Is Bayern’s dominance to blame for Germany’s debacle?

Bayern Munich's contribution for Germany's success has been immense, but the club's domestic dominance has a close link to Die Mannschaft's group stage exit.

Bayern Munich players have always been at the heart of successful German squads.   -  Getty Images

When Mexico’s Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Hriving Lozano raced off from the half line to score in the 39th minute against Germany in the opening Group E match of the 2018 World Cup, it brought back memories of a Champions League encounter between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in May 2016.

The second leg of this Champions League game in Allianz Arena saw Antoine Griezmann pick up the ball just few metres from the half line. He left Bayern’s defenders chasing shadows and scored. Though Bayern won 2-1, they lost a place in the final due to that one away goal Griezmann scored. Two months later, Griezmann scored a double in the semifinals of the Euro 2016 to eliminate Germany, which had four Bayern players in the starting XI.

The pattern of these big matches has been the same — Bayern and Germany have more possession (more than 60%), more shots on goal, but their opponents finish better. Another common theme among any German team is the core comprises Bayern players.

In 2014, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm were the shining lights of the World Cup winning side. Their club's treble in 2013 under Jupp Heynckes and the tactical acumen imbibed under Pep Guardiola, reflected in their performances for Die Mannschaft..

The World Cup winning side of 2014 had five Bayern players in the final starting line-up. - Getty Images

 

Two seasons of losing domestic silverware to Borussia Dortumund, had been put behind and the five-time European Champion re-established its supremacy. But sadly, the year also marked the beginning of a monopoly which would eventually result in a collective failure for German football. It makes sense for national coaches to pick most of their players from the best clubs in their domestic leagues and ever since the days of Franz Beckenbauer, the Muncheners have been Germany's bonafide superstars.

Joachim Low’s dependence on his Bayern stars has only grown in these last five years and they have delivered on most occasions. But this World Cup, they failed exceptionally. Except for coming-from-injury custodian Manuel Neuer, who had not kicked a ball since November until the pre-tournament friendlies, all the other Bayern players looked out of their depth.

Boateng was too adventurous for his own good, often running into the attacking half, leaving the backline exposed. While Low’s tactics share the blame for the defensive woes, Boateng’s combustive temper and technical weaknesses were exposed against Sweden, a match in which he got sent off.

Mats Hummels, Boateng’s partner in central defence, was left to face the pacy attackers and was positioned awkwardly whenever opponents broke into Germany’s half.

Joshua Kimmich's inability to track back had left Germany exposed at the back.   -  Getty Images

 

Joshua Kimmich’s overlapping ability is quite commendable, but the 23-year old does not possess the positional intelligence of Philipp Lahm and was not even in the picture when Sweden and Mexico scored on counter attacks.

Niklas Sule tried as much as he could to supplement Boateng’s absence against South Korea, but the towering centre-back is yet to establish himself as a regular for club and country.

Thomas Muller’s form suffered at the end of the season and he cut a frustrated figure, unable to score or assist for the first time in three World Cups. Though tactical flaws, complacency and lack of motivation have played their part, Low did not have his talented players go through enough matches on the highest level with their clubs.

When Germany won the World Cup in July 2014, eleven of the 14 players who featured in the final had played minimum 300 minutes of football in Europe’s premier competitions. In the group stages of this World Cup, six of the 20 players Low used in the tournament either did not play or clocked lesser than 360 minutes in Europe’s premier competitions.

Eleven of the 14 Germany players who featured in the 2014 World Cup final had played minimum 300 minutes of Europe's top football.   -  Getty Images

 

Ever since Borussia Dortmund’s domestic double in 2012 and reaching the Champions League final in 2013, the domestic circuit has seen little or no competition against Bayern. Adding to the six league titles in a row, they managed to add two more German Cups to their cabinet. The points tally from 2014 on shows, the average difference between Die Roten and their nearest challenger is 15 points, which is the highest in Europe’s top five leagues, with La Liga having the least average points difference of 4.6.

In the 2017/18 season, the distance was more telling, with Schalke finishing 21 points behind Bayern.

When it comes to competing in the Champions League, the German champion has been knocked out five seasons in a row by Spanish clubs, while the other Bundesliga clubs have not made it past quarterfinals in the past five seasons. This season, it has been even worse as none of the other German clubs has made it past the group stage.

While Bayern’s President Karl-Heinz Rummenigge might be dismissive of criticism of his club’s strategy of poaching the best domestic talent, rendering other clubs in the league powerless, it has only caused more damage to the national team.

Bayern President Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's push for a new elite club competition might not materialise.   -  Getty Images

 

Players such as Sebastian Rode, Emre Can, Serge Gnabry, who performed well with other clubs and were touted to be next stars for the national team, were brought to Bayern but kept on the sidelines or loaned out. Ever since, their performances have spiralled down or been mediocre. This hit their stock in the eyes of Low’s scouts.

The same might be happen to the likes of Niklas Sule, Leon Goretzka and Sebastian Rudy if they are reduced to being back-up to Bayern’s stars. Rummenigge might be pressing for a new elite league in Europe to justify his club’s dominance domestically, but it is a far-fetched reality.

The German FA (DFB) has enough resources and talent in its ranks to send a world-class team for the next 10 World Cups and Euros, but it is time to realise that having all eggs in one basket is not a healthy strategy.

Bayern's financial might and influence are too much for other Bundesliga clubs to stand up to, but an alternate plan is necessary for Low in terms of selection, and the DFB with regards to the league. Germany’s worst performance in its footballing history demands the mighty footballing nation go back to the drawing board.

  Dugout videos