carlo Ancelotti canceled the first scheduled training session to allow his tired team to recover before facing Chelsea on Tuesday. After being humiliated in Shenzhen, recover they must. Bayern must try to salvage something of the preseason from their final two friendlies. Fortunately for Ancelotti and his team, both training sessions and games will be held in Singapore’s climate-controlled National Stadium, which features a retractable roof. A little less sun could do them good.