Our European guru educates and enlightens
Whatever happens in Madrid, one thing’s for sure: after the game, Philipp Lahm will ring home to enquire about the health of his pet rabbits Milky Way and Brownie.
Lahm isn’t the only Bayern player with intriguing hobbies. On the club website Bastian Schweinsteiger lists his hobbies as “Music, meeting friends, travel, new experiences, Starbucks”.
Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal’s hopes of defeating his protégé Jose Mourinho at the Santiago Bernabeu may come down to a phenomenon German fans refer to as ‘Bayern dusel’ – that special kind of luck with which the Bavarian giants have, so often through the years, snatched a trophy or seven.
A good example of ‘Bayern dusel’ would be the square posts at Hampden Park in 1976 which repelled Jacques Santini’s header and Dominique Bathenay’s shot as the Germans beat St Etienne 1-0 to win their third European Cup in a row.
That run had started with a big dollop of ‘Bayern dusel’ in May 1974 when, with 119 minutes on the clock and Bayern trailing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid, George Schwarzenbeck stupefied his teammates by choosing not to pass to predator extraordinaire Gerd Muller but to shoot from 35 yards.
Luckily for Schwarzenbeck the shot flew past Miguel Reina, Pepe’s dad, to earn a replay that Bayern won 4-0. And coming bang up to date, Miroslav Klose’s header against Fiorentina, arguably the most offside goal of the year, helped Bayern defeat the Viola in the last 16 this season.
But ‘Bayern dusel’ can be a fickle mistress, conspicuous by her absence in the 1987 and 1999 finals when Bayern blew two 1-0 leads in astonishing fashion.
The first upset – against Porto – now feels like instant karma. The club’s then president Frits Scherer was so confident he drafted his victory speech the night before the match. But in 1999, after the late, late horror show at Camp Nou, even Germans who didn’t support Bayern felt (briefly) sorry for the club.
In 2001, Bayern won the shootout and the UEFA Champions League, a triumph that owed more to Oliver Kahn’s genius than luck though there was something miraculous about Kahn’s save from Amedeo Carboni.
So with a big hunk of ‘Bayern dusel’ Van Gaal’s team may yet defy the odds – as they did, after all, against Manchester United. If they are at their best – and Inter aren’t – that part of Germany that is forever Bayern could be celebrating on Saturday night.
I was tempted to rehash the old Jimmy Tarbuck gag – Inter look the better team on paper but the final isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass – but I won’t.
It will be fascinating to see how Van Gaal sets up Bayern. His favourite ploy is to have Mark van Bommel and Schweinsteiger in front of the back four with one player – often Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose – upfront.
Then as Ulrich Hesse, author of the great Tor! put it on an email: “That leaves three players whose positions are not so easily definable. Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Ivica Olic are neither midfielders, nor strikers, they are something in between”.
These in-betweenies are incredibly flexible. Against Fiorentina, Ribery and Robben were the wide men with Muller behind Gomez, not as a playmaker but as a striker with a bit more room.
The imaginative, industrious Olic can play behind the striker, as the striker (in one Bundesliga match Klose played behind the Croatian) and on the wing.
Muller has also starred on the wing instead of Ribery and, in a German Cup game against Schalke, behind Olic, Robben and Klose in the hole and in front of the holding midfielders.
However Van Gaal sets Bayern up, he will remind his players of the importance of possession. Keeping the ball will be essential if his team are to protect their weakest link – a defence which has shipped 13 goals on the way to the final.
That record must influence his game plan. Bayern’s best hope, as Barney Ronay has suggested in The Guardian, is probably to swashbuckle their way to victory, trusting in the cavalier genius of Arjen Robben whose volleys, free-kicks and feints could carry the day.
If Robben doesn’t deliver the crucial magic, Van Gaal will hope that Gomez, Klose or Muller are efficient with the few chances that may fall their way.
Swashbuckling is something of a departure for Van Gaal, a famously methodical coach who, at Barcelona in the late 1990s, dared to improve on Cruyff’s 3-4-3 to make it structurally sounder.
But his Bayern share one trait with their boss: pure, bloody-minded resilience. Schweinsteiger’s personal motto “Never lose belief” could be the team’s rallying cry. And that quality could make this final more competitive than many pundits would have you believe.
The key word there, of course, is could.
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