Bayern Munich is in the midst of a historic season, having already captured a Bundesliga title and DFB Pokal, and wearing the label of favorites in the UEFA Champions League as the tournament marches through the quarterfinals.
The current Bayern squad has dominated all comers in 2020, posting an undefeated record that has Hansi Flick’s side looking like one of the best Bayern teams ever. That is lofty praise considering the history of the club and some of the legendary teams that have worn Bayern’s colors.
The treble-winning Bayern side of the 2012-2013 season was a special team, finishing with just one loss through an entire Bundesliga season, but it is hard to argue with the idea that the best Bayern team in the club’s history was the juggernaut of the early to mid 1970s, a team that dominated Europe and formed the foundation for a West German team that ruled the international game as well.
Bayern won three consecutive European Cup titles from 1974 to 1976, becoming the first German team to conquer the continental competition. That run came during a period that also saw the West German national team win the 1972 European Championships and 1974 World Cup before falling in the 1976 European Championship final.
Franz Beckenbauer was the figurehead of those great Bayern teams, but he was just one of a big cast of stars, a cast that included Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier and Paul Breitner. That group helped deliver the club’s first era of dominance, setting the course for a club that current dominates Germany, having won nine consecutive Bundesliga titles.
It might sound impossible to believe, but Bayern wasn’t actually part of the Bundesliga during the league’s first two seasons of existence. Bayern narrowly missed out on inclusion in the Bundesliga when it was formed in 1963, eventually playing its way into the league two years later.
The first real sign that something special might be brewing at Bayern came in 1967, when Bayern earned a spot in the European Cup Winners Cup after winning the DFB Pokal and proceeded to win the tournament.
Beckenbauer, Muller and Maier were youngsters on that team, and made names for themselves as the driving forces behind a Bayern side that won four DFB Pokal titles in five seasons. It wasn’t until 1969, however, that Bayern secured its first Bundesliga title, serving notice that the league had a new power forming.
Bayern’s first true run of dominance began with a stretch of three straight Bundesliga titles, from 1972 to 1974, with Beckenbauer, Muller, Maier and Breitner all hitting their peaks as players. The transition from Gerrman power to Europe power came in 1974, when that quartet led Bayern to its first European Cup before helping lead West Germany to the World Cup title just two months later.
That first European Cup title came perilously close to not happening. Atletico Madrid led Bayern 1-0 in the dying seconds of the 1974 final when German defender Georg Schwarzenbeck delivered a moment of brilliant desperation, unleashing a 30-yard blast to equalize and force a replay of the final. Atletico Madrid stood no chance, as Bayern steamrolled to a 4-0 victory.
Bayern struggled in Bundesliga play the next season, leading to the dismissal of manager Udo Lattek in the middle of the campaign, but eventually regrouped and successfully defended its European Cup title.
Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga came to an end after its 1974 title, with the next Bundesliga title not coming until 1980, but the Bavarians still managed to win a third straight European Cup in 1976, a trophy that served as the closing chapter of an era of dominance no European team had been able to match for 40 years, when Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid won three Champions League titles in a row.
Europe’s top trophy has proven more elusive for Bayern in recent years, with the last Champions League title coming in 2013, and the one prior to that in 2001. The current Bayern squad is the best the club has had since that dominant 2013 team, and is the favorite to deliver the club’s sixth European title.
If Bayern does win the Champions League title this month, and completes its treble, this year’s team will go down as one of the best in club history. Making the top of that list will require a few more years of success though, because the European Cup three-peat squad of the 1970s has set a very high bar. One that may never be topped.