Welcome to Formation Renovation, where we figure out which modern players would best fit into some time-honored styles. The idea behind Formation Renovation is simple: It’s an attempt to figure out who today could do what they did back then. It’s not a suggestion that these formations and tactics, some of them 30, 50, or 70 years old, could thrive or even work in the modern era, but a thought experiment meant to help us look at differences between teams and players then and now.
In this edition: Bayern Munich of 1974-1976; or a Kaiser and a Bomber walk into a bar.
Reading analysis of this Bayern team, three-time champions of Europe (though only once, during our time frame, of the Bundesliga) one thing stands out: Beckenbauer Beckenbauer Beckenbauer Beckenbauer Beckenbauer.
This is only a slight exaggeration. There is more going on with this team, but it’s Beckenbauer’s role that sets them apart, that makes them interesting and frankly, worth doing a renovation of.
Today, we tend to think of a centerbacks who are good on the ball as being one of a couple of different categories. There are those who are primarily passers, noted for their distribution out of the back, including everyone from Ronald Koeman to Tim Ream. There are those who are primarily runners — David Luiz and Phil Jones come to mind — charging forward with the ball when they’re not marked until someone comes out and bothers to put a body on them. There are those who are so comfortable on the ball they’ll push out and serve as extra man in midfield if the situation warrants it, namely when the other team is playing just one striker and defending deep. Beckenbauer’s like all of the above.
His involvement is so prominent that the best way to replicate it virtually isn’t through any Football Manager tactic, but rather by playing a game of FIFA with a friend and having one of you never, ever swap off from your chosen centerback. I’m no fan of Gary Neville, but his Playstation comment in regards to Luiz the other week shows he has a firsthand understanding of what happens when you give a 10-year-old (or, in the case of my friends, someone more than twice that age) control of a centerback and a sprint button. Beckenbauer is what would happen if you took that controller out of the hands of the 10-year-old and gave it to Xavi.
This, too, exaggerates things slightly. Beckenbauer was not a hub for Bayern; every move did not necessarily funnel through him, and his forward runs weren’t something that happened every time Bayern gained possession of the ball; just the times when they seemed to be most productive with it. Beckenbauer could come forward often, because he had a largely functional midfield three in front of him who could cover and delay the opposition while he recovered position. (Watch highlights of their games and the only sight you see more often than Beckenbauer bringing the ball forward is Beckenbauer scurrying backwards. Rather, he was the instigator, the one who turned defense into attack more consistently for them than any other player.
Where this benefitted Bayern isn’t in terms of the boatloads of goals he scored or assisted on. The effect was more subtle. Any time Beckenbauer had the ball over the halfway line, that zone of the pitch was overloaded. Someone would have to leave their mark in order to pick him up, otherwise, he’d keep coming forward. When they did though, that was just the first step towards pulling the opposing defense out of shape. By the time the ball gets worked up to Müller or Rummenigge, you can see defenders scrambling to get back into position to stop them.
Which, in the case of Müller, usually meant a goal. Müller was so good in the 18-yard box that he basically had to be double-teamed at all times in front of goal. (He’s the mid-career Shaquille O’Neal of soccer.) He finishes balls that you think he might have a chance at, and scores plenty of goals that seem like he should have no chance at them. This one of the more ridiculous of those:
This goal below is a good example of how that interplay would work out. There’s Beckenbauer, bringing the ball forward. When his run is checked, he stops and turns back to make space for himself. By that point, there are three opposing defenders covering him, players who were dropping back into defense but now stay forward to cover Beckenbauer. He slides a simple ball across for Kapelmann. Kapelmann finds space between the line of midfielders who were reluctant to leave Beckenbauer and the line of defenders who are reluctant to leave Müller. On his second attempt, he plays a perfect pass to the side of Müller’s body where only he can get it, and Müller uses his body to hold off two different challenges before slotting home.
Of course, get Beckenbauer and Müller together, and you end up with something like this:
Here’s our model. Note that since there was a fairly high amount of turnover among the Bayern squad in those three years, the model team we’ve assembled is more of an all-star squad for that time frame. This both makes the end product a little better, and hopefully a little more accurate, since I found more information on Breitner and Rummenigge than I could Horsmann and Torstensson. It’s not just a bias against Scandinavians:
And once again, a word on the methodology:
1. There will be no Messi and no Cristiano Ronaldo on any of the teams in this series. We can all agree that the former would make any team you placed him on better, and since I’m not factoring in personal characteristics, like level of arrogance or how far a player’s head is up his ass, so probably would the latter. Using them would be cheating — they’d go on every team somewhere.
2. Given the choice between one or another player, odds are I picked the less obvious one, for reasons similar to those stated in #1. Every team that calls for an attacking right back can’t have Dani Alves or Maicon.
3. Any gaps in my knowledge of particular characteristics of current players were filled via printed reports, scrounged YouTube clips, and, for comparison purposes, Football Manager stats. When I say, for instance, that my selection at right back is a “dangerous crosser,” it’s either because I’ve seen it myself, or got it in one of those three sources.
GK – Iker Casillas
We need someone to replace an uber-consistent, reigning World Cup Champion in Maier. Maier was so reliable that Bayern’s defenders were able to basically sit off until their opponent reached the 18-yard box, at which point their prospects were so dim of going through the Bayern defense that they’d throw up their hands and take potshots at goal, which Maier would be all too glad to gather. All Casillas will have to work on is taking his goal kicks at a 25 degree angle, the way Maier always did.
SW – Gerard Pique
We ran into this problem with Cruyff too when we did the early-70s Ajax squad. No matter who we pick, he’s not going to be Beckenbauer.
Generally, we’ve tried to avoid repeating players in our Formation Renovations. Had we known we were going to be doing this one, we’d have saved Pique for it, rather than wasting him on our long ball team. In fact, just take him out of there. Replace him with, umm, Rio Ferdinand, to pick a name at random.
The role he’d have here is greatly expanded from the one on Barcelona; they have six players on the field at any given time who can do what Beckenbauer did for Bayern. But Pique’s the obvious choice. He can pass and dribble the ball, with the close control to maneuver around those applying pressure in order to make a pass. He may be no Beckenbauer, but he’s the closest thing we’ve got.
LB – Philipp Lahm
Paul Breitner was only with the squad for one of its European Cup triumphs before he jetted off to Real Madrid, but still undoubtedly the best left back they had during that three year period. In the final replay against Atletico Madrid, Breitner was a constant presence providing width along the left side. With Lahm, we don’t have to go far (team-wise) to match that performance, and like Breitner, Lahm is right-footed.
CB – Joleon Lescott
What’s surprising about Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck is that his job wasn’t just to stand in the middle of the defense and cover whenever Beckenbauer was running off (though he did that too, dropping in as sweeper when Beckenbauer got caught further up the field). He had license to carry the ball forward too, and was good enough with it at his feet that Beckenbauer wasn’t afraid to pass to him while he was under pressure, even if it was just so Beckenbauer could move forward or back to receive the return pass.
I’m not a big fan of Lescott, but playing in Mancini’s conservative system, he’s typically pretty reliable at making the short pass over to the more ambition Kompany or Clichy/Kolarov.
RB – Branislav Ivanovic
Johnny Hansen wasn’t as involved as Breitner or even Breitner’s replacement Udo Horsmann, so we get a nice reliable, if not spectacular, back to replace him. Ivanovic, particularly when he’s playing on the right, is one of my favorite, “Yeah, he’s alright” players, good enough to earn respect but mediocre enough to make you wish you had someone better. Here, his ability in the center could help if our sweeper gets caught to far forward and he has to cover there.
LCM – Cristian Ledesma
Bayern’s midfield was far more about substance than style; their job was to get the ball back and get it to the forwards, Müller if possible, or Hoeness so that he could get it to Müller. With that in mind, we’re picking a primarily functional threesome in the middle as well, starting with Ledesma to provide extra cover for our sweeper’s forward runs.
CM – Alex
There are two things you need to know about Franz Roth. One, his nickname was “The Bull,” given to him for his tremendous strength. Roth had a reputation as a physical midfielder, which he either earned the hard way or got because he looks just like a character out of Gangs of New York. Two, he had the highest goal-scoring rate of anyone who started in Bayern’s midfield in their three European Cup finals, largely thanks to his tremendous shot; according to the Bayern website, he once literally ripped a hole through the net.
Alex may be out of position in the center of the pitch, particularly since Roth pursued the ball and the play further forward than Bernd Durnberger tended to, but in terms of abilities there’s no one more like Roth. The position switch wouldn’t be so challenging for him; it would merely be a matter of harnessing his tendency to gallop forward. We’d be replacing a Bull with a Tank. (Ledesma too, for what it’s worth, has something of a cannon in his boot.)
RCM – Riccardo Montolivo
Can both distribute and carry the ball forward to connect the two halves of our broken team, much like Jupp Kapellmann did for Bayern. (He also played as a winger on occasion). Kapellmann tended to play more on the left-central part of the field, but with Neymar on the left up front we’re flipping the sides of our midfield.
Deep Forward – David Silva
When play slowed down, when Müller was marked or Beckenbauer staying back on his defensive duties, it was Hoeness that Bayern looked to get the ball to in order to make something happen. His versatility was invaluable in this regard, because though best through the center he had the ability to move to either side to receive the ball and do something with it, plus the technique in front of goal to score when played through while defenders are gravitating towards Müller or Rummenigge. Silva has displayed similar versatility for Manchester City and Spain.
(Technically, for those keeping score at home, we used Silva before too. Forget it, rules are made to be broken. We will try to keep it at a minimum going forward.)
CF – Neymar
Rummenigge was only a starter for Bayern during the last European Cup run of this era, the very beginning of a decorated career. His pace and dribbling ability set him apart, and made him an ideal partner for the more static Müller, just as Neymar’s will for our arch-poacher.
Neymar and Silva are ideal here because though they lined up in the center, it was their positions on the field that provided the majority of our attacking width. This Bayern side were an incredibly narrow team. Occasionally Kapellmann would make runs up the flank, or Breitner or Hansen, but aside from that they relied on their front three’s movement and interchange to create that width. For Silva and Neymay, their ability to play inside and out helped stretch the defense and make room for our goalscorer.
CF – Mario Gomez
Müller is just as difficult to replace as Beckenbauer, if not more so. His instincts in the penalty area, and I think instincts is the right word, are both astounding and utterly unteachable. To borrow an American football aphorism, coaches make Beckenbauers, but only mothers can make Müllers.
Watch how incredibly smart and opportunistic he is on this play. It’s like he knows the defender is going to make a mistake clearing the ball before it even happens.
There’s not a striker alive who can replicate all the types of goals that Müller could score. The closest I can come up with is combining Gomez’s close control and shooting accuracy in the penalty area with Chicharito’s sixth sense for getting on the end of the ball with his foot, head, stomach, knee, or whatever. Gomez has a little bit more of the latter than Chicharito does of the former, so he gets the nod.
Which gives us: