After winning the league, the cup and the Champions League in thrilling style, Bayern are as likeable as they've ever been
After the treble, the deluge. An estimated 10,000 supporters braved the monsoon-like downpour and chilly temperatures to celebrate Bayern's all-conquering season in Munich on Sunday. The star of the Marienplatz balcony show was the departing coach Jupp Heynckes, who came trophy-in-hand, and with a well-rehearsed line on his lips. "Twenty-three years ago, the older ones among you might remember, I made a somewhat cocky promise to deliver the European Cup," said the 68-year-old, in reference to a vow during the championship celebrations at the very same place in 1990. "I would like to make good on that promise: here is the European Cup." Cue wild cheers from the crowd and cries of "Jupp, Jupp, Jupp". Heynckes made that face that he's been putting on for a week now, a half-smile, stuck between immense pride and embarrassment.
In 34 years of coaching, he has not experienced too much by way of adulation. The night before in Berlin, Bayern's sporting director Matthias Sammer put his business talk on pause to fire off a rare revealing thought. "I think it's very important," said the 45-year-old, "that he now – thank God – receives the appreciation that I always felt he was craving."
It was not just his team's unprecedented results and aesthetically-pleasing football that won Heynckes universal praise, a key factor has also been his "humanity", as the Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge clumsily put it at the midnight banquet. Heynckes possesses an incredibly dignified, relaxed manner that few title-winning coaches can muster. Thanks to him, disliking Bayern was that tiny bit more difficult for the rest of Fußballdeutschland this season. And his team, built on the foundations of Louis van Gaal's positional football, stuffed with extraordinary professionalism and individualists at the peak of their powers – despite some dressing room tensions that might have sunk the entire ship – has given the ABB (Anything But Bayern) camp a pretty hard time too.
"Rarely has a side dominated a season this much with so much beautiful football," wrote the sports magazine 11 Freunde. "There was constant movement, everything was in flow. This impression will outlast decades. And even if you can't bear any more eulogies, even if you hate this club from the bottom of the heart, even then you have to secretly bow quickly and say: thank you for this season, FC Bayern."
Heynckes's refusal to reveal his future plans, at Real Madrid or elsewhere, until Tuesday ensures that speculation will continue for a little longer but anything less than total retirement would come as a huge surprise. He is too smart to miss the chance for a perfect end to his career, and perhaps more importantly still, he has promised his wife to call it a day after this season.
Heynckes was one of the few people on the balcony to make any coherent points. The team, praised as "heroes for eternity", by the Germany manager Joachim Löw, looked decidedly the worse for wear after a second night of celebration in eight days. There was a lot of singing, a lot of dancing, some bewildered head-shaking. "We are living a high," Arjen Robben said after the 3-2 win over VfB Stuttgart the night before. "I can't grasp it." Only one word seemed to do justice to a feat that seemed so implausible after the hat-trick of failures in 2012. "Historique," Franck Ribéry called it. "Mia san Geschichte," was Javi Martínez's variation on the theme: "We are history."
But what did it all mean? "We can't evaluate what has happened here, maybe we can do that in 10 years, or maybe never," said Thomas Müller, after greeting reporters in the Olympiastadion mixed-zone with a hearty "Mahlzeit", Bavarian for "bon appetit".
Slow-cooked veal shoulder, asparagus, Freibier (free beer) on tap and a wall of desserts courtesy of Käfer, the age-old purveyor to the Bavarian court, were consumed at Saturday night's party at the headquarters of Bayern's shirt sponsors T-Mobile. On the dance-floor, Werner Olk, the 75-year-old captain of Bayern's first-ever top-flight team, was moving impressively, a forceful reminder that the Reds have not always been a club of insatiability and entitlement. They weren't even the biggest club in Munich, let alone in Germany, when Olk led an unbelievably gifted group of youngsters (Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer) to a debut Bundesliga title in 1969. Bayern's subsequent evolution into the dominant team in Germany – and now, for a happy but possibly brief moment, in Europe – would not have been possible without those pioneers. Their financial power is a product of sporting success, not the other way round, which explains the smugness that outsiders find so insufferable. Bayern are the ultimate self-made arrivistes, keen to stress all the hard work that has taken them to the top.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm have long toiled in the shadows of the former greats, plagued by the impossible pressure to compete with mythical, ancient deeds from football's pre-modern era. Now they have done what Franz Beckenbauer himself couldn't do, as Rummenigge noted, they have built themselves a monument. "Many expect a lot of us, including us," said Schweinsteiger, "but getting there takes a lot of mental energy. That's why we are not just relieved but proud." "This is our reward for everything we have strived for in the last few years," said Lahm.
Uli Hoeness must have felt the same. But just as in London a week before, the club president stayed in the background, unable to let the true extent of his joy show. A tax-evasion scandal has hurt his public standing badly, he might even have to go to jail. Rummenigge said that Bayern would stand by its "architect" like "a bastion" but inside the club many are frightened to contemplate a future without the patriarch.
Luckily, Hoeness will be able to steer the transition from Heynckes to Pep Guardiola, who could not have come into the job at a better time. It's true the Guardiola will find it hard to better his predecessors's title haul next season, but Bayern see it differently: who else but the (allegedly) best coach in the job could improve this side? The scale of the success has made a break of similar magnitude a necessity, even if Guardiola is not expected to make too many changes to personnel and tactics come his arrival at the end of June.
These are questions for another day, however. "Have a nice holiday, folks," Ribéry signed off from the balcony, his voice shattered. Maybe Bayern and their fans, for whom winning is only ever a prelude to more winning and thus never quite enough, will even allow themselves a self-satisfied moment of introspection this summer, the serene realisation that it won't get better than this. But to be honest: that's unlikely.