Bayern Munich claimed their 28th Bundesliga title win this season to continue a remarkable run of consistency as Germany football’s premium superpower.
It marked the Bavarians’ sixth successive retention of the domestic crown, and significantly, with a whopping total of 21 points between them and Schalke in second place, one of their most emphatic league triumphs to date.
In European terms, however, Bayern have once again struggled to translate their status as Germany’s indomitable force into a correlative reign of supremacy in the Champions League. Jupp Heynckes has failed to lead his side back to European glory this term, with the club having not won the competition since the end of the 73-year-old German’s previous spell in charge of Bayern in 2013.
On that occasion, Arjen Robben scored the winner as Bayern overcame domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund in a 2-1 victory in the final at Wembley to secure the Bavarians’ fifth triumph in Europe’s elite competition.
Five years on, Bayern have largely struggled to renew their push to the summit of the continent’s finest and could be accused of relying too heavily on old tricks, and old faces, to restore European glory in Munich.
Heynckes’ side beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals that season to reach the showpiece event at Wembley. This term, Bayern fell to a 4-3 defeat on aggregate to Real Madrid at the semi-final stage.
It was a tie which was dominated in possession and chances by the Bundesliga side, but it was Madrid who had the killer instinct to punish the generally better team over the two legs.
Arjen Robben was injured during the first leg at the Allianz Arena, and subsequently missed the second leg in Madrid. Franck Ribery started both legs but cut a frustrated figure at the Bernabeu in particular, as the Frenchman was unable to capitalise on a plethora of chances created through his side’s dominance in the match.
Tellingly, of Bayern’s three goals in the tie, two were scored by Joshua Kimmich at the end of marauding runs forward from his right back position. The likes of Robben, Ribery, and even the fearsome Robert Lewandowski failed to deliver the kind of lethal attacking contributions which they have each been famed for in their illustrious careers.
It was perhaps a signal of the changing of times. Whilst the likes of club icon Philipp Lahm and veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso have stepped aside from Bayern over the last year, replaced in essence by Joshua Kimmich and Corentin Tolisso respectively, with some success, the sight of Arjen Robben on the right and Franck Ribery on the left of Bayern’s attack in that first leg in Munich gave Heynckes’s side a very traditional look.
The legendary wingers were, however, unable to have a telling impact on the match, and on the overall tie, which might typically have been expected of them over the years.
Their unique styles of wing wizardry were once enough to bamboozle the most resolute of defences. On this occasion, however, a Madrid side which in truth does not boast the sternest of rear-guards never really looked especially troubled by the efforts of either of the veteran wide men. Chances were aplenty, but never truly threatened to be converted.
A number of would-be successors have emerged over the years to lessen the burden of attacking responsibility on Robben and Ribery as the years have brought the pair towards the twilight phases of their careers.
Kingsley Coman was recruited on an initial two-year loan spell from Juventus in 2015, before making the move permanent last year. This season, the promising 21-year-old Frenchman has been restricted to just 21 league appearances this season, 11 of those coming as a substitute, managing just three Bundesliga goals in his bit-part squad role.
Brazilian winger Douglas Costa was also brought in three years ago, during the same summer as Coman, from Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported €30m on a five-year deal. With the signings of Coman and Costa, it appeared that Bayern were going about the business of securing two prime candidates to succeed Robben and Ribery.
Costa, however, has since been loaned to Juventus last summer. Like Coman, his impact in Munich was deemed inadequate to displace the two icons of the flanks. Three years on, the old-guard of the Bayern wings remain.
Both Robben and Ribery have each now committed to the club for a further year, signing new contracts upon the climax of the Bundesliga season which will keep the wingers at the Allianz for a further campaign. Robben, now 34, and the 35-year-old Ribery remain as seemingly integral and indispensable heading into next season as ever.
Whilst Bayern’s plans ahead of this summer’s transfer window remain unclear, the prospect of another Coman/Costa-style revamp and attempted rejuvenation is only likely to be in doubt over its potential success from the start.
Whilst it is arguable that the longevity of Robben and Ribery’s consistency as mainstays in Bayern’s team at present may be seen as a hindrance to the progression and redevelopment of this current Bayern side into a more modern and adaptable side by the demands of the game, it is also testament to the talents and greatness of the iconic wing wizards that any adequate succession to their influential presence and crucial status at a club of Bayern’s stature is yet to be realised.