Commentary

Turn off the lights, turn off the beer taps: Bayern Munich's 'in crisis'

If you believe the German media after this past weekend's games, the soccer club Bayern Munich is "in crisis." What's happened? Did Russian military forces bomb their stadium? Did the entire staff come down with a new and critical variant of the coronavirus? Were energy bills so high that they had to turn out the lights and withdraw from the Bundesliga?

None of those things. They lost a game of soccer by a single goal to zero, their first defeat of the season.

It's all relative, of course. Bayern has won the last 10 Bundesliga titles, and this season has already beaten Inter Milan and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. But on Saturday Bayern lost 1-0 to perennial underdogs Augsburg, following three successive ties in domestic play. Three points from four games. Shocked looks — Bayern is not already 10 points clear at the top by mid-September. So, it must be a crisis.

German fans have been delighting in a photo of Coach Julian Nagelsmann with Bayern's director of sports Hasan Salihamidzic and club chairman Oliver Kahn at the opening of the Munich Oktoberfest on Sunday. Nagelsmann had declared after Saturday's defeat that he wasn't in the mood for the annual photo opportunity, and was likely going to skip the obligatory shot of him in local costume brandishing a liter of beer. Sadly for him, the club's contract with its sponsors dictated otherwise, and he had to show up. Only the spouses manage to look like they're having a good time.

Nagelsmann, Kahn and Salihamidzic look like someone's pulled down their lederhosen and stuck a weisswurst where the sun don't shine. Cheer up, lads, no one likes a buzz-killing sore loser!

Fans too are having trouble ranking the importance of soccer. Just as Bayern's officials were starting to weep into their seasonal beers, Borussia Mönchengladbach's game with RB Leipzig was brought to a halt by referee Patrick Ittrich when home fans unfurled an offensive banner aimed at Leipzig's coach Marco Rose (ex-Gladbach) and its imminent new sports director Max Eberl — who resigned from Gladbach earlier this year claiming the stress of soccer was affecting his health. For many Mönchengladbach fans, Eberl's comeback has been a little too swift for their liking, and on top of that to a club they hold in contempt for having piggy-backed its way into the league in 2009 by a USA-style franchise buyout of fifth-tier Markränstadt.

As Mönchengladbach was leading 2-0 when Ittrich took the players off the field, the fans promptly took their banner down, fearing that the game would be abandoned and have to be replayed. Ultimately, the three points were more important than the fans' point that Rose and Eberl have supposedly sold their souls. Gladbach's midfielder Christoph Kramer criticized the incendiary banner after the game: "I can't be a part of this hatred," he told a TV interviewer. "Marco Rose is a wonderful human being and coach too, and I'm really fond of him. As a soccer romantic, I'm not the hugest fan of RB Leipzig — but hatred has no place in the stadium, and not in the world beyond either."

And yet hatred is all too big a part of the game, reflecting the world beyond. In the past fortnight, fans of FC Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt have been involved in serious violent incidents on away trips to Nice and Marseille. Last weekend, Werder Bremen fans looked ready to lynch Augsburg's goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz after he saved a 94th minute penalty to preserve a 1-0 win. Gikiewicz had been seen digging at the penalty spot with his heels before the kick, then made a provocative gesture at the home fans after the save, pointing at them and making the 'be quiet' gesture with a finger to his lips. He claimed the fans had been insulting him throughout the second half. He forgot that, as far as fans are concerned, insults are a one-way street.

So much useless anger, vented at sporting events of no fundamental importance. So much superficial emotion, so many apparent crises, so much primitive, macho behavior in defense of an imagined territory or sense of 'honor.' And just now and then some words of sanity, like Kramer's. Or, U.S. striker Terrence Boyd of second division Kaiserslautern, who gets the last word in this week's column. Boyd was asked by the magazine 11 Freunde this summer why he always seemed so relaxed about the game:

"When you put soccer in perspective," the player pointed out, "it suddenly appears small and insignificant. In her first two years my eldest daughter had febrile seizures, 10 times. The first time it happened, I thought she was going to die in my arms. What's that compared with a lost game of soccer?"

(Ian Plenderleith’s new book "Reffing Hell: Stuck in the Middle of a Game Gone Wrong" is available on Amazon Kindle in the USA, or as a good old-fashioned print book directly from its UK publisher, Halcyon.)

8 comments about "Turn off the lights, turn off the beer taps: Bayern Munich's 'in crisis'".
  1. Kent James, September 20, 2022 at 7:51 p.m.

    Passion is a double-edged sword. It elevates the highs and exacerbates the lows.  I just watched Sunderland Until I Die on Netflix (a must watch for soccer fans; a serious Ted Lasso that's actually real), and those fans are PASSIONATE.  Scarily so.  When how your team does determines your health or outlook on life, I think it might be time to dial it back a bit. It's good to be passionate, but we all need to keep things in perspective, and passion that generates hatred does more harm than good.

  2. frank schoon, September 21, 2022 at 11:55 a.m.

    Ian, took this example about soccer, but this can be placed with any human endeavor. Try driving in rush hour and notice what hatefull emotions pop in one's own imagination or of another. Some woman gives you a finger and maybe cuts into your lane just for spite in front of you and ofcourse, you, Ian, the most centered person of us all, will in the moment say " poor woman, I hope she is going to be ok and fine, and wish you have a wonderful day". 

    Just like a coach who sees his player receive an unnecessary foul, his first reaction is being very upset and right fully so at the perpetrator ,but the other coach keeps his mouth shut and tries to hide and doesn't  show the like emotion like the other coach towards his player, which he likewise should show but doesn't...Interesting! I guess ,Ian would show the same emotion as the other coach if one of his players attempted a serious infraction

     In sum , deal with it because we're dealing with imperfect, fallible humans beings and sorry maybe humanity in another couple of hundred will improve their soul growth, just like humanity has over the past  thousand yearsago ,let us say....

  3. Ian Plenderleith, September 22, 2022 at 6:29 a.m.

    Frank, we're talking about two different things here. It's not just about reacting angrily to a single incident (though that's an area I've written about extensively here and on my refereeing blog - where do you draw the line? What is just a spontaneous show of 'emotion', and what is a concerted attempt to intimidate the referee? You can't excuse everything with the password 'emotions'), but about the missing sense of perspective when it comes to sports in general, and the inflated sense of importance we're attributing to mere games and results with no importance beyond a statistical record and a transitory moment of joy/disappointment. Bayern's lapse in form is not a 'crisis', just as conceding a last-minute goal is not a 'tragedy', despite the hyperbolic language the self-interested media is guilty of using all the time (more drama = higher viewing figures). The next step beyond this irresponsible elevation of sport's importance is violence - both verbal (on social media, and in public) and physical (see the increase in incidents as cited above, and as reported today in The Guardian about the increase in violence at soccer games in England and Wales this season). It makes no sense to stand by and dismiss this as human nature, while letting it ruin sport from within and excluding people from sports and stadiums because they no longer feel safe there. For me, part of the solution is to re-set and remember why we play and watch games in the first place. For enjoyment, right?

  4. Ian Plenderleith replied, September 22, 2022 at 6:33 a.m.

    [correction: the reported increase in violent incidents at soccer games in England and Wales is from last season, 2021-22: an increase of 60% in "incidents of disorder" compared with the last full season pre-Covid, with such incidents at 53% of games.] 

  5. frank schoon replied, September 22, 2022 at 8:03 a.m.

    Ian, you're preaching to the choir here....But you got to wake up and smell the coffee. Look at all the lawlessness occurring in the world.  You can't even walk on the street in NYC without getting punched in face,or stabbed or shot, or raped in the subway station, and if you get arrested  you're back out on the street in a couple of hours because you dont have to pay bail...

    Look at all the liberal ,democratic cities in the US, Portland, LA, San Francisco, etc...  we have no southern border( I wonder who we came blame that on) illegals,drugs, terrorists crossing our border... In Sweden they warn young teenage girls not to go a concert for you might raped....Do I need to go on what a cesspool our society has become and SOCCER is mere reflection of our society...More violence at soccer, really??? are you serious....or rather are you SURPRISED...I'M NOT!!!

    Violence has always been a part of soccer in Europe ,especially England, which  started in the late 60's. Then the dutch, and other 'Euros' copied the English 'hooligans', but not that extreme. An English roommate ,a Notts County fan, told they would hire a moving van packed with a  bunch of guys and cruise around the town during game day, to beat up visiting fans....and this in the early 70's...I was flabbergasted that this went on.... We have weak leaders, appeasers who don't do anything.....Have you read anywhere the hooligans are getting jail time, 'bout a couple years for their actions...because the European society like the Dutch don't have the balls to mete out punishment but instead have let this rot go on for the past 50years...

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, September 22, 2022 at 1:01 p.m.

    Frank, I am deliberately leaving this apolitical. We actually life in a relatively safe environment and in relatively safe times. People's fears are created by the press and social media. Times were not safer in past generations. The press spun things different. Reports of crime upset local merchants so local press buried crime stories. If someone was mugged at gun point downtown or at the local mall, it never made the news. 

    My take away from studying history is that human nature has not changed. Technology changes but human nature doesn't.

      

  7. frank schoon replied, September 22, 2022 at 1:49 p.m.

    Bob, statistics don't lie.   NYC was a cesspool before Giuliani took over...Granted we both lived in the DC area, safe from a lot of rot, but I remember how bad it was in NY at that time. And if you think people feel much safer now in NY than when Giuliani was mayor, ok, that's fine, I'm not going to convince you otherwise. I don't do social media, no facebook, no twitter, none of that crap and maybe use my cellphone only my doctor calls to remind of an appt...But I do scan the network, dutch and German, American to see what's going on and if you think it's hunky dory out there, ok, no problem....well I dont see that  it way even though we both live in a pretty safe communities but my community is not necessarily a reflection of others

    And as far human nature goes, you might have a point, that I sort of try to state to Ian. But I do believe human nature was less kept in check then as compared today due to human evolution of growth. The problems is that not humans all evolve on the same level, societal , technological, and spiritual and therefore we can have negative dips in the evolvement of humanity....

  8. R2 Dad, September 22, 2022 at 6:25 p.m.

    Contrarian point of view: This Bayern drama is all manufactured. BM knows they can't just keep steamrolling the league for the 11th year in a row--now it starts to make the league look weak, not just the other teams look bad. But they can' t give up the CL hunt. So go all out for CL play, then hobble the squad during Bundesliga play just so some other team (preferably not Dortmund) wins the league for 2022-23. Let's revisit at the winter break, after WC. Typical BM would line up a top player from a BL competitor, with the transfer not going through until the summer. That way they hobble their opponents for the second half of the season (don't want to risk getting them injured and spoil the big money transfer), and once again they stock up their squad with the best German players money can buy. Trouble is, there just aren't that many good German players left that they don't already have.

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