Bayern faces uncertain future and tough transfer decisions after losing the Bundesliga title

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Three of Bayern Munich's senior figures did something Sunday that no one at the club had done since 2012.

They congratulated another team on winning the Bundesliga.

President Herbert Hainer, CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen and sporting director Max Eberl each offered praise for new champion Bayer Leverkusen and coach Xabi Alonso — who Bayern had been keen to sign — and each vowed Bayern would fight to reclaim the trophy it held for 11 long years.

"The goal for FC Bayern now is: the trophy must come back to Munich!" Hainer wrote.

The question is how.

Bayern didn't just lose the Bundesliga title to Leverkusen, it lost it by 16 points with five games to go. Bayern wrapped up the crown that early only three times in its 11-year reign. That means a comprehensive rebuild is looming.

Bayern's 2023-24 season isn't over yet, and coach Thomas Tuchel could yet salvage some pride in the Champions League before he leaves. It's not impossible that Wednesday's quarterfinal second leg against Arsenal, poised at 2-2, could be Bayern's next step to the June 1 final and a first trophy for Harry Kane.

Despite the jibes on social media about how the England captain managed to join Germany's perennial champion team and still not win a league title, Kane has been a resounding success in Munich with 39 goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

A year ago, Bayern's need for a striker was clear when the team held onto the Bundesliga on goal difference as a strong Borussia Dortmund challenge crumbled.

Tuchel, though, argued Bayern needed a defensive midfielder as well, and was concerned that the central pairing of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich were both too keen to make impactful attacking runs, leaving a gap. After wrapping up the Kane deal in August for over $100 million, Bayern switched focus to Fulham defensive midfielder Joao Palhinha and even got him to Munich for a medical before the deal broke down.

With Eberl heading into his first transfer window in overall charge of Bayern's sporting approach, he will have to decide how to fix the problem Tuchel identified a year ago, and how much to allow the club's new coach — whoever that may be — to shape the team.

Eberl may also need to replace left back Alphonso Davies, whose contract is due to expire at the end of next season amid reported interest from Real Madrid. He's one of seven starters from Bayern's 2020 Champions League final win who are still at the club and whose places in the lineup — with the exception of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer — no longer seem quite as secure.

What will be harder to replace is Bayern's aura of invincibility, For years, would-be challengers — especially Dortmund — tended to fall apart in big games against Bayern. Some years, the Bundesliga title seemed decided almost before the season began. Then Leverkusen showed Bayern can be beaten, and other teams like Dortmund followed suit.

Bayern needs a new coach, perhaps some new players, and its old image back.


AP soccer:

James Ellingworth, The Associated Press