If there is such a thing as an earthquake in a teacup, then Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness caused one this week in German football.
Infuriated by the ongoing debate over whether Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer should make way for his younger counterpart Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Bayern’s famously red-faced patriarch said he would sooner boycott the national team altogether than see Neuer give up the number one jersey.
‘We would never accept a changing of the guard,’ Hoeness was quoted by Sport Bild magazine on Wednesday. ‘Before that happened, we would stop releasing our players for international duty.’
Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness caused a fuss this week in German football
BAYERN PLAYERS IN MOST RECENT GERMANY SQUAD
Manuel Neuer (gk)
Niklas Sule (df)
Joshua Kimmich (mf)
Leon Goretzka (mf)
Serge Gnabry (mf)
Like Bavarian pretzels, Hoeness’ comments are usually best taken with a sprinkling of salt, but this was quite the threat. A Bayern boycott would leave Germany coach Joachim Low without the likes of Neuer, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry.
It would leave the national team gutted in all positions and without even the faintest hope of winning Euro 2020. Now, as ever, Germany without Bayern players is simply unthinkable.
Since as long as anyone can remember, which in football terms is the 1960’s, Germany’s international success has been built around the stars of its biggest club. From Franz Beckenbauer to Neuer, the so-called ‘Bayern Block’ has dominated every German team worth its salt in the last five decades.
The heroes of Germany’s first World Cup winning side in 1954 may have come from Kaiserslautern, Nuremberg and Essen, but since then, German success has been made in Munich.
In the late 1960’s, a golden generation of Bayern players emerged to knock city rivals 1860 off their perch and rampage to a decade of success at both club and international level. A Germany side built around Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Sepp Maier, Gerd Muller and Hoeness himself were crowned European Champions in 1972 before winning the World Cup in their own Olympic Stadium two years later.
Manuel Neuer has been involved in a petty war of words with Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Beckenbauer would later remark that without the goals of stubby little poacher Muller, Bayern would still be a club run out of a little wooden shed. Similarly, Germany’s status as an international behemoth would arguably be unthinkable without that generation of players. Beckenbauer, Muller and co. set the tone for the next five decades in which a strong Bayern block became a prerecquisite for international success.
In 1990, Germany won the World Cup final with five Bayern players in the starting line-up. At Wembley in 1996, there were six of them. Come 2014, Low started the World Cup final with six Bayern players and two former Bayern players, and sent on Bayern player Mario Gotze to score the winner.
By now, there is an unspoken, symbiotic relationship between the national team and the country’s biggest club. Bayern provide the Germany set-up with a well-gelled core of high quality players, and the promise of international selection helps the club to poach the best German talent from clubs around the country.
Low, like many of his predecessors, has always understood on which side his bread is buttered. Having built his World Cup winning side around the likes of Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller, the fortunes of Low’s Germany have always been intertwined with those of Bayern.
Ter Stegen has become frustrated at his lack of game time for the German national team
In 2012, just a few weeks after Bayern’s shock defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final, the same core of players succumbed again to a supposedly weaker opposition in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Italy. In 2018, with many Bayern players struggling for their best form, Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage.
Low’s reliance on a strong Bayern block has also earned him criticism. The disastrous decision not to pick Ter Stegen and Leroy Sane in Russia last year saw the Germany coach accused of over-reliance on an ageing group of Bayern stars. For years, he has also had to rebuff grumblings from Borussia Dortmund that their players are too readily overlooked.
Irritating Dortmund is one thing. Irritating Bayern, with all their arrogance and influence, is quite another. In the post-traumatic rebuilding process after last year’s World Cup, Low’s clumsy handling of certain selection decisions has infuriated the Bayern hierarchy.
The sacking of Bayern trio Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller earlier this year already had Hoeness and co. frothing at the mouth. Aside from accusations of disrespect, there was a sense in Munich that Low had bowed to public pressure at the expense of his relationship with Bayern. Come the debate over Neuer and Ter Stegen, Hoeness the Godfather spied a useful opportunity to remind the Germany coach who his friends are.
Bayern duo Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller have been dropped by Low recently
Hoeness has since rowed back on his comments, and the idea of a boycott should not be taken all too seriously. Germany is nothing if not a nation of lawyers, and many have been quick to point out that Bayern would not be able to withdraw their players from international duty without risking punishment.
The bullish Bayern president is more likely enjoying his last few months in the public eye before he finally steps down later this year. Hoeness was always good for a controversial quote, most of which were uttered with a twinkle in his eye. This, after all, is the man who once rubbished claims that Jurgen Klinsmann was the ‘Barack Obama of German football’ by saying that, if that were the case, ‘then I am Mother Theresa’.
Following his comments this week, Munich newspaper Abendzeitung had a less flattering comparison. Hoeness’ recent comments made him appear more like Donald Trump, the paper wrote, concluding wryly that ‘at least he doesn’t use Twitter’.
As player, general manager and later club president, Hoeness has been arguably the central figure in the successful relationship between Bayern and the national team over the last 40 or 50 years. The threat of a boycott was his way of pointing that out, lest anyone should have forgotten. But rest assured, the earthquake will remain firmly in the teacup.
A boycott would have led to a potential headache for Germany head coach Joachim Low