Champion Bayern Munich sets magnificent yet troubling standard
LONDON -- For Bayern as a whole, this was a story of redemption. For Arjen Robben, in particular, it was a story of redemption. And for Jupp Heynckes it was, a story of vindication, of proving his point so that he can leave, having been forcibly retired, having proved he is a winner and having become only the fourth coach -- after Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jose Mourinho -- to win the European Cup with two different teams.
Bayern had lost in the final in 2010 and 2012. It had been defeated at the last in 1999. It had lost surprisingly in 1987 and 1982. It had come to look guilty of that least German of attributes: choking. There was a moment at Wembley when it looked as though it might once again falter at the last: after an awkward opening half hour it had dominated and had taken the lead, before conceding an equalizer with a wholly needless penalty. Had the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli -- as he surely should have done -- shown Dante a second yellow card, had he shown a red card to Franck Ribery for lashing out at Kevin Grosskreutz a few minutes later, perhaps it would again have faltered.
As it was, it just kept coming and even at 1-1, Roman Weidenfeller made excellent saves from David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger before, with two minutes remaining, Ribery backheeled the ball through for Robben, who took the ball away from Neven Subotc, shaped to go around Weidenfeller, and then squeezed the ball to the goalkeeper's left -- a marvelously neat and inventive finish, wholly removed from the anxious way he had snatched at three good opportunities in the first half.
After the final whistle, Robben sat alone on the pitch, contemplating, he admitted, the disappointments of the past three years, the three defeats in finals -- two with Bayern and on with the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final.
"A lot of things go through your mind," he said. "For an individual of course this is the peak, the greatest you can achieve and after the whistle from the referee you know you're the winner of the Champions League. For a lot of us that was the only thing we still lacked. And after all the disappointment of last year and a bit less from 2010 -- and I personally had the World Cup -- that's three finals, and of course you don't want the tag of a loser, at last we did it today and we forget the disappointments."
Only Stuttgart, Bayern's opponent in the German Cup final next Saturday, stands between it and an outstanding treble -- and as Heynckes insisted he would rather not celebrate until then, it was clear that he wants to bid farewell with the treble and a perfect season.
Even Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund coach, said he was "pleased" for Heynckes to win the tournament, that he "merited" it. There has definitely been popular sympathy for a man widely believed to have been retired to make way for Pep Guardiola. Heynckes himself insisted that the "German media" had presented his departure inaccurately.
"For me it was after the last Champions League final against Chelsea I took my own personal decision that after this season I would be finishing," he said. "What we have achieved so far this season -- for of course it isn't over yet -- but I have to say that the season has been an outstanding one for Bayern. In the history of Bundesliga no team has played such a consistent season at such high level, breaking almost all the records."
That, though, perhaps, represents the negative. For all the wonderful football Bayern has played this season, its domination of a league that features a side widely recognized as the second best in Europe, the other Champions League finalist, the team that thrashed Real Madrid 4-1 in the first leg of the semifinal, suggests it is a mighty power that will continue to dominate, perhaps to an oppressive degree. Bayern is a ruthless superpower, its wage-bill double of that of Dortmund's, and it is hard to believe its domination of the Bundesliga at least, will not simply continue.
Dortmund has done a remarkable job of maintaining its level. It has over the past couple of years successfully replaced Lucas Barrios, Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa. Next season it must also replace Mario Goetze, who hasn't just left but will further strengthen Bayern next season. Robert Lewandowski may yet follow him to Munich -- "he will not be hanging around," Heynckes said. Even the ebullient Klopp seemed weary as he contemplated the prospect.
"We have to buy players because other clubs want our players and then we have to start again," he said. "Next week I have a lot of work to build a new team."
As Dortmund tries desperately to maintain its level, Bayern gets stronger and stronger. If Pep Guardiola doesn't lead Bayern to the Bundesliga title next season it will be regarded as a major failure; positive judgment can come only in European competition. That is a growing trend, not just in Germany, and an uncomfortable truth for European football and the way its economic model makes the rich richer and richer.
That discussion, though, is perhaps for another day. This was about Bayern at last winning a fifth Champions League and completing a season in which it has dazzled. Over the season it was a deserved winner, even if the longer-term implications of its excellence are troubling.