Bayern Munich entered the new millennium shell-shocked after a soul-crushing defeat at Camp Nou to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and the class of ’92. The 1990s had seen Bayern constantly in the spotlight both on and off the pitch. “FC Hollywood” was born and the “super-club” mentality followed Bayern into the Y2K.
Bayern Munich titles:
Bundesliga: 1999-2000, 2000-2001 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08
DFB-Pokal: 2002-03, 2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08
UEFA Champions League: 2000-01
Intercontinental Cup: 2001
Despite losing both the Champions League final and the DFB-Pokal final in 1999, Bayern had ended the 1990s well, and signs of further success were apparent. Hired in 1998, Ottmar Hitzfeld had put the German record champions on the right path. Hitzfeld’s Bayern won the league in the 1998/99 season by 15 points, a record at the time. Before the 1999/2000 season, Bayern bolstered their squad by adding Paulo Sergio, 17-year-old super-talent Roque Santa Cruz, and a Bundesliga veteran in Swedish center-back Patrik Andersson.
30-year-old Paulo Sergio became Bayern’s most expensive transfer ever at the time for €6.60m. The sum seems laughably small today, but this was the beginning of big-money transfers in the football world: Bayern broke their transfer record for a new player every season for the next four summers.
Sergio had a successful season, becoming Bayern’s top goalscorer with 21 goals in all competitions. Hitzfeld’s tactics were incredibly flexible. He sometimes played a 4-4-2 and at other times a 4-3-3. He often used Paulo Sergio and Hasan Salihamidžić as roaming wingers and Mehmet Scholl as either a winger or a classic number 10. Giovane Elber and Carsten Jancker played either as lone striker or formed a partnership. Bayern won the double and reached the semi-final in the Champions League, where they were knocked by the 1999/00 winners, Real Madrid.
1. Bayern Munich 6–2 Dortmund, November 4, 2000
Bayern strengthened their squad even further before the legendary 2000/01 season. Starting right-back Markus Babbel left for Liverpool on a free transfer. Bayern responded by breaking Paulo Sergio’s transfer record, spending €7.7 million on a 23-year-old right-back from Monaco: Willy Sagnol. By adding depth players, such as a 19-year-old Owen Hargreaves and Ciriaco Sforza, the Bavarians hoped to improve an already good team.
I’ll mention straight away that my inclusion of the first “Klassiker” of the 2000/01 season could be interpreted as evidence of bias, since it was the first time I went to a football game live. However, it was a game that proved that, on their night, the 2000/01 Bayern team could produce great football and win against any team.
Dortmund at the time had declined after their 1996/97 Champions League title. In the 1999/00 season, the team had finished in 11th place, but there were signs that the team was once again on the rise. The team was only three points behind Bayern in the league before they met on a cold November night in Munich.
Heiko Herrlich gave Dortmund the lead after two minutes of play, silencing the crowd at the Olympiastadion. Hasan Salihamidžić equalized only five minutes later. By the end of the first half, Bayern was winning with 3-1. In the end, Mehmet Scholl scored twice, including one of the nicest free-kick goals I’ve ever witnessed; Salihamidžić also scored twice, and the Brazilian duo Giovane Elber and Paulo Sergio got one each as well.
Bayern won comfortably against a team that would finish third in the league in the 2000/01 and win the title the next season. It was an early sign of strength and a game that proved that Bayern could compete against the very best, something they had to do continuously that season.
As for me, I did not stop singing “Stern des Südens” in my poor German the whole night, and so my love for the beautiful game was born.
2. Hamburg 1–1 Bayern Munich, May 19, 2001
On their day, Bayern was a world-class team that could beat the heavyweights like Real Madrid and Manchester United. Bayern’s problem was simply consistency. Before the last matchday of the 2000/01 season, Bayern had lost 9 games but was on top of the league with the very small sum of 62 points. Behind them was Schalke 04, who had the deadly duo of Ebbe Sand and Emile Mpenza. Bayern was three points ahead of Schalke and only needed a draw away against Hamburg to clinch the title. What happened the 34th matchday of the 2000/01 season will forever be the most absurd and insane end to a football season I’ve ever encountered.
Hamburg was in the middle of the table and really had nothing to play for. They were safe from relegation and had no chance of reaching the European qualification spots. However, one match to stop the reigning champions from winning the league was good enough reason for them to give it their all. Schalke meanwhile was playing SpVgg Unterhaching at home. Unterhaching was in 16th place but had a chance to avoid relegation; more importantly, they come from a suburb of Munich.
Unterhaching played a good game and the game was on equal terms in Gelsenkirchen until the 74th minute, when Jörg Böhme scored 4-3. Sand, the prolific Danish striker, then decided the game when he scored Schalke’s fifth goal in the 89th minute. The ensuing chants in Schalke’s Parkstadion were not of the Danish striker’s name but rather a different chant that was so loud it was meant to be heard all the way in Hamburg:
HSV! HSV! HSV
Because at the 89th minute in Gelsenkirchen, the score was still 0-0 in Hamburg. Bayern played passively, since both Hamburg and their passionate fans wanted to destroy the party in Munich. Then, in the 90th minute, Sergej Barbarez, the Bosnian striker who won the Golden Boot together with Ebbe Sand that season, scored:
The game at Schalke was over. They had won 5-3. To fully understand what happened next, it is important to realize that this was 2001. There were no smart-phones and no instant updates about the game in Hamburg. The Schalke fans, understanding what had happened in Hamburg but not realizing that the game was over, ran on the pitch. In their minds, they had just won their first Bundesliga title since 1958.
Suddenly, they heard shouts from the other supporters, players, or managers:
THE GAME IN HAMBURG IS NOT OVER!
On the pitch, having celebrated the title for a few minutes, the Schalke fans were forced to watch Hamburg give away a direct free-kick inside the penalty area to Bayern after a back-pass from HSV’s Czech defender Thomas Ujfalusi.
Why Bayern let Patrik Andersson take the free-kick is one of those things that are impossible to understand. The Swedish center-back had not scored for Bayern at all that season; the last time he scored in the Bundesliga at all was in 1997/98, at the time for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The Swede hammered his only goal for Die Roten into the back of the net. It was also his last-ever kick in the Bundesliga. Oliver Kahn runs to the corner-flag stretching his fists in the air and pulls the corner-flag up and just lays down. The Bayern camp is in ecstasy: they’ve won the league.
In Schalke, what started off as the party of the century quickly turned into a family funeral. The ecstasy in Hamburg and the bitter reality in Gelsenkirchen will forever epitomize the absolutely insane, unpredictable, and sometimes soul-crushing phenomenon that is football. With all due respect to Sergio Agüero’s goal against QPR, if I am ever asked about the most dramatic season finale I’ve ever seen, my answer will be what happened on matchday 34 in the 2001/01 Bundesliga season.
In hindsight, it is incredibly impressive how Bayern managed to prepare themselves emotionally and physically for yet another season-deciding game in another part of Europe days after HSV. Just four days after the miracle in Hamburg, Bayern faced Valencia at the San Siro in the 2001 edition of the Champions League final.
On the way to the final, Bayern had triumphed over Manchester United in the quarters and Real Madrid in the semis. Winning over United, of course, was a major victory in itself, as the 1999 final was still a deep wound on a squad that had not changed drastically in terms of personnel.
Valencia had just lost the previous edition of the Champions League final, an all-Spanish affair in which they fell 3-0 against powerhouse Real Madrid, the team Bayern had beaten twice to reach the 2001 final. Valencia was a good team, with a solid back-line driven by goalkeeper Santiago Canizares and Argentine center-back Roberto Ayala. Captain Gizka Mendieta controlled the midfield further up the pitch and, by 2001, was one of the world’s best players. Upfront, they had Norwegian target-man John Carew, and the team was orchestrated by a short Argentine number 10 who, at his best, reminded football enthusiasts of Diego Maradona: Pablo Aimar.
Dutch referee Dick Jol awarded two penalties in the first 6 minutes. Mendieta took the first one, for Valencia, and scores; Mehmet Scholl took Bayern’s penalty — and misses. Four minutes into the second half, Bayern gets another penalty. This time, Stefan Effenberg takes it and scores. After a nervous 30 minutes of extra-time, which was to be decided by the “golden goal” (i.e. the next goal wins the game), the game already defined by three penalties went to a penalty shoot-out.
Enter Der Titan.
Oliver Kahn, the Karlsruhe-native who had been at Bayern since 1994, the player who had joined Säbener Strasse at the height of “FC Hollywood,” the goalkeeper who saw two Manchester United goals go into his net in the dying minutes at Camp Nou two years prior, saves three penalties. Mauricio Pellegrino took the deciding penalty and blasted it right at Kahn. Bayern, the losers from Camp Nou, had become Champions League champions two years later.
4. Bayern Munich 2–1 Real Madrid, March 7, 2007
Bayern was unable to win a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title the season after the Champions League triumph. And Real Madrid had their revenge in the Champions League, knocking Bayern out of the cup in the quarter-finals. Disappointment against Real Madrid struck again in 2004, when the most successful club in the Champions League knocked out Bayern again, this time in the round of 16.
The two teams had played each other in the Champions League knockout-stages four times since 2000, when they were drawn against each other yet again in 2007. The only time Bayern had triumphed was the season they won the whole thing.
The first game was in Madrid, which Los Blancos won with 3-2. Mark van Bommel tilted the odds in Bayern’s favor at home in the newly-built Allianz Arena when he scored the important second goal for Bayern in the dying minutes of the game.
Roy Makaay, the Dutchman who crushed Bayern’s transfer record back in 2003, scored the fastest-ever recorded Champions League goal, little over 10 seconds into the game. Lucio scored in the 66th minute, but Real Madrid got a penalty in 81st minute that caused a row between Mark van Bommel and Mahamdou Diarra. Both players were sent off and Ruud van Nistelrooy converted the penalty two minutes later.
Sergio Ramos then scored in the final minutes of the game — only for the goal to be disallowed because he used his arm. It was Champions League drama of the highest order.
5. FC Barcelona 4–0 Bayern Munich, April 8, 2009
The years that followed were epitomized by an extreme changing of the guard in terms of personnel. In the summer of 2007, Bayern dismissed former starting players such as Roy Makaay, Claudio Pizarro, Lucio, Hasan Salihamidzic, and Owen Hargreaves. In their place came players such as Franck Ribery, Luca Toni, and Miroslav Klose.
It started well; Bayern won the double in the 2007/08 season. Legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was unavailable for another season, though, so the next season Bayern announced a new manager: Jürgen Klinsmann.
Bayern had a turbulent season under Klinsmann, who designed a new player development and performance center for the club during his tenure. In his autobiography, Philipp Lahm said:
All the players knew after about eight weeks that it was not going to work out with Klinsmann… The remainder of that campaign was nothing but limiting the damage.
While Klinsmann might have been the spiritual mentor in an emotional home World Cup in 2006, his tactical abilities were non-existent according to Lahm:
We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann, there was very little technical instruction and the players themselves discussed the way they would play a game before the match.
I could have included Bayern’s 5-1 away loss to Wolfsburg, the winners of the 2008/09 season. One of the best striker partnerships the Bundesliga has ever witnessed, Edin Dzeko and Grafite, tore Bayern to shreds in the second-half on the 26th matchday. The last goal of the game was one of the most beautiful the Bundesliga has ever seen:
Instead, I chose the game against Barcelona, as it was a reflection of how far Bayern had fallen behind the best team in the world. While Barcelona was in their prime, the way they completely outplayed Bayern on that April night at the Camp Nou is to this day the most outplayed I’ve ever seen a Bayern side. Bayern were lucky they lost by only four goals.
Barcelona scored four in 43 minutes and they should have scored more. Bayern had little to no chance on the return game in Munich, a game that ended 1-1.
The “Klinsmann experience” had failed.
On April 8th, 2009, it was hard to see successful times ahead as Bayern fans witnessed Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry dance around an abysmal Bayern defense. After the game, Uli Hoeness promised that Bayern will not repeat this failure.
The decisions that the Bayern board took next changed the course of Bayern history and led Bayern to their most successful decade to date: the 2010s. But that is another story.