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Why PSG, Juventus, and Man City’s failures debunk common myths about the Champions League

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“If you just signed [X] you’d win the whole thing!” Nope, it doesn’t work like that.

Juventus v Ajax - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The quarterfinals of the Champions League have been concluded, and while Bayern Munich didn’t participate this time around, there’s still plenty to talk about. We could focus on the incredible achievements by Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax to get to the semifinals, but let’s talk about something else.

In recent years, it’s become very fashionable to try and pick apart why a team doesn’t win the Champions League. In Bayern Munich’s case, instead of focusing on legitimate criticisms of tactics, mentality, and fitness, the discussion has recently settled around three cliche narratives:

  • The board did not spend enough to keep the squad competitive. If only Sane, Mbappe, Salah, etc. played for us, the team would win everything.
  • Niko Kovac is not up to the job — Bayern should have hired a “tactical” coach like Thomas Tuchel or a proven winner like Jurgen Klopp, the club would be much better off.
  • The Bundesliga is too weak to give Bayern a challenge, and that makes the team fail in the Champions League.

Those are just the most inaccurate, unoriginal, and downright lazy takes on the current situation of the club. To prove this, you don’t need to go very far — just look at the recent eliminations of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Manchester City in the competition. Here are some basic truths of the Champions League, elucidated while the games are still fresh in everyone’s minds:

#1: A big transfer is not a silver bullet, even if you get Cristiano Ronaldo

One of the main criticisms leveled at Bayern Munich is the lack of obvious spending compared to rivals, especially when it comes to acquiring the best players in the world. However, spending does not guarantee success — look no farther than PSG.

PSG spent €400m in one summer to get Neymar from Barcelona and Kylian Mbappe from Monaco. Pundits and fans alike thought that they would immediately challenge for the very pinnacle of European competition. The reality? Spending gargantuan amounts on megatransfers didn’t change PSG’s situation in the slightest. If anything, it hindered them.

By going all-in on Mbappe and Neymar, PSG neglected to bring in reinforcements elsewhere, most notably their midfield and fullback positions. Were those transfers really necessary, when they already had Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, and Julian Draxler? PSG built a beefy squad with big names, but it was imbalanced.

The same thing can be said of Juventus — they went out and spent the big bucks to get Cristiano Ronaldo. He certainly performed as advertised, scoring all of Juve’s goals in the knockout stages for the year. However, by investing so much on a marquee player like CR7, the Bianconeri forgot to bolster their shoddy midfield, which ended up being their undoing against Ajax.

Big transfers can never be a real silver bullet — football is far to complex for that. There are far too many factors involved in a football game for a single 100m euro player to change. There’s nothing wrong with having world class players, but neglecting key areas of your squad to sign them is not a winning formula. PSG would have been better off by foregoing Neymar and investing the proceeds across the squad, the same can be argued for Juventus.

Even so, it might not buy you the success you want. Manchester City built themselves a potent and deep squad at great cost, but they still got eliminated by a Tottenham team that they dominate in the league.

In the end, so many factors are at play during UCL knockout games (injuries, suspensions, fatigue, mentality, tactics) that simply building an expensive team just doesn’t work. The process of creating a competitive squad is not easy, and getting results for your work is harder still. Narrowing down the source of a club’s misfortunes to a lack of big transfers is reductive and shallow, as the recent success of Ajax and Spurs show.

You can spend little and still have quality, which is something that Bayern Munich fans especially tend to ignore about the current squad. Smart squad building isn’t a disadvantage. There’s more to football than expensive superstars.

#2: Coaches are not miracle workers, they work with what they have (and sometimes fail)

Let’s talk about coaches for a second. Arguably the most criticized decision by the Bayern board in recent months has been the choice of Niko Kovac as coach. There are many who feel that if management had gone after a “better” or “more proven” coach, then Bayern’s elimination at the hands of Liverpool would not have happened.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and is a gross oversimplification of the Liverpool tie and Champions League games in general. Coaches aren’t miracle workers, when faced with a formidable opponent and without some key players in the squad, they will inevitably fall short.

This is exactly what happened to Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola, and Massimiliano Allegri. Tuchel, for all his tactical powers, could not arrest PSG’s train wreck against Manchester United. Guardiola’s tactics couldn’t stop Laporte gifting Tottenham goal after goal. Allegri couldn’t magically make a functioning midfield out of a trio of Miralem Pjanic, Emre Can, and Blaise Matuidi.

Two managers undone by player mistakes, and another undone by his own squad’s deficiencies. There were other factors involved in each of their eliminations, but these fact remains that these coaches, supposedly some of the best, could not overcome inferior opposition with inferior players. The power of circumstance overcame them.

It’s not 100% the coach’s fault when things don’t come through, and it’s not 100% to their credit when things go right. This tendency of Bayern Munich fans and the media to blame Kovac for every single thing that does wrong, especially the Liverpool tie (where Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller were suspended, and the opening goal came from a mistake from Manuel Neuer and Rafinha) just doesn’t make sense.

It’s nothing new, of course. But hopefully, recent results convince people that there’s more to the Champions League than getting the best coach on around. Sometimes a coach can be quality, but the circumstances prevent him from getting the results. Just ask Jupp.

#3: A competitive league doesn’t guarantee UCL success

This one is specifically related to Man City’s problems, because there’s no way to argue that Juventus and PSG face any competition in their respective domestic leagues.

It’s a common criticism of Bayern that facing Bundesliga opponents makes the team ill-prepared for games against international opposition, as the level of competition is higher outside of Germany. There is nothing beyond anecdotal evidence (none of it from anyone significant) to suggest this, but it remains a popular their nonetheless. But if this were true, what of Man City?

City have built a squad that demolishes the Premier League on a regular basis, and they cantered to a league title last season. However, when faced with fellow Premier League sides in the Champions League quarter finals, the Citizens have failed to advance, even though in both cases (17/18 and 18/19), both of their opponents were below them in the league table and considered underdogs.

Perhaps, this suggests that Champions League knockouts are affected by more tangible things such as tactics, injuries, suspensions, mentality, etc than simply “quality of opposition”? After all, if City were able to translate league results into the UCL, the would have made it to the semis at least once by now.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have Real Madrid. They performed a Champions League three-peat while being largely mediocre in the league in at least two seasons (15/16 and 17/18). Meanwhile, La Liga Champions in that time period, Barcelona, couldn’t even make it past the quarter finals.

While playing in the Bundesliga does present Bayern with some challenges (mainly financial, related to TV money), the “lack of challenge” argument doesn’t hold water. In the treble year, the Bavarians won the league by 25 points, scoring almost a hundred goals in the process. It’s just another argument used by those who are too lazy to discuss the real (and complicated) issues.


A message to the fanbase

As with most things I’ve written recently, the point of this article was to provide context. There is a large portion of the Bayern fanbase who thinks they know how the team should be run, and have very strong opinions on the subject. I am one of those people.

However, we must not fall prey to easy narratives or cliches peddled by the media, and instead come to our own conclusions. This article isn’t meant to reprimand those who criticize the team, because external criticism is what keeps the club accountable. However, when doing so, I hope we can look past the narratives and really talk about the problems face this club.

Criticism reflects ambition, and therefore we should continue to criticize. We are who were are, Mia San Mia.