Bayern Munich is one of the most marketable brands in world football and has been for a while. The club has had its problems so far this young season, but it has faced hard times before and endured. In fact, the magic of “Mia san Mia” didn’t happen by accident and it didn’t happen overnight.
Germany saw the development of two huge exports in 1974: Volkswagen introduced the Golf and Bayern Munich won its first European Cup (now Champions League). A new documentary, The Mia san Mia Phenomenon — FC Bayern, an international success story, from the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, examines the continuing international success of one of those and attempts to explain why.
“Mia san Mia”
The club’s familiar motto translates roughly from dialectic Bavarian to mean, “We are who we are.” The statement implies both group identification and identity. It’s a declaration of belonging rather than the hubris of any individual who might be speaking the words.
The film documents the stories of such individuals in far-flung parts of the world who, for whatever reason, feel this sense of belonging. Most of the stories are of supporters of different nationalities: the poet in New York City; the family man in Palestine, as well as the staunch fanática in Brazil.
The only thing they have in common, the film purports, is a red jersey and their love of a faraway football club.
Attack of the drones
Scattered in between and amongst the fans’ stories is a lot of the drone footage—the type of which DW’s producers are lately grown so enamored—as well as excerpts from interviews with players and coaches present, past, and yet to be. So, the documentary’s roster starts and ends with a young man studying the game and growing up at Bayern’s youth academy in Tsuneishi, Miyazaki, Japan.
That young man’s contributions, if any, will come in the future. Oliver Kahn, Philipp Lahm, Sammy Kuffour’s are all in the past now…yet, as members of the group, they are equally present in this film. To top it all off, the film does due diligence and presents the rise, fall, rise, fall, and then rise once again of the iconic Uli Hoeneß.
As Kahn says at one point, “Uli is Bayern.”
But the testimony of the former players eventually collapses along a single-dimension—and a none too warm and fuzzy one at that. Namely, that if a player or manager is/was useful to the club, the club would take embrace that person completely as its own.
But if not…?
Market or die
Italian Carlo Ancelotti is also numbered among the film’s interviewees. The now-defrocked manager only recently fell victim to the other edge of “Mia san Mia.” Mainly, he seems somehow to have been spared the warmth of the big bear’s hug.
As many of those interviewed for this film did allow, however, football has changed. Just as Uli Hoeneß was once a towering youthful figure on the pitch in the 1970’s, the world game “ain’t what it used to be,” either.
These days, a domestic title or even a domestic double is not nearly enough to keep a worldwide fan-base happy. To keep youngsters lining up at the academy in Tsuneishi—over 9000 km away from Munich the film tells us—takes an international presence.
Players and clubs have to play—and preferably win—on the grandest stages. Marketing demands a product to sell. The product of the football club is not just football, it’s that sense of belonging. Its ultimate aim is the translation of the intangible “Mia san Mia” into tangible profits.
Currently, the grandest forum for marketing club football is UEFA’s Champions League. As Ancelotti can attest, that makes it also the most important competition for management and followers of clubs with worldwide aspirations.
Football or Golf?
Giorgetto Giugiaro was another Italian who went to Germany about the same time that Uli Hoeneß was leading Bayern to the first of the new kind of European title. Giugiaro is one of the progenitors of the “folded paper” school of auto design. If you don’t know what that refers to, just recall his other well-known work from that era: the Delorean car.
In the world of automotive enthusiasts, Guigiaro is also credited with the design of the first VW Golf. If you want to know why Bayern (despite the twists and turns of world football finance, and politics) have thrived, it is because they are more like the Golf than any other German export.
The Golf is not as iconic and beloved as the Beetle. Nor is it as arousing of passions as the Porsche or as denotative of status as Daimler. But the Golf—to this day still sporting the lines given to it by Giugiaro and honed by Karmann—is everywhere. It is the perfect blend of practical hardiness, simplicity of execution, and distinctively plain style.
In other words, it is what it is.