Bah, Homburg: Bayern Munich’s Miserable 1991-92

Posted: March 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

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Germany positively pulsed with feelgood factor at the dawn of the 1990s, the glow of reunification only brightening when the imperious West German Mannschaft enjoyed a mighty last hurrah at Italia ’90. Having wrapped up the 80s with back-to-back Bundesliga titles, FC Bayern were characteristically confident of dominating the 20th Century’s final decade.

Yet the times there were a-changin’. 1990-91 gave the Bavarians a ruder awakening than ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude’s devastating finishing move of the same name. They were humiliatingly dumped out of the DFB Pokal by fourth-tier part-timers Weinheim; Red Star Belgrade upset them in the semi-finals of the European Cup in a memorable tie, thanks to a bizarre last minute own goal from captain Klaus Augenthaler; and they were pipped to the Bundesliga by unfancied Kaiserslautern, whose no-frills industry and team ethic was the antithesis of Bayern’s grandiose but increasingly individualistic set of ‘names’.

More change was afoot the following season, the first since reunification to welcome back teams from the old East German Oberliga, meaning the top flight expanded to 20 teams for the first time. Nevertheless, Bayern were widely expected to recapture their crown, having again spent big in the transfer market. This, however, was not to be the dawn of another period of dominance, but rather the age of ‘FC Hollywood’ – an epithet bestowed on the nation’s biggest club not in admiration, but scorn. 1991-92 would mark its nadir.

Upheaval at the Olympiastadion

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The previous season’s lack of silverware led to something of an exodus from the Olympiastadion. Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter upped sticks for the glitz of Serie A with Juventus, while Augenthaler retired. The departure of these senior names meant the increasingly corrosive influence of some of the younger, brasher stars went unchecked – chief among them Stefan Effenberg, who was already gaining a reputation for disrespectful, arrogant behaviour and had almost come to blows with Head Coach Jupp Heynckes on several occasions.

Compounding these problems was a debilitating injury crisis. The exciting, impudent talents of Brian Laudrup were removed from the equation when he damaged cruciate ligaments. Dependable stars like Olof Thon and Thomas Strunz missed large swathes of the season. A goalkeeping shortage even forced world cup legend/bogeyman Harald Schumacher out of retirement – Patrick Battison’s unsolicited dentist, 37 by this point, would play eight times for Die Roten over the course of the season, with third and fourth choice rookies Gerald Hillringhaus and Uwe Gospodarek otherwise forced, unconvincingly, into the fray.

The napalm lipstick of this spectacularly poor attempted makeover was the disastrous recruitment of General Manager Uli Hoeness. Determined to sex the side up by signing the first Brazilians in Bayern’s history, he led a delegation on a shopping excursion to Sao Paulo, returning with striker Mazinho (not to be confused with the USA ’94 winner of the same name) and defender Bernardo. Yet the latter proved such a disaster that he was back in Brazil within five months, while Kicker compared Mazinho to “a rubber doll that collapses every moment”. Domestic signings fared little better. Centre forward Bruno Labbadia was poached from champions Kaiserslautern but flopped in Munich, while defender Oliver Kreuzer made a similarly disappointing start. Worst of all, perhaps, was world cup winner Thomas Berthold (whose flamboyant log roll in Turin birthed Gazzamania), brought home from Roma, sans any appetite for football. Flitting between the treatment table and his own leisure pursuits, Berthold was dismissed by club treasurer Kurt Scherer as “the best-paid amateur golfer in Germany”.

Auf Wiedersehen, Jupp

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It’s perhaps small wonder then, that Bayern made such a shocking start to the campaign. In their first home game, they were turned over by Hansa Rostock, one of the Oberliga newcomers. A week later, their Pokal quest ended in embarrassment for the second successive year when they were toppled 2-4 at home in extra time by nondescript, second-tier Homburg. An easy UEFA Cup draw against League of Ireland side Cork City also proved unexpectedly fraught when midfielder Dave Barry – dismissed by Effenberg as looking “old enough to be my father” – opened the scoring for the underdogs. After a tense 1-1 first leg draw, it took Bayern 71 minutes to break the deadlock at the Olympiastadion and finally slay the pugnacious Irishmen.

In the Bundesliga meanwhile, Heynckes’ side continued to slide towards ignominy, losing to VFL Bochum and HSV. Heynckes’ name was increasingly cursed in the stands and the boardroom, though Hoeness remained loyal for as long as he could. When newly promoted Stuttgart Kickers provided a 4-1 shoeing at the Olympiastadion however, Heynckes himself suggested to Hoeness that a change might be necessary and the General Manager tearfully agreed. Heynckes was gone. Though not yet the gravitas-laden elder statesman of later Bayern triumphs, he had always, at least, been a safe pair of hands. The disarray into which the club would fall in his absence was telling.

Hoeness’ choice of appointment was a strange one. Søren Lerby had been a talismanic player for Die Roten, a stylish, cunning playmaker, who proved a difference maker in a golden run during the mid-to-late eighties. Yet as a manager the Dane had precious little experience – he didn’t even possess a coaching licence, meaning that, as per German FA regulations, youth coach Hermann Gerland had to sit on the bench with him as a qualified coach for every competitive game.

Almost from the start of his appointment, things got considerably worse for Bayern. They were hammered by Dortmund 0-3 at home. VFB Stuttgart (who’d go on to be crowned champions) put three past them, Werder Bremen scored four, while doomed Rostock did the double over them. Most embarrassing of all, their European Cup tilt was halted in the second round in emphatic fashion by Danish minnows BK93, who crushed them 6-2 in Copenhagen (6-3 on aggregate).

Return of Der Kaiser

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Now the first murmurs about Hoeness’ position were heard. Once again looking to illustrious former players for salvation, Franz Beckenbauer and Karlheinz Rummenigge were brought into the inner circle of the club’s hierarchy as Vice-Presidents, in an (initially awkward) power share with a reluctant Hoeness. It seemed like a case of Too Many Kaisers, especially when one of Beckenbauer’s first moves was to publicly bury the squad’s younger players with a stinging tirade, but ultimately their arrival helped to stabilise the patient. With Bayern just two points off the relegation places at Christmas, a sensible signing was finally made in the form of Dutch hardman Jan Wouters, and if results did improve slightly, it soon became clear that the next order of business would be removing the hapless Lerby. A 4-0 thrashing by Kaiserslautern in March proved the Dane’s Waterloo.

His successor was another left field selection. Erich Ribbeck had a wealth of coaching experience that had taken him everywhere from Rot-Weiss Essen to the 1978 World Cup, and he’d delivered the UEFA Cup for Leverkusen in 1988. Yet his managerial career seemed very much behind him – he’d taken a desk job in the sports sponsorship department of car manufacturing giants Opel. As recounted in Uli Hesse’s superb Bayern: Creating a Global Superclub, Ribbeck was attending an international table tennis match between Germany and Sweden when the PA system announced there was an urgent phone call for him:

‘As he rose to take the call, a spectator joked that it was Hoeness, calling to ask him to save Bayern from relegation. The man was almost right. When Ribbeck picked up the phone he heard the voice of his friend Franz Beckenbauer, who told him that Lerby had been sacked and that Bayern needed help. A few hours later, Ribbeck was sitting on a plane to Munich.’

Ribbeck never entirely convinced as Bayern manager, but he did pull them out of the mire; five wins from their last 10 games was enough to see them finish a safe but shameful tenth.

Aftermath

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That Bayern had the swollen-plum chutzpah to record a club anthem later that same year titled ‘Forever No 1’ (peaking at a generous 43 in the German charts, so it wasn’t exactly troubling the Hoff) might suggest they learned nothing from their snakebitten 1991-92. However, the reality was it didn’t take them too long to pick up the pieces. Effenberg, Laudrup and some of the other noisier malcontents were moved on; a number of the league’s finest young talents were snapped up – Scholl, Schupp, Helmer – and more emotional returns bolstered the club’s own comeback, with Lothar Matthaus brought back from Inter and Beckenbauer returning to the technical area for the first time since winning the World Cup. It would be Der Kaiser who masterminded ‘FC Hollywood’’s first Bundesliga title for five years in 1993-94.

There would be no 1990s dynasty however. They had missed their turn at the trough. The 1992-93 season would be the first of a bumper German TV deal for Bundesliga clubs in European competition. While Bayern missed out altogether, Dortmund, who went all the way to the UEFA Cup Final, trousered a cool £25 million marks.

Far from Forever No 1, FC Hollywood would have to share their spotlight for the rest of the decade.

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