In the modern game, it is easy to forget that fan favorites are not always the record-breakers, the superstars or the multi-million signings. Players may be loved for several different reasons, many of which have little to do with their actual footballing ability. Below, I’ll pick a Cult XI of former Bayern Munich players, but first let’s think about what it means to be a ‘cult player’.
What makes a ‘cult player’?
Defining a cult player is somewhat tricky, but what all cult players have in common is that they are beloved by the core group of supporters. A cult player is often a player that stands out among his teammates on the basis of different factors on and off the pitch.
A cult player does not have to be the best player on the pitch. However, he is often a hard-working individual who shows passion and dedication for the jersey he wears. Off the pitch, a player might achieve cult status by how they are as individuals. Emile Heskey’s performances on the pitch were often the butt of jokes, but he earned cult status because off the pitch he was a great person who is not afraid to make a joke at his own expense.
Of course, being a cult player does not mean you can’t also be one of the best players in the world. Ronaldinho deserves cult status because he was always happy, on and off the pitch. His constant smiling and laughing were contagious, as he genuinely seemed like a guy who was just living his dream by playing professional football.
Below, I will make ‘Cult XI’ of former Bayern Munich players. This list does not include any current or very recent players (sorry, Franck Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger!) but will range from players who played in the 1960s to the 2000s.
As this article deals with the history of football, I went with the classic 4-4-2 formation.
Goalkeeper: Oliver Kahn (played for Bayern 1994-2008)
Starting off with one of the best goalkeepers to ever play the game, The Titan was a cult hero for many reasons. King Kahn’s eccentricity and charismatic leadership were both intense and extremely successful. Kahn sparked many debates over where one should draw the line between sportsmanship and assault. During his career, he strangled, bit and kung-fu kicked opponents, and even often got physical with teammates. His actions forced teammate Mehmet Scholl to say: ‘’I am afraid of just two things in this life: war and Oliver Kahn.’’
There will never be someone quite like Oliver Kahn.
Fullbacks: Bixente Lizarazu (1997—2004, 2005—06) and Hasan Salihamidzic (1998—2007)
Throughout his career, Lizarazu won the World Cup and the European Cup with France and six Bundesliga Championships, five DFP Pokals and one Champions League title with Bayern. Off the pitch, he was praised by teammate Michael Ballack for remaining modest and never acting like a star. That’s something that should not be taken for granted for a player who can compare his trophy cabinet to the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Zinedine Zidane.
Hasan ‘Brazzo’ Salihamidzic was loved by fans, management and colleagues alike. Spending 9 years at Bayern, he was praised for his energetic, hard-working and loyal attitude to the club. Both he and Lizarazu were vital to Bayern’s successful early 2000s.
Center-backs: Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck (1966—81) and Sammy Kuffour (1993—2005)
Schwarzenbeck was a true unsung hero of Bayern’s most successful period as a football club. A one-club man, the Munich native spent most of his career in the shadow of Bayern’s other center-back, Franz ‘The Kaiser’ Beckenbauer. He will forever be known for his equalizing goal in the European Cup final against Atletico Madrid. The last-minute kick equalized the game for Bayern and brought the final to a replay where Bayern won 4-0.
Schwarzenbeck’s comment after the game epitomized his character: ‘’Even Pele wouldn’t have scored that one’.’
Ghanian international Sammy Kuffour was part of the Bayern team that lost to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League Final. Leading just before extra time, Bayern lost the game after United scored two late goals. Kuffour, devastated, famously punched the ground in frustration after the final whistle. This gesture made him loved amongst the Bayern supporters, a relationship that never went sour.
His love for the club can still be seen today:
Centre midfielders: Jens Jeremies (1998-2006) and Franz ‘Bulle’ Roth (1966-1978)
The East-German native Jens Jeremies was Bayern’s closest answer to Gennaro Gattuso. The defensive midfielder was, like Gattuso, short yet extremely tough in nature and blessed with great tackling ability. Even though Jeremies played previously for Bayern’s city-rival, 1860 Munich, he was a player it was easy to like. He always gave 110 % while putting on the Bayern shirt, even though he was frequently injured.
Scoring only a handful of goals during his Bayern career, fans will always remember his goal against previous Champions League holders, Real Madrid, in 2001 which led Bayern to the final of the competition.
Sharing the midfield position with Jens is ‘The Bull’. Franz ‘Bulle’ Roth was a fan-favorite mainly because he a knack for scoring extremely important goals. He scored in extra time in the 1967 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against the Glasgow Rangers to seal a 1-0 victory over the Scottish giants. He also scored against Leeds in the 1975 European Cup Final and against Saint-Etienne in the next year’s edition, where Bayern won the competition for the third time in a row. ‘Bulle’ played for Bayern for 12 years and won everything there is to win with the club, but he managed to get one only cap for West Germany.
Wingers: Mario Basler (1996-1999) and Mehmet Scholl (1992-2007)
Mario Basler was an incredibly gifted talent with fantastic free-kick ability, who had absolutely no interest in training. A chain-smoker who regularly drank, Basler was liked by the Bayern fans for his devil-may-care personality, but he rankled the management. Beckenbauer once described him as ‘incorrigible’, and Bayern even once confirmed that they had hired a private detective to follow Basler around. Basler is a cult player mainly because of his wantonness off the pitch. He epitomized the FC Hollywood attitude. In 1999 he stated that he provides entertainment, and ‘the audience wants to be entertained’.
Mehmet Scholl was Basler’s less controversial teammate. Off the pitch, Scholl was Basler’s opposite, keeping mostly to himself. On the pitch, the Karlsruhe native was known for his creativity and free kicks. Scholl was a fan favorite in and outside Bavaria. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition to convince Jürgen Klinsmann to include Scholl in the German 2006 World Cup squad. So many people signed the petition, not because of Scholl’s footballing ability but because Scholl was so well-liked in Germany. At the time, he was close to 36 years old and had played only half of Bayern’s games that season. Hence Klinsmann did not carry out the supporters’ wishes.
Strikers: Gerhard “Gerd” Müller (1964-1979) and Carsten Jancker (1996-2002)
Gerd Müller is considered by many to be one of the greatest living footballers and would make Germany and Bayern’s all-time XI. His 365 Bundesliga goals speak for themselves. His 40 goals in the 1971-72 season are still the most scored in a single Bundesliga season. Why should he be categorized as a cult player? First of all, Müller barely fitted the conventional idea of a pro-footballer, but is nonetheless considered one of the world’s greatest of all time. Called the ‘little-fat one’ by his first Bayern coach Zlatko Čajkovski, Müller was short, stocky and generally odd looking. Yet, his goal-scoring instincts were astonishing. His acceleration over short distances, ability to soar higher than defenders despite their height advantage and uncanny knack for scoring from unlikely situations made him a fan favorite and a legend.
An entertaining song about ‘die Bomber’:
It was hard to let out Giovane Elber. ‘The Samba Striker’ from Brazil was definitively a fan-favorite, as his positive attitude and his technical abilities on the pitch made him a likable figure in Munich. Yet, his striker-partner Carsten Jancker is a classic cult player. Jancker was an unusual football player. He was a particularly large figure for a footballer and looked more like a member of a motorbike gang with his shaved head. He was slow and surprisingly weak in the air but worked well as a target player as his link-up play was easy yet efficient. The best years in his career was for Bayern and with Elber he built a memorable striker partnership, hence he was well liked by the Die Roten supporters.