Watch out United! Bayern are in epic form
Before the game, Berlin was hit by hail storms. Temperatures have gone down again, too. Spring, it felt, was still a faraway place.
The fans outside the Olympiastadion sported their between-season jackets; you could barely see the jerseys popping up underneath the collar. But on this chilly day, Bayern Munich were out to break another Bundesliga record - to win the fastest-ever Bundesliga title. Though mid-table Hertha Berlin made them sweat in the second half, Bayern's 3-1 win took the Bavarians over the finish line.
It has been nothing less than an epic ride for Bayern, who have now gone undefeated in 52 Bundesliga games, collecting 19 consecutive Bundesliga wins, including Tuesday's latest victory.
Martin has seen most of those wins. He is a member of Bayern's biggest fan association, the Club Nr. 12. He left Munich early on Tuesday and was to return to the Bavarian capital some 22 hours later. "I might have a drink or two on the coach back," he told me prior to kickoff. "But never before a match. I want to enjoy the football."
The football Bayern have played over the past two seasons has been nothing short of brilliant. Just when everyone thought that Bayern would not be able to top their treble-winning season of 2012-13, this current team, coached by Catalan genius Pep Guardiola, has managed to advance itself even further.
"No one has ever got that close in this country to turn football into art than Bayern under Pep Guardiola, and following all the build-up work by Jupp Heynckes," Michael Horeni, the author of an outstanding book about the Boateng brothers, raved in a piece about Bayern in Tuesday's edition of the German broadsheet FAZ.
The story was titled "Look at this game!" and urged readers to "be inspired by the excellence of the champion Bayern" because "every blossom is fading." Bayern Munich fans are well aware of what their club has achieved of late, not just how they ended Borussia Dortmund's shortlived domination of the Bundesliga, but have also given German football a new dimension.
Getting there might have looked easier than it actually was. From April 2013 on, the dark shadow of Uli Hoeness' tax trial was looming over the Bavarians but on the pitch, Bayern maintained their ruthlessness.
"I never thought that I'd be that satisfied after the Chelsea game. We basically killed our demons that day," Martin told me, standing outside the Olympiastadion with the ever-growing group of Bayern Munich fans as we waited to enter.
In August 2013, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, who had beaten Bayern at the Allianz Arena in the 2012 Champions League final, had Bayern and their then-new coach Pep Guardiola on the edge of defeat. It was up to the Spanish international Javi Martinez, playing as an attacker in the final minutes of the Supercup final in Prague, to score the last-gasp equalizer. Bayern then won on penalties.
This Tuesday, Martinez couldn't even make the squad. Just like his injured teammate Holger Badstuber, Martinez boarded a Tuesday afternoon flight from Munich to Berlin for potential celebrations. So had Martin, the Club Nr. 12 and some 15,000 Bayern fans from all over Germany, where they even filled an extra stand above the marathon gate at Germany's oldest Bundesliga stadium.
Guardiola fielded seven Germans, two Brazilians, a Dutchman and an Austrian against Hertha. All of them bar David Alaba are set to play a major role at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in the summer. In particular, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be in the spotlight this summer as both players take what promises to be their final shot at the biggest crown in world football.
Returning to form after two ankle surgeries at the age of 29, Schweinsteiger has now lifted the famous Meisterschale seven times, the youngest ever player to do so.
Only six minutes into the tie, Toni Kroos scored the opening goal of the night, turning in Thomas Mueller's cross from close range. For the first time, Bayern's traveling supporters were able to add their voices to the resounding "Ole, Hertha BSC" chants coming from the opposite end.
Some 10 minutes later, the lead was doubled. Rafinha found Schweinsteiger, who crossed for Mario Goetze to head home. With less than 15 minutes played, Bayern had bagged the title.
The traveling Bayern fans were in fine form. This banner thanked Pep Guardiola and Uli Hoeness for their roles in shaping the champions.
Like so many other Bundesliga teams this season, Hertha did not stand a chance against the Bundesliga champions. Bayern controlled the game and could have even added one more before halftime, but it would take until the 79th minute for victory to be assured.
Mueller and Arjen Robben left the pitch early on in the second half, replaced with Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery. Soon Schweinsteiger would take his spot on the Bayern bench, replaced with Thiago Alcantara.
The Bayern fans now warmed up, displaying their flags, their scarfs. They were not shocked when the future Borussia Dortmund attacker Adrian Ramos pulled one back with a penalty after Rafinha's foul. For more than 10 minutes, Hertha were able to hang on to the narrowest of margins, then Goetze stepped up, slalomed past the Hertha defense and picked out Franck Ribery, who finished with a lovely chip.
From there, the minutes ticked away.
Mueller was the first to celebrate, running onto the pitch and falling to the turf. In the stands, cameras clicked and amid it all, Guardiola kept quiet. He didn't make it out of the coaching zone, waiting, then embracing his players. Only Ribery and goalkeepers Tom Starke and Manuel Neuer got near.
Then, Bayern wore their champions shirts with the No. 24 (for the 24th German championship) front and centre. They ran into the Bayern section to celebrate and throw shirts into the crowd.
When they had done their rounds and retreated to the dressing room, some players remained on the pitch. One of them was Kroos, who sat talking on a railing above the stairs. "Toni! Extend your contract," those witnessing the scene shouted. "Stay at Bayern, Toni!"
In the mixed zone, Jerome Boateng smiled and washed away all fears that Bayern will lose focus on their upcoming tasks. "The pressure in the league might have gone. But we still have a job to do in Champions League, we are still in the German cup," Boateng said. "We are delighted about this title, just like we were about the last one."
"I don't know how long Pep Guardiola and [Bayern sport director] Matthias Sammer will allow us to celebrate today. But I believe we'll be allowed to go out," Boateng added. "As a Berlin-born man, I am one of tonight's [party] organisers."
During the news conference, Guardiola was a happy man. "I am thankful to be the coach of such an outstanding group of players," he said. "I am very proud of my players."
"We had many, many injured players at the start of the season. We have shown character. We have won many games. This title is for Uli Hoeness. He is the most important person at this club," the Catalan coach said in remembrance of the former Bayern president, who had to step down following his tax evasion trial in March.
"It will not last forever," Martin said before the game. "I regard it as a phase, and there will be different times again. He may well be right, but those able to witness this era will always remember Guardiola's team as one of the greatest of all time.
On Tuesday, Bayern won their first trophy of the spring. This season, they have two more still to