How Bayern Munich Can Improve Image After Latest Dortmund and Handshake Spats
Although their on-field performance has been generally phenomenal in recent years, Bayern Munich have rather lagged behind in their public relations performance. Just as their image as giants among European clubs has reemerged, a number of rather disastrous and often self-inflicted blows to their image have harmed the club.
Earlier this year, longstanding Bayern chairman Uli Hoeness was jailed for tax evasion. The club generally did well to frame their sales of fan favorites Mario Mandzukic (whom Karl-Heinz Rummenigge suggested to FAZ (h/t Goal.com) might be unwilling to compete for a starting spot) and Toni Kroos (whom Pep Guardiola told mixed media (via Goal.com) Bayern did everything they could to retain) in a favorable way. However, some have postulated that offering €7 million (according to Bild) annual wages to Kroos was not nearly "everything" Bayern could do and that Guardiola leaving Mandzukic out of his DFB-Pokal final squad effectively made the Croat's mind for him.
Similarly, Bayern have done well to gloss over their having effectively forced Jupp Heynckes to retire by signing Guardiola before the veteran trainer had made a final decision (as reported by Markus Feldenkirchen and Juan Moreno of Der Spiegel) despite some objections from Bayern fans and neutrals alike.
However, there are some areas where Bayern's image remains hugely tarnished and continues to be soiled on a regular basis.
The club is widely regarded in Germany and abroad as one that preys on weaker Bundesliga teams, signing stars to weaken rivals by offering astronomical wages to impressionable young talents who in many cases can expect little chance of competing for regular minutes. Bayern's pursuit of Sinan Kurt and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's recent remarks about Marco Reus have only further cemented these impressions in recent weeks.
As if all the aforementioned wasn't enough, Bayern ended their USA tour on rather sour terms on Wednesday night, with Guardiola refusing to shake the hand of MLS All-Star coach Caleb Porter. The sole purpose of visiting the United States was to strengthen Bayern's image in the Americas, and every bit of good the club did until that point may have been erased with the moment that has been portrayed in American media as Guardiola being a sore loser and projecting his frustration with an individual opposing player onto the respectful Porter.
Bayern have come a long way in footballing terms in recent years, but still have plenty to do if they are to improve their image and gain the moral high ground. Let's take a look at what the club can do to improve its public perception.
Sign Fewer Domestic Stars, Import More
Bayern's reputation as a club that cherry-picks stars from other Bundesliga teams in order to weaken rival sides is the biggest public relations fiasco facing the club. Other mega-clubs are willing to invest heavily in big-name stars from abroad.
Consider Real Madrid, with James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Fabio Coentrao, Angel di Maria, Raphael Varane, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema offsetting the several domestic stars they've signed since 2009-10.
Consider Barcelona, with Luis Suarez, Neymar, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez doing the same since 2011-12. Or consider Chelsea, signing Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, Willian, Nemanja Matic, Andre Schuerrle, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku while not signing a single player from Arsenal, Manchester City or Manchester United for the last five years.
Bayern are a different story. Since 2010-11, the German giants have signed Bundesliga stars Robert Lewandowski, Mario Goetze, Manuel Neuer, Mario Mandzukic, Dante, Sebastian Rode and Jan Kirchhoff—all key players to to their respective previous teams—from German sides.
During the same period, the only big stars they've imported are Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Jerome Boateng and bench-warmer Xherdan Shaqiri. With only one exception (2012-13, in which Javi Martinez was the big-name addition), Bayern's marquee signing each term since 2010-11 has been from the Bundesliga.
For perspective, Dortmund's biggest signings in four of the last five years have come from abroad. Schalke have acted similarly, their most significant signings having come from foreign leagues in three of the last five seasons.
A common defense by Bayern fans is that they would rather their club sign the league's best players than see them go abroad, but such protectionism is nonsensical when it comes to talent hoarding. It's one thing for a Bundesliga star to play at Bayern as opposed to riding the bench at a foreign club. But there is no guarantee that the players the Munich side sign would actually leave for a foreign club.And when the script is flipped, as in the case of Mario Goetze, it gives the impression that Bayern are wasting a player they never actually needed.
If Bayern want to be seen as strengthening the Bundesliga, they'd be wise to sign more stars from abroad and take a step away from their current policy, which at present gives many the image of using the rest of the Bundesliga as a farm system.
Focus Less on Rivals' Talents, More on Their Academy
Further to the topic of the PR risks of signing domestic players, Bayern would be wise to do more with their academy and focus less on cherry-picking young talents from other German clubs.
The fact of the matter is that Bayern Munich's youth academy is not all that great, especially for a team with more than double the revenue of their nearest rivals. Bayern last won the under-17 Bundesliga championship in 2007 and have only reached the final twice since 2001. Their last under-19 title was in 2002, with the likes of Freiburg, Mainz and even Hansa Rostock claiming the trophy since.
Coming from an area of relatively little competition, the German record champions perhaps put more emphasis on their reserve team, which won the Regionalliga Bayern last season, than their youth sides. However, they lost their promotion playoff to Fortuna Koln and remain in the fourth tier for yet another season. The 3. Liga contains the reserve sides of Dortmund, Mainz and Stuttgart, but Bayern are still lagging behind opponents they should be bettering.
Bayern have instead turned towards signing players that other clubs have developed through the most critical years of their youth. Emre Can, David Alaba, Toni Kroos, Mitchell Weiser and ex-Brondby man Pierre Hojbjerg have all joined Bayern in their mid- to late-teens in recent years.
Even as the squad has inflated with depth that will make a teenager's progression into the starting lineup near-impossible, Bayern continue to target young players from other clubs. There is an ongoing saga over Sinan Kurt, with Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl accepting (via Westdeutsche Zeitung) that the 18-year-old will join Bayern but underlining the importance that his side must be adequately compensated for a talent he regards as just as important to his club as Hojbjerg is to Bayern.
The Munich giants have also been linked with Leon Goretzka, with assistant coach Hermann Gerland asserting (via RevierSport, h/t FourFourTwo) that the 19-year-old Schalke man "must" play for Bayern.
Bayern have produced some superstars on their own in recent years, with Thomas Mueller, Holger Badstuber, Alaba and Kroos' (despite the latter two having had some help on loan) development having been widely attributed to the Munich giants. But on the opposite side of the coin, they also have let many talents stagnate on the bench or in the reserves. Can, Weiser, Jan Kirchhoff, Nils Petersen and even stars like Mario Goetze and Xherdan Shaqiri are prime examples.
Can gave a very candid interview with Bild (h/t Goal.com Germany) last May in which he flatly stated that he could not accept another season playing in the fourth division. He admitted it was hard to find the motivation and drive to succeed while playing at an amateur level. But that's the reality that many young players at Bayern face: an insurmountable wall of established stars ahead of them and a low level at which to attempt to prove themselves.
Bayern could opt to loan more of their young players, but signing someone like Kurt on the cheap and sending him to another Bundesliga club for his development comes off as cheap and enforces the growing sentiment that Bayern own the league outright: Opponents are capable of doing nothing on their own, only as much as the hegemonic club will allow.
Stop Talking About the Contracts of Players at Other Clubs
On July 29, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge commented to Bild (h/t Goal.com) on the situation of Marco Reus' contract at Dortmund:
I think that it is hard for Borussia Dortmund. Europe’s top clubs will be very interested to find out Reus' buyout clause [after he rejected a new contract] as the player is in high demand from a lot of big clubs other than FC Bayern Munich.
On August 3, Rummenigge spoke again with Bild (h/t Goal.com), stating that Bayern have not decided whether or not to pursue the 25-year-old next summer.
And on August 6, Rummenigge spoke yet again with Bild (h/t International Business Times) in which he mentioned that Reus has a buy-out clause of €25 million (significantly lower than the widespread previously reported value of €35 million).
Dortmund finally responded on August 6, issuing a statement on their official website in which CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke laments Rummenigge repeatedly discussing the details of players not contracted to his club and further damaging the already strained relationship between BVB and Bayern that has come following Bayern's signing of Robert Lewandowski and Mario Goetze from Dortmund.
Bundesliga clubs almost never discuss contracts and financial details publicly; transfer fees, buy-out clauses and wages are internal matters that are only ever discussed behind closed doors. One Rummenigge mention of Reus was perhaps ignorable. But three in eight days shows a lack of class and complete disrespect for a rival club.
The Bayern CEO has been in the professional football business for 40 years; by now he should know better than to make such comments. He's certainly done his club a disservice in the public eye.