It was two years ago today that Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer raised the coveted European Cup into the dark Lisbon sky. Two years since that dramatic final that, despite its lack of spectators, had all the atmosphere it needed. Trebles on the line for both sides, history to be written, two exciting teams, what more could a fan ask for?
I remember that day like it was yesterday. A sleepless night accompanied by a stomach doing more loop-de-loops than a roller coaster on steroids, it was madness. I never really knew how sickening Champions League finals could be until my team was directly involved. Were Real Madrid and Liverpool fans feeling the same way a few months ago? Perhaps.
I remember the game being incredibly tense. Only one goal decided the game, but that made it all the more nerve-wracking. Whether you want to pick David Alaba’s horrendously missed pass on the stroke of halftime, Neuer’s double save against Neymar, or the latter’s final shot that went only a few inches wide of the post seconds from the death as the moment that made your heart stop, your choice would be justified. Bayern fans around the world were begging, praying that the mistakes that had been made would not cost the club their sixth Champions League title.
I remember the highlights vividly, some maybe not so much as others. Philippe Coutinho’s late free kick was a lot closer than I recalled. Paris had a lot more chances than I cared to give them credit for. Did Thomas Müller deliberately lay the ball off for Joshua Kimmich, or was it a lucky deflection?
But there is one moment that every Bayern fan will savor forever. Once Kimmich received that ball from Müller, he didn’t hesitate to whip it into the box. A few of his teammates awaited, some marked by Parisian defenders. One was not. That man was Kingsley Coman.
The ball looped over everyone but landed square on the Frenchman’s head. It bounced off his very puffy hairdo, sailed past a hapless Keylor Navas, and nestled into the bottom corner.
It was not the fanciest of goals, nor was it the best goal Coman has ever scored for Bayern so far. But it was definitely the most important one - at least for now.
Which brings us to today. Two years after that memorable night, Bayern Munich look a very different team from what it did then. Four of the eleven who started that final are gone. The legendary Hansi Flick has been replaced by the young and hungry Julian Nagelsmann. The team wrote even more history in those two years, won a handful of trophies, but just how long will it take for them to reclaim the glorious Henkelpott as their own?
Nagelsmann’s Bayern has faltered at times, especially in Europe. Despite the historic 10th consecutive Bundesliga title, the ignominious defeat to Villarreal is mainly why Nagelsmann is still scrutinized heavily among many. Fans were left wondering at the end of last season, where does a broken team go from here?
Fortunately, the board has made some big moves in the summer. Bayern’s squad went from paper thin to very strong in just a few weeks. The board spent good money, more than anyone expected. Now it is up to the coach and the players themselves to deliver.
So far, things don’t look bad. Nagelsmann’s new Bayern has been fun to watch in recent weeks. They already have a trophy under their belt in the DFL Super Cup. But that will do little to placate the fans as they hungrily turn their eyes to bigger and better trophies, most of all the Champions League.
The big question looms: is the team good enough to win the Champions League? The squad definitely looks strong enough. But so many people forget that Champions Leagues are won not by skill alone. It takes skill, will, and also a certain amount of luck to win it. Just watch Real Madrid’s last successful European run. Or better yet, rewatch the final from two years ago. What if Kylian Mbappé’s point-blank range shot just before halftime wasn’t scuffed straight at Neuer? What if Neymar’s last minute effort had curled just a few inches inwards? That’s what makes winning the Champions League so hard, and that’s what makes it all the more prestigious. Because the stars have to align for it.
It is too early to ask whether Bayern will win the Champions League this season; the groups haven’t even been drawn at the time of writing. There are still many question marks surrounding the team, and at the moment, there is not enough evidence to support any claims that Bayern can go all the way. However, on the flip side, there is no evidence to claim that Bayern can’t, either.
The answer to the question in every fan’s mind is: maybe. Maybe they can, maybe they can’t. Football is a funny game, sometimes all the right buttons can be pressed and it still won’t be enough. That becomes even more apparent in knockout tournaments like the Champions League. We may have to wait only a few months, or maybe a few years, maybe more, maybe less.
But as I replay the footage of Neuer breaking out into the biggest of smiles as he hoists Ol’ Big Ears into the air, I dream that the time will come when Bayern Munich will do it again. And I dream that one day in the near future, I will be writing about Bayern’s seventh Champions League title with just as much gusto, if not more.
For now, though, let us enjoy the two year anniversary of that magical night in Lisbon. Let us remember every single detail of it. Coman’s goal, Neuer’s saves, Flick’s poker face, everything. It is a night worth remembering, a night that will never be forgotten no matter how many years go by.