Kane, Harder & Ibaka
Mon, 30/10/23, 14:00
Guardians of the FC Bayern Galaxy
FC Bayern has once again proven that it is a top sporting destination in 2023. With Harry Kane, Pernille Harder and Serge Ibaka, each of the club’s three professional teams was strengthened with an exceptional international athlete. A trio from the next dimension. What do such figures give their teams - and the whole club?
Sit-up after sit-up goes up and down – just watching makes your abdominal muscles ache, or rather the parts of your body where you should have abdominal muscles. The team shoot a few last baskets just before the start of the game to warm up. Serge Ibaka is lying on the floor of the hall and is constantly doing sit-ups.
„Of course, it's all a team sport - it only works as a team, that's what our club stands for. But these three draw even more attention to FC Bayern.”
It's the FC Bayern Basketball team's season opener – and a special one as the game against Syntainics MBC is taking place on a glass floor, with videos and lighting effects dancing across it. The packed BMW Park vibrates with bass that drives into the bones of people even in the top tiers. A young fan wears a Nirvana shirt with ‘Nevermind’ printed on it. Nevermind? No way! The evening will stay in everyone's memory for a long time. Also because of newcomer Serge Ibaka, who played in an official match for the first time. In this game - won 96-87 - he is not yet the central figure, but he gives a first impressions of what he's capable of. Harry Kane with the men’s footballers, Pernille Harder in the FC Bayern Women and Serge Ibaka with the basketballers – in all three professional teams, the club has taken it to the next level this summer.
"Of course, it's all a team sport - it only works as a team, that's what our club stands for," says Herbert Hainer. The president and chairman of the supervisory board had taken Ibaka on a tour of the Allianz Arena right after his medical check in the 2-2 draw against Bayer Leverkusen. "But these three draw even more attention to FC Bayern." CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen explains: "It gives us and our fans enormous pleasure to see these three exceptional athletes in the Bayern jersey. All three are an expression and symbol of the standard we set for ourselves. This club is characterised by a never-ending hunger for titles, and these transfers are further proof of that."
„All three are an expression and symbol of the standard we set for ourselves.”
Dreesen is sitting in his office. The CEO's desk is neatly tidied, his phone unusually quiet - and Dreesen travels back in his mind to the summer for the interview with ‘51’, when the documents were piled up and the phone was constantly ringing or vibrating. He has now been on the board of FC Bayern for over 10 years. Bringing Kane to Säbener Straße was a tour de force like never before. The negotiations dragged on for weeks, they started early in the morning and dragged on deep into the night. "You have to really get stuck into it," Dreesen says of such deals. "I can be quite persistent - I think that's one of my strengths," he adds with a smile. "You also need taker qualities sometimes, otherwise you won't last." The transfer was a joint effort by the decision-makers at the club, he describes. "Everyone contributed their qualities" before Kane finally signed for Bayern well past midnight on a Friday in mid-August. Dreesen fell tired into bed at 3:30am. He fell asleep with an inner feeling of happiness: "Finally done!"
Like in a spy film in London
Every transfer has its story. Pernille Harder's story begins long before the final agreement. Bianca Rech, who succeeded Karin Danner as head of the FC Bayern Women's department this summer, had put out feelers for the Danish international striker early on. She had heard that Harder, together with her partner Magdalena Eriksson, also a world-class player at Chelsea, would be open to a new project. As the contact became more concrete, Rech got on a plane to London with her coach Alexander Straus. The meeting at the airport hotel was a bit like a spy film, she says with a smile; the players wanted to keep things quiet at Chelsea for as long as possible, out of respect for their long-time employer. They sat together for three hours. "Both players already knew an incredible amount about us," Rech says.
"They asked well-prepared questions - and in the end we flew to Munich with a good feeling." And rightly so. A short time later the signal came that the duo had been convinced. "We persisted," explains Rech, "and now we see day after day that it pays off. Players like that carry a team far beyond the actual sport, far beyond the pitch."
„Players like that carry a team far beyond the actual sport, far beyond the pitch.”
Marko Pesic knows exactly what Rech means. The managing director of FC Bayern Basketball asks for patience on his mobile phone, behind him dishes clatter loudly - he leaves the breakfast room for the phone call about Ibaka. The EuroLeague game in Athens is coming up in the evening. Pesic played 97 international games for the Germany national team, won silver at the European Championships, bronze at the World Championships and, among other things, six German championships. As a decision-maker, he has been shaping FC Bayern since 2011 in order to establish it throughout Europe in basketball as well. He has seen players come and go for decades - but he has never seen a professional like Ibaka, at least not at this club.
"He trains like no other, like a man possessed. He comes to the hall at 8:30am and leaves at 4pm." Even during a match, he rarely sits still, but keeps himself taut, all 2.13 metres, 120 kilograms. "When you look at his body, you know where all those muscles come from. Serge sets new standards for us," says Pesic. "A guy like that pulls the whole team along - everyone sees: If Serge Ibaka, a real NBA champion who played with James Harden, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, still gives his all every day, I can do the same."
„He trains like no other, like a man possessed. He comes to the hall at 8:30am and leaves at 4pm.”
While Dreesen sat with the FCB transfer committee for weeks to complete the Kane deal and Rech had her eye on the duo at Chelsea for a long time, everything was done within two weeks with the basketballers. Pesic fondly remembers squad planner Daniele Baiesi saying in a meeting that Ibaka was considering a move from the US to Europe. "I thought, come on, let's talk about realistic things. But our new coach Pablo Laso, who had already worked with him, wrote him a message right away - and Ibaka replied quickly."
The day after, they had a friendly match against Strasbourg. Ibaka asked him to send him a video of it. "That made me wonder," says Pesic, "if he watches one of our games, it could really be something." Only a few conversations later, Ibaka agreed. "Pablo played an important role," Pesic explains. "It's important for Serge to work with people he trusts. Our plus was also that he had been treated by our doctors a few times before - he also knew our hall, he trained there for himself from time to time. And above all, we were able to convey to him that we’re a club that’s up to something."
Respect from around the world
The perspective that a club offers often plays a decisive role. Dreesen recalls that Kane is an icon for Tottenham, has played his entire professional career exclusively for Spurs. An identification figure that every club would like to have. You have to be convincing if you want to get him, and so, after the signing, Dreesen received many emails full of appreciation that FC Bayern was able to complete this transfer. "There was a lot of respect from the international competition for our club that we succeeded," says the CEO.
It was even more pronounced for Pesic in Ibaka's case. "Most people couldn't believe it - everyone asked: How did you do it? And what did you pay him?" The answer was easy for Pesic: "We simply pay him exactly what we budgeted for this position. Money did not play an overriding role for him in this change." Rech has to grin when she thinks about the reactions of the competition when everything became public. The plan to keep everything secret for as long as possible had worked, so there were many rumours for months. "Everyone knew their contracts were coming to an end, so there was speculation: Paris, Lyon, Real Madrid - FC Bayern was whispered about at most, because nobody trusted us to put this package together," the FCB head of department recounted. "We had to smile a bit during all the speculation - we already knew which jersey they would be wearing from the summer onwards.”
„There was a lot of respect from the international competition for our club that we succeeded.”
Dreesen scrolls back to August in his mobile phone - to the endless exchange of messages with Daniel Levy, his counterpart at Tottenham. Once he went to bed and thought, now he's made the breakthrough. In the morning, his first reach was for his mobile phone, and there at 7a, the display lit up: everything open again. Was it all worth it in retrospect? In any case, says Dreesen, "we agreed that we didn't want a second season without number 9". Alternatives were also on the radar, "but Kane has been a stable performer for years, is captain of the England national team and record goalscorer for the country, so he was the priority".
Critical voices who fear that FC Bayern will now be caught up in the transfer madness like all other clubs are resolutely countered by the CEO: "No, that would be the wrong way to go. We have always been sensible with our resources and will continue to be so. At FC Bayern, we work hard for our money. So, we think carefully about how we invest it." According to Dreesen, Kane is "a dimension we would not have considered just a few years ago. We could afford it. But are we going to do something like this every year? Certainly not!" Dreesen finishes reading up on his mobile phone messages and looks up. "Do you know what big transfers always stand for to some extent?" he asks and answers himself: "For a fresh start. For new beginnings." Looking ahead.
Clear messages while recovering as well
Kane has been convincing from the start with goals and assists. Ibaka is improving from game to game. Harder injured her knee after a strong debut. But even in rehab, Rech sees what an exceptional player the Dane is. "Right on the first day after the diagnosis, she had clear ideas for working on her comeback - she leaves nothing to chance," she says. "Pi," as they call Harder among her colleagues, "won't waste any time. She knows her body very well and knows what to do." Eriksson, meanwhile, was immediately elected to the team council - which also speaks for how quickly the two have established themselves in the team. "We knew we needed characters like that if we were going to take the next big step in our development." Pesic says he can't make much of a comparison between Kane and Ibaka - "but in one respect there is a parallel," he says. "With the international attention of FC Bayern, such new additions of course mean another level."
„We knew we needed characters like that if we were going to take the next big step in our development.”
When Kane was finally on the plane from England to Munich, around 100,000 people followed the flight route on Flightradar24. Dreesen says with a grin that he didn't even know such a thing existed - and he himself wasn't sitting at the screen at the time. All that mattered to him was that the Briton set foot on Bavarian soil. Until late at night, fans stood in the dark in front of the FCB headquarters on Säbener Straße, and at some point, between medical checks and the signing of the contract, Kane waved through a window to the outside. For the CEO it was a special evening, because even then you could feel what this new arrival meant for the club and the fans. The whole transfer could only have worked out because Kane was rock-solid in his commitment all these weeks, says Dreesen - and it was precisely this down-to-earthness that impressed them so much in Munich: "Harry is not one of those guys who puts himself above the team, on the contrary. He gives everything so that everyone can play to their qualities. And we shouldn't just talk about him: Leroy Sané is playing immensely well, Minjae Kim is the stabiliser in defence we were hoping for - you could list a lot more." The fans can be excited about what is possible with this team.
„Harry is not one of those guys who puts himself above the team, on the contrary. He gives everything so that everyone can play to their qualities.”
Pesic explains that the basketball team also asked themselves exactly what type of player they wanted to bring to Munich before signing Ibaka. And Rech says it’s crucial before a transfer that you develop a feeling for each other, as it was in her case at the secret meeting in the London airport hotel. She also has a good feeling about Kane. "I like this calmness, this professionalism, this personality without airs and graces," she says, "Kane fits FC Bayern 100 percent." She can't say anything concrete about Ibaka yet, she admits, she doesn't know enough about him for that - and emphasises the "yet". She has made up her mind to go to a game at BMW Park as soon as she can. You don't want to miss such athletes – both in football and basketball at FC Bayern.
© Illustrations: Scott McRoy
The complete story can be found in the November issue of FC Bayern members' magazine ‘51’