x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bayern Munich's rise could well be the end of the Barcelona era

The wonder manager Pep Guardiola's move to Munich coincides with German clubs upstaging those from Spain.

From the next season, Pep Guardiola, below, will join Bayern Munich, above, who have gelled well as a unit and are growing stronger. Getty Images; AFP
From the next season, Pep Guardiola, below, will join Bayern Munich, above, who have gelled well as a unit and are growing stronger. Getty Images; AFP

More than most teams, Barcelona know what it is like to close the door on an era of greatness.

In November 1960, they drew 2-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu and won 2-1 at the Camp Nou to end Real Madrid's quest for a sixth consecutive European Cup.

Just six months earlier, Real had been celebrated for a masterclass at Hampden Park, when Eintracht Frankfurt were brushed aside 7-3 in the final.

Alfredo Di Stefano scored a hat-trick that night, while Ferenc Puskas - Hungary's Galloping Major, who had decamped to Spain after the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in 1956 - notched four.

Football had never seen anything like it.

Madrid would win a sixth title against Partizan Belgrade in 1966, but by then the glory years were long gone.

Paco Gento remained from that legendary Hampden side, but Di Stefano had left for Espanol two years earlier.

Puskas scored the last of his European goals in an earlier round against Feyenoord, and would play no part in the final.

Nearly three decades later, it was Barcelona's turn to experience the pain that lies at the end of the road.

At Wembley in 1992, they had won the European Cup - the last time it would be known by that name - for the first time, with a free-kick from Ronald Koeman.

Two years later, Johan Cruyff's Dream Team went to Athens as prohibitive favourites against AC Milan. They were thumped 4-0.

The fault lines that had been exposed by CSKA Moscow a season earlier - the Russians won 3-2 at Camp Nou to steal the tie 4-3 on aggregate - became chasms as Fabio Capello's side ran riot.

By the following season, the dream had become a nightmare, with group-stage defeats against Galatasaray and IFK Gothenburg the precursor to a quarter-final exit against Paris St Germain.

Pep Guardiola was an integral part of that Dream Team and there would have been many who would have loved to know what was going through his mind on Tuesday night, when Bayern Munich, the team he will coach next season, thrashed Barcelona - who he led to Uefa Champions League glory in 2009 and 2011 - to prompt talk of a transfer of footballing power from Spain to Germany.

That notion was given even more credence on Wednesday night when a brilliant Borussia Dortmund side humiliated Real 4-1. Real's goal came from a mistake, and Dortmund could easily have scored more during wave after wave of devastatingly quick counters.

Bayern, who are now surely guaranteed a place in the final, have known more heartbreak in the competition's latter stages than most teams.

After Ajax's dominance in the early 1970s, they were the standard-bearers, winning the European Cup thrice in a row from 1974. Since then, there has only been the penalty shoot-out success against Valencia in 2001 to celebrate.

Defeats to Aston Villa (1982), Porto (1987) and Inter Milan (2010) in finals were hard to digest, but nothing compared to the daylight robberies they suffered at English hands in 1999 and 2012.

First Manchester United and then Chelsea walked off with the trophy despite Bayern being manifestly the superior side on both occasions. Apart from Lionel Messi being well short of full fitness, there was little that was fortuitous about Bayern's evisceration of Barcelona.

Though they ceded most of the possession, Bayern ensured that they would not be hurt in the danger areas.

They soaked up pressure, limited Barcelona to a handful of chances and were clinical when opportunities came their way. With Mario Gotze and possibly Robert Lewandowski to join from Dortmund in the summer, Bayern will only get stronger.

But with a possible treble on the cards - the Bundesliga was clinched weeks ago - it is hard to see where exactly Guardiola will improve this team.

Jupp Heynckes, who masterminded Barcelona's destruction, was himself part of one of Europe's great sides.

Borussia Monchengladbach were regular visitors to Europe's top table in the 1970s, with Heynckes a cornerstone of the side that won two Uefa Cups.

They also finished runners-up in the 1977 European Cup final. Liverpool would win the trophy on four more occasions, but they never matched the performance they produced that night in Rome, when Kevin Keegan's pace and trickery tilted the balance.

Though physically very different, there were echoes of Keegan's mastery in the way Marco Reus repeatedly hassled and exposed Real's defence.

Barcelona's tika-taka has been the dominant influence in the world game over the past decade, but shorn of Messi at full throttle, it has its limitations, especially against well-organised sides capable of countering at speed.

The German way, based on lightning-fast transitions, is equally difficult to emulate, however, requiring pace, pose and immaculate control.

An era may or may not have passed.

Barcelona will surely reshape their squad and respond next season, but for the time being, we should enjoy Germany's finest hours since the 1970s, when Beckenbauer, Netzer, Muller and friends won everything in sight with their brand of total football.


twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE