Thinking about the Champions League Final this weekend, it seemed like a case to me where Bayern were clearly playing against themselves more than their opponents, Chelsea. All match they seemed to be at war with their own minds, afraid of failing in front of a home crowd, city, and country.
This was evident in several stages of the game. It was evident in Mario Gomez’s play, where he morphed back into the “gifted striker who can’t finish.” Bayern fans would recognize this player as the Gomez of a couple years ago, before he finally got hot last season and rode that wave of success into a very successful campaign this year. In the past, a massive lack of confidence had led him to miss several wide open attempts and appear invisible for much of the time he was on the field. This same Gomez picked the wrong time to reappear Saturday.
He wasn’t alone though, the entire Bayern Munich team lacked confidence in their finishing touch all evening from Thomas Muller’s early miss to Arjen Robben’s pitiful penalty attempt in extra time. The Bavarians never seemed to conquer their minds even when Muller put them ahead late in regulation, they couldn’t hold on for just five minutes of play. Constantly the moment was slipping through their fingers.
This was the story of the game. Chelsea were able to sit and wait for Munich to lose the match, rather than play to win. Roberto Di Matteo was banking on the fact that Bayern were not just playing Chelsea, but also their own minds and the greatest opponent known to mankind: Fear.
It worked. The most telling moment of all was in the penalty shootout when NO Bayern player would step up to take the 3rd shot, afraid they may fail and be dubbed the goat. So, their immensely confident keeper, Manuel Neuer, had to finally step up and take it. But after he had taken his, who was left to have the self-confidence to put themselves on the line? Sure enough, both the 4th and 5th Munich shooters missed, and Chelsea won the match.
As I watched the Munich players on the field literally weeping at their missed opportunity, I feel pity, but mostly I feel it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The lesson we should all take out of Bayern’s nightmare: Fear of failure will most assuredly always result in just that, failure.