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Bayern Munich in the 2010s — A Foundation Laid by Louis Van Gaal

Ahead of a crucial encounter with Villarreal, BFW looks back at the man who shaped the rise of Bayern Munich to the top of the UEFA coefficients chart.

Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final
Bayern made the final but couldn’t take that extra step in 2010.
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s next game is a crucial Champions League quarterfinal tie against Villarreal. Down a goal from the first leg and with exactly zero goals scored from open play in 180 minutes, Die Roten are really up against it. They came in as overwhelming favorites and anything but a resounding tie-winning victory will be seen as a success. Julian Nagelsmann’s job will not be on the line but his seat will surely become a bit uncomfortable. After all, Bayern Munich, over the past 12 years has been exemplary, signifying excellence in Europe’s premier competition, aside from a minor blip or two. The Bundesliga side has reached four finals in the past 12 years, three of them between 2010 and 2013.

At the helm of the club in the first of those finals in 2010 was Louis van Gaal. We found out recently that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. And aside from wishing Louis van Gaal well, I would just like to remind Bayern’s faithful fandom what an influence the Dutchman had on the club.

But first, let me remind you of Bayern’s Champions League history in the 2000s before Van Gaal came. A victory came in 2001 against Valencia to exorcize the ghosts of 1999. And then, followed a barren period. Bayern Munich was no longer a scary draw for the top tier clubs in Europe; this was exemplified by a 5-1 thrashing on aggregate at the hands of Barcelona in the 2008/09 season in the Champions League quarterfinals as well as a humiliating defeat by Zenit St. Petersburg in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup semifinals.

In fact in the 2009/10 season, Bayern nearly did not make it out of their group, having won only one out of their first four matches and having lost a doubleheader to Bordeaux. A second win over Maccabi Haifa on Matchday Five set up a crucial showdown against Juventus in Turin which Bayern had to win.

By then, Louis van Gaal had changed far too many things around. A young and unproven Thomas Müller seemed to have his coach’s faith on the wing or right behind the strikers. Bastian Schweinsteiger, approaching the midpoint of his career, was moved from the wings to defensive midfield next to Mark Van Bommel. A young and promising Thomas Kraft was replaced by a veteran goalkeeper and penalty taker in Hans-Jörg Butt. While, in this particular match, he played a 4-4-2, he tended to play a 4-5-1 with no room for star striker and expensive new recruit, Mario Gomez. Instead, Ivica Olic tended to take his place. Furthermore, soon after Van Gaal’s arrival arrived another familiar Dutchman, Arjen Robben.

David Trezeguet started the scoring in that game, moving past Martin Demichelis to score a wonderful goal. I could tell you what happened next. But I would rather that you enjoy the magic:

If you choose to watch, I want you to listen for how many times the commentator mentions the name Schweinsteiger; you might also hear the name “Hasan Salihamidzic” as well.

After that game, Bayern’s tally was a mere 10 points; group stage qualification wasn’t always easy. A tough Round of 16 tie against Fiorentina followed and then, Bayern qualified for the quarterfinals. This is where I expected things to end. However, the underdogs earned a 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena against Manchester United courtesy of a late Ivica Olic strike. And eventually, found themselves in a final for the first time since 2001.

Van Gaal broke the barriers that hadn’t been broken for a long time. Bayern became watchable under him; Bayern rose to where Bayern should have always been under him. He also promoted Holger Badstuber by the way, who you will see in the video of the match against Juventus.

After a shocking exit in the Round of 16 against Inter Milan the following season (due to the nature of the defeat rather than the opponent), Van Gaal wouldn’t last much longer at the helm. He would get fired and Jupp Heynckes would take over the following season.

But, I do not want to focus on the negatives here. I highly doubt that had Van Gaal not made the changes he did, Bayern would have been able to become one of the top clubs in Europe again. As a reminder, Bayern still plays a 4-5-1 with attacking fullbacks and a lone striker. Thomas Müller still plays a pivotal role for this club. Marauding wingers (well, only sometimes thanks to Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry) are still part of the Bayern Munich product.

While the names Jörg Butt and Olic might not be the most glorious ones in Bayern history, they were part of revitalizing Bayern thanks to Van Gaal.

And overall, the fact that fans almost expect to be Champions League winners every year is one we have to thank Van Gaal for. I hope he gets better and I thank him for how he set this club, my club, up for success.


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