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Hostile and manipulative: Breaking down Bild’s exploitation of Bayern Munich’s crisis

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Here’s the story of how one of the biggest newspapers in Germany is taking advantage of football fans for reasons of its own.

FC Bayern Muenchen v SL Benfica - UEFA Champions League Group E Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Bayern Munich fans have been miserable lately. The team finds itself in a difficult spot at the moment, nine points away from league leaders Borussia Dortmund. However, if you’re a regular reader of Bild (or their sporting subsidiary, Sport Bild), then you’re probably in an even worse state than most. That’s because these publications have been exploiting the club’s real problems on the pitch to sell a negative narrative of their own, pursuing what seems to be a thinly veiled hostile agenda against Niko Kovac — or perhaps, more accurately, his employers.

Selling the legend of the king-slayers

Just as the full time whistle blew on Bayern-Benfica, this little piece went live on Bild’s website. It’s under their Bild+ subscription, so you need to pay to see what it says, but here’s the gist of it:

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Clearly, Bayern Munich has a problem with unity. The coach must be on his way out ... we’re doomed! Oh wait, not really. Here’s what the players themselves said right after the game, including three of the four named by Bild:

Arjen Robben: (via Sport1)

Nothing happened in the locker room. The atmosphere within the team is good. When you’re in such a difficult phase, you have to show greatness. You have to stand up and go on together. A game like today is exactly what we need and also can do.

Thomas Muller: (via WAZ)

I think, in principle, the team and the club is behind the coach. We just want to continue marching, we also want to represent a unit.

Robert Lewandowski, asked if he also played for Kovac (via Kicker):

Yeah, definitely! Ja klar! We all want to look forward together, we all play together. It has to stay that way. I am behind the coach because we know what we did wrong. Everyone should look at himself, look at what mistakes were made. That’s our responsibility. We also have to look at what we did not do perfectly today and now have to show in the Bundesliga.

Manuel Neuer: (via AZ)

Of course the team plays for the coach, for the club, and naturally also for ourselves.

The coach does his work and we try to follow him. We have massive responsibility, because we are the protagonists on the pitch. There is not just one person to blame. It would be far too simple to say that the coach now is the only one responsible. We put ourselves in this situation; that’s why we players are the ones chiefly responsible.

In addition, this is Franck Ribery after he was subbed out during the game:

Did a meeting between the four and Hoeness and Rummenigge happen? Yes, very probably. Does Bild have a reliable account of what was said at that meeting? Very probably not. Who, after all, among those present would have picked up the phone to tell one of the six (!) authors credited in the byline?

Where journalism ends and exploitation begins

Even if Bild’s timing on the report hadn’t been so convenient, anyone could look at their stuff and figure out that something doesn’t add up. Let’s look at the facts:

The article says Manuel Neuer was among those who criticized Kovac. In the press conference right after Dusseldorf, Neuer was quoted saying, “If we had implemented what the coach had given us, we would have won 5-0.” That doesn’t sound like a player ready to throw his coach under the bus. It’s not even an ambiguously worded, neutral statement. Neuer publicly backed Kovac that day, and he wasn’t the only player to do so.

So what incentive does Bild have to spread these rumors?

It’s very simple, really. The report was clearly intended to be another “kingslayer” piece, of the kind that’s become so popular since Carlo Ancelotti was sacked. Bild and Sport Bild are peddling the narrative that the players were close to open revolt against Niko Kovac and his tactics. It would not be surprising if they had written and scheduled the meeting story in anticipation of another lackluster performance against Benfica.

Bild presumably wanted to catch the influx of Bayern fans looking for explanations for another mediocre performance. Crisis = clicks, after all, and as a writer for this blog, I can tell you that traffic always peaks right after full time on a Champions League night. Their idea was to prey on the minds of emotional fans right after a painful setback, while the toxic narrative would damage the image of the club even further in this crisis.

They would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for the result. And so another headline slowly sinks down the main page.

Garnering clicks amid the chaos

Bild doesn’t like FC Bayern Munich very much lately. Bild’s reporters were among the most prominent journalists called out at the club’s now-infamous press conference. One has the feeling that Christian Falk & co. are persona non grata at the Allianz, and they seem to share the antipathy. At least their stories are always framed in such a way to take Bayern Munich down a peg, wherever possible.

Here’s a quick one: in October, Pep Guardiola talked to the BBC about how hard it was to learn German, and made an offhand joke about calling up and dissolving his contract. The headline on Bild?

“WHY PEP GUARDIOLA WANTED TO DISSOLVE HIS BAYERN MUNICH CONTRACT”

If you want some more recent examples, here you are:

  • “Uli Hoeness made Hasan Salihamidzic talk about his silence”: The headline gives the impression that Uli reprimanded Brazzo and ordered him to talk to the press about his low profile. If you click on the article and read it, it just reiterates quotes from Brazzo’s post-game press conference. The notion that Hoeness ordered Brazzo to speak is Bild’s inference. It’s not really significant. And of course they slip this little nugget in (keep in mind, this is not an opinion column):

When Hoeneß spoke to journalists about the embarrassing 3: 3 against Dusseldorf on Saturday (“amateurish”, “slapstick”), Salihamidzic scurried past behind his back and disappeared, without saying a word to the press.

However, misleading headlines aren’t the only thing that Bild guilty of.

Dubious sources and toxic narratives

Bild really, REALLY wants you to think Bayern Munich are ready to sack Kovac and hire Arsene Wenger, despite reports stating the contrary. The latest evidence of scheming? Christian Falk, one of Bild/Sport Bild’s main reporters, has an exclusive!

Here’s what Torben Hoffman (Sky’s reporter) said in reply:

Click on the tweet if you want to witness an amazing thread. In case you can’t read German, here it is:

Hoffman: Servus, Christian, which agent was it then?

Falk: Alexander Wacker.

Hoffman: With whom Wenger has probably not had any contact in several weeks?!? Moreover Wenger supposedly doesn’t have an agent who is allowed to negotiate anywhere on his behalf...!

Falk: Sorry, with all due respect, if you’re not well informed, you also shouldn’t claim something

Hoffman: Dear colleague, you write “probably” and “supposedly.” It doesn’t sound as if your claims have been thoroughly researched. Wenger is in Tignes, in Paris as of tomorrow — if you’d like to question your source. Happy to discuss everything else personally. You should have my number after all...

Falk: Again, dear colleague, we know where Wenger is, thanks!

Just to deescalate, we have our information, sources, conversations, numbers, and you definitely have your own sources, that’s fine!

Only these won’t always correspond! On that note... [waves]

So Wenger’s maybe, maybe-not agent was spotted at the Allianz Arena for the game against Düsseldorf. It was very prescient of him to attend a game before the final result was known! And it’s also funny that he has also been involved with transfers concerning Bayern alumni Medhi Benatia, Bixente Lizarazu, Willy Sagnol and perhaps others. Is it significant that he was there that day? No, not really.

Fear-mongering over a teenager

And last, but not the least, we have this:

This is perhaps the most infuriating thing I have ever seen as a Bayern fan. Davies is 18, and he’s been here for a week, but Bild already wants to tear him down. How exactly is a player supposed to make one “euphoric” in training? Especially when his debut is over a month away? It’s nonsense, but it sounds just plausible enough to raise doubts, which is classic fear-mongering.

A message to Bayern Munich fans: Stick together

In recent months, I’ve seen fans turn against players and the management solely on the basis of dubious reports coming from the German media. This is not to say that Bayern Munich has no problems, or that we should not be able to handle criticism — but it is also important to remain critical and not be taken in by reporting that consistently betrays a clear, negative bias.

Bayern Munich’s front office railed at the press in an ill-conceived but not entirely unjustified press conference. They did so to defend their coach and especially their players from what they perceived as unwarranted attacks. Since then, the chief targets, the Springer publications Bild and Sport Bild, have pushed back with a persistently negative narrative about the club and its personnel. While they remain key publications and valuable sources for news about Bayern, we also have to be aware of this bias and hold together in the spirit of Mia san mia.