A fever dream of a day in Munich took place under a relentless Bavarian sun that made even the city’s stone sweat.
It began with Bayern Munich breaking the German transfer record and ended with RB Leipzig routing the Bundesliga champions in the Allianz Arena. Thomas Tuchel ripped into his defence live on television. Joshua Kimmich was whistled and jeered by his own supporters. And Harry Kane was there, too.
What a melodrama; this promises to be quite the adventure.
The night before it began, Tuchel spent the evening at Grunwalder Stadion.
It sits to the south of the city; a wide, concrete bowl of a place, with steepling floodlights from a different era. While the rest of the world was tracking jets and training lenses, Tuchel was sat in its main stand, with his baseball cap pulled down, watching Bayern’s second team draw 2-2 with Nurnberg.
It was a perfect night for football. A small band of ultras banged their drums and sang their songs in the stand opposite. An elderly woman sold bratwurst in bread rolls. And, as the dusk gathered, Bayern’s youngsters played well enough in the calm of a Friday night to give their senior head coach something to think about.
A few hundred yards away, nothing was still and nothing was calm. A great mess of fans and media thronged around Sabener Strasse, Bayern Munich’s headquarters, waiting for the most expensive player in the history of German football to arrive. They jostled for position and primed their cameras and when Kane did appear, in a gleaming, Bayern-red Audi, phones were thrust at its windows, like a scene from outside a court hearing.
Kane is a world-class footballer, but he is not an easy superstar. Those cameras thrust at his car’s windows caught that side of him, as he wore the half-charmed, half-bewildered expression of someone who isn’t quite sure where they’ve woken up.
And a strange reality really was unfolding. English footballers have little history at Bayern Munich and Kane certainly had the expression of someone unsure of what was about to happen. He is just the third English player in history to represent the club. That he is the England player of his generation, the captain of his country no less, makes this seem all the more radical. Reckless perhaps, given that of all the options that were available to Kane — or would have been in a year’s time — the Bundesliga was the one that least obviously suited him.
Outside the car windows and away from Sabener Strasse, Munich was also a muddle. Bavaria is very different to the rest of Germany. It has a culture and a past of its own, and an atmosphere and a pace of life which seems to have much more in common with the Mediterranean than it does any of the cities from Germany’s industrial west or its north.
It is also being rebuilt. The central station is being dramatically expanded ahead of next year’s European Championship, but much of the surrounding area is also being knocked down and reimagined. Tall cranes loom above the skyline and, down at street level, turning most corners reveals something half-finished. Construction sites sit between beautiful, centuries-old buildings, with trams trilling their bells as they pass, and — for now — the city is a conflict between yesterday, today and tomorrow.
On Saturday morning, under the towers of a cathedral, beside the decadent beauty of the town hall and between those building sites, Bayern Munich’s fan shop swung open its doors at 10am.
Their shirts sell. Really, really sell. Inside, the latest home and away tops dress mannequins that are made to look like stone. Kimmich, Thomas Muller and Jamal Musiala are all there, with their faces carved to a likeness.
Initially, the fans who had queued outside had to ask for Kane’s shirt. Then, as the news became official, it started to appear on every available hook. Then, as morning became early afternoon, it was out all over the streets as well. Football worships money and flamboyant spending, so the most expensive player in Bundesliga history naturally has a pull, and within hours of his move being made official Kane’s name and number were everywhere.
It was being worn by men and women, boys and girls, and in the streets, the stations and the dark beerhalls, with their chalk-and-blackboard menus and wooden walls. That was striking. It might be a strange thing to say of one of the most famous players in the world and one who virtually guarantees goals, but the instant acceptance is a vote of faith that probably Bayern themselves were not anticipating — because how is Kane going to fit in here? A boy from Chingford, to a city and a state where many Germans feel far from home.
Kane is not one of their own in Munich. He is not Bavarian. Nor does he have the gregarious personality to charm this public. No, he will be judged harshly and quickly. Even when his transfer still looked like an unrealistic possibility, there were voices in the German media who were oiling the gears of an agenda.
Kane was just a penalty taker, they said. He was too old. He wouldn’t work in a possession team or succeed against the low blocks that Bayern invariably face. He was not worth the money and he was definitely not Robert Lewandowski or Gerd Muller. Make no mistake, while he may have arrived to open arms and a generous welcome, there are those who will really enjoy it if Kane fails. That is already clear. What success looks like for him in Germany, on the other hand, will take much longer to define.
The Bundesliga is denigrated for Bayern’s dominance, but that misses the point of just how ruthless a city this is. Munich dominates Bavaria, even more than Bayern rule Germany, and there is little patience here for anything other than smooth, reliable excellence. The club may offer a virtual guarantee of trophies, but — perversely — those trophies are not a guarantee of popularity or acceptance. Ask Sadio Mane about that. Or Julian Nagelsmann.
And Kane’s first experience of life as a Bayern Munich player will already have taught him that.
That he would feature in Saturday’s Super Cup became obvious from the moment he arrived and after the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) hurriedly extended the registration deadline for new players. He was going to play and everyone knew it. He was about to collect the first trophy of his career and everyone seemed to know that, too.
Only that did not happen and a strange day became a much stranger night.
The Super Cup was intended to be matinee entertainment until Kane emerged from the bench to take part. Bayern would play well, build a lead and then, with 20 minutes left, on he would come to crown their performance with an inevitable goal and a celebration in front of the South Tribune.
But Bayern were awful. Really, really bad. Marco Rose’s Leipzig countered them with mesmerisingly rapid breakaways, ripping through Tuchel’s midfield and defence with alarming ease. Dani Olmo scored twice before Kane had even begun his stretches. Instead of clamouring for their new signing, then, the Bayern fans began to demand him, chanting his name awkwardly and with a few too many syllables. When he entered the game, it was as a necessity and on a rescue mission, and there lay another seductive narrative.
Of course he’ll score, of course they’ll come back to win this game, and of course this is how the story will end.
No. Kane entered to a deafening roar from every side and every tier of the Allianz Arena — goodness, what a noise that stadium makes — but Leipzig were awarded a penalty before he had a notable touch. They converted it too and ended the game as a contest. The headline was an Olmo hat-trick.
Later, Tuchel was furious. His historically dominant team had just been strengthened with one of the most dangerous forwards of the modern era, and yet they had barely fashioned a chance in the game. He was embarrassed, emotional and — 24 hours after that peaceful night in Grunwalder Strasse — the volatile side of his personality was drawn out in public.
“I’m just sorry for Harry Kane,” he told German television. “He probably thinks we haven’t trained for four weeks. Our performance today had nothing to do with what we set out to achieve. It was a very bitter evening.”
Yes, Kane might well have wondered where he was and what team he had actually joined. This was the soft option, supposedly, and the easy guarantee of success. In time, those better days and nights will surely come, and with them the trophies. But not this one and that defeat — and Tuchel’s mild hysteria — was a reminder of both the energies that swirl around Bayern Munich and just how thin the air that they inhabit can be.
On the pitch, Kimmich experienced that too. He is a wonderful player who is enduring a difficult period in his career. During pre-season, Tuchel suggested the midfielder was not a true No 6 and that that position is in need of an upgrade before the Bundesliga begins. Kimmich disagrees, on the first point but presumably also the second, and so a case of poor form has now become a little soap opera, in which every scene becomes overly significant and two characters — perhaps fictitiously — have been placed in opposition with another.
Kimmich struggled on Saturday. Badly. His passing lacked touch and direction and the Allianz Arena — his home crowd – turned on him even before Kane arrived on the pitch. They whistled his mistakes and, eventually — cruelly – jeered as he was substituted.
So, Kane’s eyes should be clear and wide now. If he read the front page of Bild on Saturday night, they will be even more so and will have provided a better understanding of where he’s woken up.
“Kane da! Titel weg!”, it read, or “Kane here! Title gone!”
Welcome to the Bundesliga, where nothing is quite as gentle as it seems.
(Top photo: Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images)