From the outside, Bavarian giants Bayern Munich are often put down, particularly in England, for being the best, but only in a league less competitive than the Premier League.
Clearly, the Bundesliga is not at the same level as England's top flight, mainly thanks to the TV rights and prize money on offer far outweighing anything else in the world, but Bayern are a club that deserve much more recognition and admiration than they receive.
Founded in 1900, they have won 28 German league titles and a further five Champions League or European Cup titles according to their official website – more than every English team apart from Liverpool, and more than any team in the world apart from Real Madrid (13), AC Milan (seven) and Barcelona (also five).
When they won the league this year, thousands lined the streets of Marienplatz, a plaza in Munich’s old town where the team always celebrate their trophy wins, which come with regularity.
There are no visible signs of being tired of such sustained triumph; in fact, anything less than a league title would likely cause significant consternation such are the high standards at the club in every regard.
The club sits in a fairly central spot in Munich and as with every club in Germany, there is a pride in what they have achieved, and a sense that everyone is involved. Supporters are seen as supporters, not customers, and there is a clear link between players and fans.
Part of that is that Bayern only have around half the number of foreign players compared to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United, with a heavy German core that are more relatable to local fans; it is also just the way that the club operates. Like many clubs in Germany, this is just the way it is.
Their training ground, Säbener Straße, sits in a leafy suburb of Munich and is world-famous, among the best facilities of its kind in world sport.
It covers 80,000 square metres, and on the same site sits Bayern’s performance centre, a state-of-the-art complex fitness centre with medical facilities and learning spaces, fan services and head offices, and the youth academy that has produced the likes of David Alaba, Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Manchester City are one of a number of teams in England to house everything on one site at their Etihad Campus which also includes the Etihad Stadium and the women’s team, but few if any do continuity to the standard that Bayern do.
Other teams such as Liverpool do not have their academy and first team setups on the same site at the moment, but will do in the next few years as they develop a new training facility, a move pushed heavily by Jürgen Klopp to improve the connectivity between the age groups. Bayern, though, have been doing that for years, well ahead of the curve.
They also host open training sessions to involve fans. These are free to attend, allow access to the players and offer an insight into what the stars do on a daily basis. There is no registration process and a small cafe sells drinks to visitors, showing, if anything, that watching training is encouraged.
There are, of course, moments when training must be more hidden so as not to disclose tactical secrets ahead of matches, but in England there is no such opportunity for fans to engage whatsoever.
Operate within their means
Bayern are one of the clubs that sit at the very elite of the elite, but do not have the financial strength of Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Signing a player for almost £200 million, as the French side did with Neymar, for example, would be impossible, and they were forced to let Toni Kroos go when Madrid came calling in 2014, but in terms of fan engagement, they beat every competitor.
They often get a bad reputation in England for taking the top players off their rivals and making the Bundesliga weaker, but that is not their fault – they are superior and that is the only logical step for them to take. It is up to the league to change, not the way they operate.
Too often Bayern are disregarded as being one of the very top clubs because they usually easily win their league, but that should be irrelevant – it is not their problem. Bayern are a club with class, and a deep bond with supporters. Their 75,000-seater world-class stadium, the Allianz Arena, is filled every week.
"Football has got to be for everybody,” says Uli Hoeneß, the Bayern president. Season tickets are as cheap as £109 – less than the price of two adult single-game tickets in the Premier League at many clubs. The cheapest season ticket in all of England's top four professional leagues is £150.
Bayern’s playing style has always been attractive and was taken to another level when Pep Guardiola went there for a three-year spell, perhaps easier implemented at a club with the best players, but also a key part of why they are the best.
As Guardiola would vehemently argue, playing football the ‘right way’ is as much a determinant in improving a team as anything else – he does not just play a specific way because it is entertaining, but because it offers the best chance of success.
According to the Deloitte football money league, Bayern had the fourth-highest revenue of any football club in the world for 2017-18 at €588 million, behind only Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
That figure is made all the more impressive when broken down. Broadcasting accounts for only around a fifth of that value, compared to almost a third for all the teams above them.
Much of their revenue comes from other streams: approximately 55% comes from sponsors, with the rest in merchandise and advertising. They posted a profit of €11 million after taxes in 2011-12; the economic model is possibly the most complete and thought-out of any team in the world.
“We have always had one philosophy, and that’s not to spend more than we generate,” says Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. They will not deviate from that philosophy and are the perfect example of a sustainable and responsible club.
Bayern’s players are renowned not just for their footballing ability but their rounded, humble traits. Topics such as politics are not out of bounds for players to discuss, as is the case in England, while two Bayern players – Mats Hummels and Serge Gnabry – have signed up to the ‘Common Goal’ initiative instigated by Juan Mata.
Kasper Schmeichel, Duncan Watmore, Charlie Daniels, Bruno Saltor and Alfie Mawson are the only players in the whole of the professional English game to join Mata.
There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ club, but Bayern are perhaps the closest thing to that. Rather than sneer at them for winning the Bundesliga with ease, English clubs would do well to look across at their German counterparts and aim to replicate their on and off-field success.
Whether it be economically, in terms of fan engagement or in the way their academy is run, Bayern provide a template to attempt to reproduce. Any sort of success in doing so would undoubtedly lead to the one thing Bayern are most known for: winning trophies.