Jupp Heynckes' Bayern Munich, Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund or Pep Guardiola's Bayern? The best Bundesliga title winners of all time
From Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich via Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund all the way back to Borussia Mönchengladbach‘s 1970s vintage, the Bundesliga has been blessed with all manner of memorable champion sides.
So how do Jupp Heynckes’ current Bayern troupe stack up to previous winners? bundesliga.com flicks through the history books to remember some other legendary ensembles …
How they did it: Heynckes’ latest Bayern incarnation was perhaps not the prettiest, but they were pretty relentless. While rivals slipped up time and again – notably pre-season challengers Dortmund and RB Leipzig – Heynckes’ team kept winning, triumphing in a remarkable 29 of 32 competitive games after the 72-year-old took over from Carlo Ancelotti in October. Built on a solid defensive foundation – the Bavarians had racked up 15 clean sheets by the time they won the title in early April – this Bayern vintage was not too dissimilar from the veteran coach’s 2013 title winners, with eight of that squad still around five years later, and was characterised by the same tactical system (usually lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation) and hunger for success.
Who did it: While Heynckes’ 2018 title winners were built on an impressive defence – Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels form the world’s best centre-back partnership – both the 2013 and 2018 editions relied on two absolute superstars going forward. The treble-winning side could call on the magic of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben to bamboozle opposition defences, and although they were still around five years later, a combination of age and injury meant that their powers were on the wane. Up stepped Robert Lewandowski to take on the goalscoring burden, and James Rodriguez, who slipped into the creative breach with the ease of a middle-aged Bavarian into his favourite Lederhosen at Oktoberfest. Thomas Müller, whose selfless running and intelligent finishing made him indispensable to both Heynckes vintages, supplemented their efforts in inimitable style.
Best XI of the Heynckes era (4-2-3-1): Ulreich – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba – Vidal, Martinez – Robben, Müller, James – Lewandowski
Watch: Explore James’ key role in Bayern’s title triumph
2) Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola (2014, 2015, 2016)
How they did it: Guardiola’s Bayern won three straight titles with more style than any predecessor. While the Catalan’s sojourn in Germany’s football capital might well be defined by his failure to win the UEFA Champions League, those present as his teams swept all before them in the Bundesliga were treated to some of the finest football the country had ever seen.
A whirling dervish of a team, constantly in motion, Guardiola’s Bayern built on the foundations laid first by Louis van Gaal and then by treble-winning Heynckes to lift three consecutive Bundesliga titles. An indication of their dominance is that they became the earliest-ever champions in the 2013/14 season, a 3-1 win at Hertha Berlin on 25 March 2014 securing Pep’s maiden Meisterschale.
There was the typical Bayern substance to go with Guardiola’s considerable style, too – his incarnation only lost nine domestic league games in three seasons, and five of those defeats came after the title had been won. The former Barcelona tactician’s reign was perhaps the only way he could respond to Heynckes’ 2013 treble; he may not have won the European Cup, but his teams will be remembered as more beautiful, more innovative and as taking German football to a higher plane. The club feigned aloofness when Guardiola decided to leave, but make no mistake: the Catalan set the bar for every future Bayern coach in terms of marrying style and success.
Who did it: While the core of Heynckes’ treble-winning side from 2013 remained – Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Robben, Ribery, Martinez, Manuel Neuer – there were some notable Guardiola quirks. Martinez was moved to centre-back, often partnering Boateng (or Dante), while Lahm was redeployed as an omniscient central midfielder. Lewandowski was brought in from Dortmund to provide the firepower after Mario Mandzukic departed, with Thiago and Xabi Alonso acting as Guardiola’s roaming on-field brain. Arturo Vidal added the steel later on, while Joshua Kimmich thrived after being converted from central midfielder supreme to all-purpose defender.
Best XI of the era (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Dante, Alaba – Alonso, Lahm – Robben, Müller, Schweinsteiger – Lewandowski
3) Borussia Dortmund, Jürgen Klopp (2011, 2012)
How they did it: Klopp’s Dortmund pressed their way to the top of the domestic game – and very nearly the European one, too. While Gegenpressing is now a staple of modern football, it’s hard to overstate just how revolutionary and thrilling Klopp’s BVB side of the early 2010s was with their plundering of goals left, right and centre and waspish springing into action when endangered off the ball.
Pioneering a system designed to upset bigger, richer opponents by not giving them a moment to breathe, BVB upset the established order by wresting the title from Bayern’s grip – and letting them know about it. Klopp’s tyros beat the Bavarian giants every time they met them in the Bundesliga over those two seasons, as well as hammering Heynckes’ side 5-2 in the 2012 DFB Cup final to win the double. The Dortmund pressing machine dispatched all-comers in Europe the following season, too, before Bayern exacted painful revenge for two years of domestic beatings by coming out 2-1 winners in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley.
Who did it: Combining wise old heads – Sebastian Kehl, Roman Weidenfeller – with the fearlessness of youth – Hummels, Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa, Ilkay Gündogan – Klopp forged a formidable unit characterised by a total faith in their coach’s demands. While clever transfer dealings played a major part, with Polish trio Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek all influential, so too did local players. Boyhood fans of the club, Kevin Großkreutz and Nuri Sahin brought an important level of identification with the region – and celebrated in style when they got their hands on the long-awaited Meisterschale.
Best XI of the era (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller – Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer – Kehl, Kagawa – Blaszczykowski, Götze, Großkreutz – Lewandowski
Watch: Re-live BVB’s romp to the 2011/12 Bundesliga title!
4) Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hennes Weisweiler/Udo Lattek (1970, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1977)
How they did it: The anti-establishment rebels to Bayern’s arrogant aristocrats (or so the media would have had you believe), Gladbach provided one immortal half of a duopolistic decade in the 1970s. While perennial rivals Bayern were characterised as dull, 1-0 merchants, the Foals played thrilling, counterattacking football with a young team full of homegrown stars – and how they were loved for it. Their very nickname, the Foals, which persists to this day, was coined by a local journalist at the start of the decade in homage to the free-flowing, reckless attacking of Weisweiler’s side.
Anecdotes aside, Gladbach won five titles and were twice runners-up between 1969 and 1978, with the inimitable No10, Günter Netzer (whose ownership of a local nightclub supposedly underlined the difference between Gladbach’s carefree attitude and Bayern’s stiff upper lip), inspiring the club to the first two triumphs. After his departure in 1973, the Foals – with the influence of total football from across the Dutch border evident in their 4-3-3 formation – became perhaps even more attacking, with Heynckes, Allan Simonsen and Henning Jensen leading the club to three further titles.
While continental success remained elusive (two UEFA Cups from five European finals were a meagre return for a side of that talent), that Borussia remain Europe’s third-highest scoring side historically is testament to that longstanding attacking credo, so vibrantly brought to life during those glorious years.
Who did it: Heynckes and Simonsen were the big names up front, the former still the club’s all-time leading scorer, but Netzer, one of the most talented players German football has ever produced, made the early title-winners tick before leaving for Spain in 1973. Berti Vogts and Rainer Bonhof also deserve mentions – the former for almost individually carving out the role of the flying full-back, the latter for his consistency down the left and remarkable trophy haul.
Best XI of the era (4-3-3 sweeper): Kleff – Wittkamp – Vogts, Hannes, Klinkhammer – Wimmer, Bonhof, Netzer – Simonsen, Jensen, Heynckes
5) Bayern Munich, Ottmar Hitzfeld (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001)
How they did it: This was a group that earned Bayern the nickname FC Hollywood – from Mario Basler’s smoking and drinking to Stefan Effenberg’s bad-boy, lothario antics, somehow this rag-tag collection of players put personal rivalries aside to form one of Germany’s best-remembered teams, knocking Dortmund off their perch and winning four titles in five years.
They also contributed to one of the most thrilling finishes to a season in living memory, Patrik Andersson’s last-minute free-kick in Hamburg on the final day of the 2001 season stealing the title from under Schalke’s noses. Most of the credit for assembling a functional team from a collection of oversized egos must go to Hitzfeld, whose gift for knowing what makes superstars tick was never more in evidence than in those halcyon Munich years around the turn of the millennium (although it should be noted that the 1997 title came under the tutelage of Giovanni Trapattoni, himself prone to the odd headline-drawing outburst).
There was not just domestic glory, either: Bayern came within minutes of the European Cup in 1999, Manchester United scoring twice late on at the Camp Nou to break Bavarian hearts, but made amends two years later, beating Valencia on penalties in Milan.
Who did it: Despite hating each other off the pitch, Effenberg and Lothar Matthäus put personal rivalry aside once they crossed the white line and formed a fine spine of the team. Needing a big personality to captain such a side is an understatement – only Winston Churchill would have thrived in the role. In any case, Oliver Kahn was the next best thing, and he earned enduring – if begrudging – respect for his efforts in the 2001 Champions League final shoot-out. By way of comparison, characters as quirky as Basler, who disliked running but regularly scored directly from corners, and Ciriaco Sforza, who claimed he was homesick in Munich despite coming from just across the border in Switzerland, seem rather mild-mannered.
Best XI of the era (4-4-2): Kahn – Kuffour, Matthäus, Helmer, Lizarazu – Basler, Effenberg, Strunz, Scholl – Janker, Elber