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OPINION: Why Bayern Munich are staking their claim for Champions League glory

Following Bayern’s recent 7-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in London, Shafiq Abidin analyses what we can expect from Bayern’s newest generation of superstars who, on the face of it, bare similar qualities to that of the treble winning team of 2013.

OPINION: Why Bayern Munich are staking their claim for Champions League glory
Could Bayern Munich win the 2019 Champions League? Photo: DPA

Flying wingers, clinical finishers and no-nonsense defending. That is the Bayern way. 

As Serge Gnabry had his back towards goal in the 87th minute, a quick shuffle of the body and a hammer of a swing from his right foot set the tone for the headlines. Bayern Munich has just put seven past Tottenham in their own backyard. 

In recent years, Europe have started questioning if Bayern are still a powerhouse. Do teams still fear visiting the Allianz arena, or drawing Bayern in the business end of the UEFA Champions League? Probably not. 

Between 2011 and 2016, with legendary wing wizards Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry at their peak, Bayern reached two Champions League finals, winning one, and three semi-finals. A golden era in the club’s history, firmly embodied in the squads they produced and the automatic assumption that they’d reach the last four of Europe’s premier club competition at the bare minimum every year. 

Since then, in the three Champions league campaigns that have followed, they’ve managed a round of 16, quarter final and also a semi-final defeat. The signs were clear. The power of Bayern Munich had begun to wane and the rest of Europe had strengthened considerably. 

Club president Uli Hoeneß, always a man of such high expectations and optimism, had accepted that change was needed. 

So, who are the Bayern Munich team going into the pivotal Christmas break?

READ MORE: Meet Uni Hoeneß: German football legend and tax sinner

The defence: Reliable yet rugged 

The combined €120 million signings of French World Cup winning defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, both still at such tender age of 23, represented a real signal of intent from Hoeneß and club manager Niko Kovač in a bid to rejuvenate an aging back line. 

Thus far, those signings in conjunction with the previous capture of Niklas Sule, has certainly freshened up the backline and from here, their talent and experience will only grow.

Manuel Neuer and David Alaba are the other players who, when fit, make up the rest of the backline and remain two of the strongest players in the world in their respective positions.

The midfield: Commanding but classy 

Bayern prefer to play with a flat double pivot, or two defensive midfielders, consisting of Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich. In them, the Bavarians have found the perfect blend of steel, tenacity and flare. 

Tolisso has been under the radar for some time now and he is finally growing into the player many had pictured him to be. Offering brilliant recycling of the ball when Bayern are in possession and an ever-combative presence to screen the defence when they aren’t. 

Joshua Kimmich’s talent has been heralded since he broke into Bayern’s team four seasons ago. As Philipp Lahm, perhaps Germany’s greatest ever right back, retired, in stepped a young Kimmich. He boasts extremely similar qualities to that of Lahm and this is now epitomised by Niko Kovač’s decision to play him in a more central position from time to time.

Lahm is often talked about as having a “total football brain’’. Current Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola once claimed he was the “most intelligent footballer” he’s coached, and if the first few years of Kimmich’s career is anything to go by, come retirement, his name will be up in lights alongside Die Mannschaft’s greats. 

Sat in front of both is the €144 million diamond that’s somewhat lost his shine: Philippe Coutinho. 

Now, reverted back to the playmaker position which found him so much success in the red of Liverpool, the twinkle toed Brazilian is once more splitting open banks of defences with ease and using his 100-page book of tricks and skills, which has audiences applauding his brilliance again. 

Coutinho has got his mojo back and rest assured, the needle eyed passes, silky touches, intricate dribbles and thirty-yard thunderbolts have returned with it. 

If either of those three do have an off day, Kovač need not worry. Queue the samba, and in steps Thiago Alcantara. He’s sometimes criticised for his lack of consistency but he is undoubtedly one of the world’s top five midfielders on a good day. 

With technical guise in abundance, he combines Brazilian flare with Spanish authority, representative of his dual nationality. 

In much the same manner as Paul Pogba, Thiago plays football with a hint of swagger about his step and with a wide range of flicks and feints up his sleeve. His ability to drop a man and float the perfect 30-yard pass is uncanny.

This goes without saying then, that when his team plays well, he is usually at the forefront of it. With the sparkling form that Bayern are currently operating at, Thiago will only go from red to hot. 

READ MORE: “I feel disrespected”: Mesut Özil opens up on racism and German football

The forwards: Ruthless and clinical 

Then there’s Serge Gnabry. Is there anyone right now in world football oozing confidence quite like Arsenal’s former academy graduate? Four goals against Tottenham Hotspur signals not just a seasonal achievement, but a historic one. 

On the counter, few players possess the devastatingly direct dribbling that Gnabry does, and to top that off, he has no troubles going all the way and finishing the move all by himself. He’s no stranger to scoring goals and assisting teammates but this season he’s taken his game to a whole new level. 

With 12 goals and 4 assists in 20 appearances this season and an average ‘whoscored’ rating of 7.26 per game, Gnabry has started clicking into fifth gear, and come the end of the season, you can bet he’ll be operating in sixth. 

Kingsley Coman has won fifteen trophies at the unbelievable age of 23. Those medals are headlined by seven league titles in each of the last seven years. It’s simple, wherever Kingsley goes, he wins. 

He’s not just been a bystander in these campaigns either, he’s far from a player like Manchester United’s former player Anderson. Coman has an unbelievable ability to sprint away on the counter and hug the touchline for the duration of a match, constantly challenging fullbacks and getting balls into the box. 

Although he isn’t quite at the level of someone like Leroy Sane, Coman has his own set of attributes which compliment tall, powerful runners into the box well. As we know, Bayern have those in abundance. 

Finally, bringing me onto a certain Robert Lewandowski. The Polish hitman needs no introduction and embodies the perfect number nine to cap off the ten fine players that are scheming behind him. 

Since the turn of the decade, ‘Lewy’ has scored over 300 goals. There’s only two players in the world who’ve ousted that figure, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.  

Currently, he’s sitting on top of the European scoring charts and in the same vain as Zlatan Ibrahimović, his game only seems to improve with age. 

The bench: Experience is key 

Bayern also have a wealth of talent and experience keeping their bench warm. Thomas Müller’s powers have started to dwindle, but he isn’t a half bad goal scorer to bring into the fray when you need a goal or two. 

Javi Martinez has proven his consistency as a destroyer of the highest order over the last decade, and proves that Bayern have yet another Mr Dependable waiting to be called upon when the situation or match requires. 

It almost feels inevitable that the marauding runs of Leroy Sane, be it in January or next summer, will be brought in. Sane would be the final piece to the puzzle and it would mean Bayern’s front 6 go toe to toe with any team Europe can conjure up. 

The verdict: Is this the year for 6 Champions League Titles?

There are teams with slightly stronger 11s, perhaps Juventus and Barcelona. But no team has gelled together quite like Bayern, and as we’ve seen before in the Champions League, the strongest teams aren’t always the winners. 

Nico Kovač has required a settling period, like most managers would when taking the reins at a club with the stature of Bayern Munich. 

You get the feeling, however, that his ideas are now starting to embed themselves and his tactics are being deployed to suit his players strengths (as opposed to players having to completely accept his tactics), which is how it should be. 

After all, you can only work with what you’ve got. 

International Success for Germany?

The general thought is that if Bayern do well, so does the German national team. The winners of the 2014 World Cup had Bayern DNA heavily incorporated into their tactics and game plans. As did the winners of the 1990, 1974 and 1954 tournaments. 

Euro 2020 represents a good assessment for Die Mannschaft’s new school and if Bayern’s German contingent can make significant strides this season, it’s almost an assurance that next year’s Euros, and perhaps even the 2022 World Cup, will be fought tooth and nail between the French and the Germans. 

The template upon which this team is formed bares startling similarities with that of the 2013 treble winners. Fast flowing football with ruthless German efficiency: this well and truly could be the year of 6 Champions League titles for Bayern Munich.

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SPORT

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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