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FCB vs. FCB: What connects the Reds and the Blaugrana?

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When the Champions League anthem rings out at Camp Nou, Julian Nagelsmann and Xavi Hernández, two of a new generation of football coaches, will be sitting in the dugout - or rather, they won't be sitting, but will be covering some distance in the coaching zone themselves, guiding and driving their team forward. Nagelsmann and Hernández have respect for each other and could certainly discuss at length things like deep runs, spatial pressure and pressing triggers.

Bayern and Barcelona are among the teams in the Champions League who enjoy the most possession and play the most passes. This tactical affinity could also be due to the fact that three great coaches have led both clubs to great success and left a lasting mark on them. Alongside football tactics specialist Christoph Biermann ("Die Fußball-Matrix"), we delve into the history of football and look for historical-tactical connections. Does something like a common Bayern-Barcelona DNA exist?

Udo Lattek, Sepp Maier, Uli Hoeneß and Gerd Müller during training.
No pretence of fatigue: Lattek made our golden generation fit for Europe.

  1. The man with the winning gene: Udo Lattek

FC Bayern: 1970–1975, 1983–1987
Barcelona: 1981–1983

It was the Kaiser himself who persuaded him: At the urging of Franz Beckenbauer, Udo Lattek, then 35 years old, started at Bayern Munich in March 1970 with no experience whatsoever as a club coach. His first coup turned out to be his greatest: he lured Uli Hoeneß and Paul Breitner, teenagers at the time, to FC Bayern - although both actually wanted to go to TSV 1860 Munich. What a stroke of luck that Lattek knew them from his time as Germany U17 coach.

"He was a pragmatist, he was all about results," says Christoph Biermann about Lattek. And they were right: during his tenure, Bayern won three championships, plus their first European Cup. Lattek himself is said to have once remarked: "I'd rather win 1-0 than 4-3."

Udo Lattek with Diego Maradonna in Barcelona
Artist and pragmatist: Diego Maradonna and Udo Lattek in Barcelona in 1981.

In 1981, Lattek's son Dirk died of cancer. Needing some space, Lattek and his wife decided to leave Germany. Udo Lattek was looking for a new challenge, and he found it in 1981 at Barcelona with his "blond angel" Bernd Schuster. They immediately hit it off, the Catalans and Lattek, which was also due to the fact that the German greeted 45,000 fans at Camp Nou in Spanish.

Lattek won the European Cup Winners' Cup in his first season, but there was something missing to make the fans fall in love with him. They were still not over the fact that Johan Cruyff had left them, and because Lattek did what he always did, namely win solidly but without any fireworks, Barcelona's president promised the fans what they wanted. In the summer of 1982, Diego Maradona, South America's greatest talent, arrived for a world-record fee - and encountered the pragmatic East Prussian Udo Lattek at Camp Nou.

Blond angel and the Hand of God

Maradona saw football as an art, Lattek as a down-to-earth form of martial arts. Lattek once told "Kicker" magazine what ensued: "My only problem was Maradona, he wasn't used to hard work. When he was late for a departure, I had two choices: wait for him and lose face in front of the players, or leave." Lattek opted for being tough and told the bus driver to leave. Maradona then complained to the president. Two weeks later, Lattek was out of a job.

In 1983, Lattek returned to Munich. It was general manager Hoeneß who brought him in, as in the same Hoeneß who had once brought Lattek to FC Bayern. With another three championships and two cup wins, Lattek's second term was a successful one. Lattek once again did what he did best: He won. He had the winning gene.

Louis van Gaal and his assistant Jose Mourinho in Barcelona
Odd couple: At Barcelona, Louis van Gaal and his assistant Jose Mourinho won two championships and the cup.

  1. The party animal and tactical specialist: Louis van Gaal

Barcelona: 1997–2000, 2002–2003
FC Bayern: 2009–2011

In the summer of 2009, a coach like they'd never seen before arrived in Munich: a loudmouth in the best sense, who introduced himself at his first press conference with: "Mia san mia, we are us - and I am me." It was Louis van Gaal, the "first concept coach at FC Bayern, strongly influenced by Johan Cruyff's footballing school in Amsterdam and Barcelona", as Christoph Biermann puts it.

Something that's taken for granted today - because every district league coach follows his own "philosophy" - was the exception back then. Even the big clubs, says Biermann, played "hero football" for decades. Meaning: the club management bought stars, the coach's main task was that of a lion tamer. And now there was someone in Munich, Louis van Gaal, who not only wanted to play successful football, but also one that followed a central idea and was fun to watch: radical attacking football instead of solidly securing results and titles. Van Gaal strictly selected only those players he thought were good - regardless of their age or status. The Dutchman let a very young Thomas Müller play, even though he had Luca Toni. He put teenagers like Holger Badstuber and David Alaba in the starting XI because he was sure they would become great players.

Schweinsteiger and van Gaal on the FC Bayern grounds in summer 2009.
Two strategists: Under Louis Van Gaal, Bastian Schweinsteiger became a midfield playmaker.

Super talents instead of superstars

He'd learned in Amsterdam that it pays to develop youth players: as Ajax coach in the mid-90s, Louis van Gaal discovered Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids, among others. Together they won the Champions League in 1995. This success subsequently earned him the coaching job at Barcelona, which he took up in 1997. At Camp Nou, he first tangled with future FIFA World Player of the Year Rivaldo. Instead of relying on old superstars who were already there or letting managers and presidents buy new ones, he preferred to shape them himself. Van Gaal not only brought in goalkeeper Víctor Valdés and the future defensive boss Carlos Puyol from "La Masia", the Barcelona youth academy, to the senior team, but also the ideally-matched midfield strategists Xavi and Iniesta. Van Gaal won two championships in Spain. Not too shabby. The really big silverware, however, remained just as elusive to him as the love of the fans. It would not be until years later, when Barcelona were dominating the whole of European football and Louis van Gaal was almost forgotten, coaching the small side AZ Alkmaar, that it would become clear what incredible groundwork the Dutchman had laid. A little of this history would be repeated in Munich.

Louis van Gaal led FCB to the Champions League final against Inter Milan in his very first season - and introduced new training methods at Säbener Straße. There was now computer technology, cameras, digital mapping and analysis tools. And even if it was Jupp Heynckes who achieved the historic treble in 2013 - it was also made possible by Louis van Gaal. Not only by discovering today's legends like Müller or Alaba. Van Gaal converted Bastian Schweinsteiger from a winger to a leader. He created "Robbery".

The "Ajax-Barcelona axis" - as Christoph Biermann calls it and which he sees embodied in someone like Louis van Gaal - now extended to Munich. There, football was played as beautifully as perhaps never before: "The signing of this concept coach," says Biermann, "was the turning point in the recent history of FC Bayern."

Thomas Müller and Pep Guardiola celebrate the cup win.
A great era: Thomas Müller and Pep Guardiola after the DFB Cup triumph in 2016.

  1. The football monk: Pep Guardiola 

Barcelona: 2008–2012
FC Bayern: 2013–2016

The news could hardly have been any bigger: From his sabbatical in New York, where he spent his days meeting director Woody Allen or chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, Pep Guardiola announced in January 2013 that he would coach FC Bayern as his next club. No less than the most exciting coach in the world, who had previously won everything there was to win with his tiki-taka football at Barcelona, would come to Munich. "Bayern had always been a big club," says Christoph Biermann, "it was now a world-class club." With Guardiola - charming, handsome, cosmopolitan - glamour descended on the Isar.

Like Lattek once did in Barcelona, Pep Guardiola greeted the journalists at his inaugural press conference in the national language: "Guten Tag und grüß Gott, meine Damen und Herren! Bitte verzeihen Sie mir mein Deutsch." (Good day and greetings, ladies and gentlemen! Please forgive my German.)

Guardiola brought his favourite with him from his previous employer: Thiago Alcántara. And what else? Christoph Biermann sees the decisive tactical idea that Guardiola imported elsewhere: "The central element at Barcelona was defending high up the pitch. Suddenly Bayern were playing the same way."

In Munich, Guardiola even found something that he had lacked even at his virtually unbeatable Barcelona: a true centre-forward. What Zlatan Ibrahimović was meant to be for him at Barcelona and never became - Guardiola found this type of striker in Robert Lewandowski.

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A tactical conductor: Pep Guardiola won the Champions League twice with Barcelona.

Winning and tactical genes

Guardiola shaped FC Bayern and the city of Munich like scarcely any coach before: with tactics and glamour. Just a year after Germany won the World Cup in Rio and two years after the German-German Champions League final in London, Germany - and Munich - were clearly the heart of the football world, playing exhilarating football. "I fell in love a little bit," even tough Atlético coach Diego Simeone said after his team was mercilessly taken apart.

"There's a unique tragedy in Guardiola's failure to win the Champions League in Munich," says Christoph Biermann (Bayern were incredibly unfairly knocked out by Simeone's team in 2015). But ideally, coaches leave behind more than a full trophy cabinet; they leave their mark on a club beyond their tenure. The playmaker on the wing, the sweeper keeper, the false-footed winger existed and still do exist in Munich. The winning gene had been joined by the tactics gene.

Tactics specialist Christoph Biermann ("11 Freunde" magazine) has written several football books. His most recent one (in German) is "Um jeden Preis - Die wahre Geschichte des modernen Fußballs von 1992 bis heute" (KiWi, 256 pages, € 18.00).

A look at Barcelona ahead of the clash:


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