Bayern Munich’s Greatest Ever Players

Munich, GER, May 2022: The Bayern Munich Flag waving in the wind with Allianza Arena Stadium blurred in the background. Bayern Munich is a German sports club based in Munich. Seamless loop in slow motion

The most successful club in Germany, Bayern Munich has been a Bundesliga powerhouse since the promotion year in 1965. In Europe, the Bavarians also won the Champions League six times. Through all of that, some big names have played their part in a sustainable success story. As always, let’s start with the honourable mentions.

Sepp Maier (1960-1980) [his entire career] – 706 games, 217 clean sheets – the story of Bayern and legendary goalies starts with Die Katze. Sepp has won everything there is to win with club and country.

  • Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck (1966-1981) [his entire career] – 554 games, 31 goals – remembered as Franz Beckenbauer’s less-known partner in crime and for that pivotal goal against Atletico Madrid in the run to Bayern’s first European Cup, the down-to-earth center-back won it all with his local club.
  • Uli Hoeness (1970-1978) (1979) – 341 games, 112 goals – Mr. Bayern Munich was a game-changer winger in his playing days. A sequence of injuries cut his career short before he turned 30, but there was a blessing in disguise with a larger-than-life influence at the club since retirement. 
  • Paul Breitner (1970-1974) (1978-1983) – 352 games, 110 goals – the self-styled maverick started and ended his playing days at Bayern. The graceful midfielder/defender perfectly fits Bayern’s Hollywood tag.
  • Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (1974-1984) – 422 games, 217 goals – if we were talking about an overall influence, Rummenigge would even make it into a top-five list. He’s also the closest to making the list as a two-time Ballon d’Or winner as a Bayern player.
  • Mehmet Scholl (1992-2007) – 469 games, 117 goals – known for his dazzling technical skill and set-piece prowess, Scholl won eight Meisterschale and the 2001 Champions League with FC Hollywood
  • Bixente Lizarazu (1997-2004) (2005-2006) – 273 games, 8 goals
  • Willy Sagnol (2000-2009) – 277 games, 8 goals
  • The two French fullbacks were instrumental in Bayern’s 2001 Champions League triumph. Exemplary professionals and consistent throughout their respective times at the club, their careers were the perfect examples of how top-level fullbacks operated in the early 2000s.
  • Stefan Effenberg (1990-1992) (1998-2002) – 234 games, 48 goals – the hard-tackling midfielder was a very influential and polarizing figure in German football, twice signing for Bayern from old foes Borussia Monchengladbach.
  • Claudio Pizarro (2001-2007) (2012-2015) – 327 games, 125 goals – the current club ambassador is a Bundesliga legend with a fans’ favorite status at both Bayern and Werder Bremen.

 

  1. Bastian Schweinsteiger

1998 – 2015 (500 games, 68 goals scored)

Major titles: Champions League, 8 Bundesliga, 7 DFB Pokal

Joining the club at the age of 14, Basti is one of the academy players who worked his way into legendary status at Bayern Munich. In 17 years at Bayern, he won multiple times, including the 2013 Champions League.

His first playing position was on the wing before the change to central midfield, where he became one of the best players in the world. We could associate passion, energy, passing range and shooting power to the 2014 World Cup final star.

When he first joined Bayern’s first team, he had a bad reputation with disciplinary issues. But, as time went on, Schweinsteiger was helped by the guidance of top coaches like Ottmar Hitzfield and Louis van Gaal.

He reunited with former coach Louis van Gaal with a move to Manchester United in 2015. That transfer also ended his Bayern Munich chapter, although the fans never had a grudge against him for chasing a new experience.

  1. Oliver Kahn

1994 – 2008 (632 games, 242 clean sheets)

Major titles: Champions League, 8 Bundesliga, 6 DFB Pokal, UEFA Cup, Intercontinental Cup

The three-time World Goalkeeper of the Year, Kahn was also an influential figure for Bayern and the German national team. The Titan joined the club at the age of 25 from minnows Karlsruhe.

But he was quick to embody Bayern’s winning mentality. The final matchday of the 2000-2001 season was the perfect night to showcase that character as he inspired the team to win the league in injury-time.

In 14 years, Kahn won plenty of individual accolades. As a team, eight of those campaigns saw Bayern lifting the league title. And he was also pivotal in his only Champions League triumph.

Although it wasn’t his strong point, Kahn miraculously saved three penalties in the shootout win against Valencia in 2001. He also won the UEFA Cup with Bayern in 1996. For such an iconic career, his farewell game in 2008 saw Bayern and the German national team play against each other.  

Kahn went all the way to replace Rummenigge as Bayern’s CEO in 2021, but he was ousted from the position in dramatic fashion at the end of last season when Bayern repeated the 2001 feat of winning Meisterschale at the eleventh hour.

  1. Lothar Matthaus

1984 – 1988, 1992 – 2000 (410 games, 100 goals)

Major titles: 7 Bundesliga, 3 DFB Pokal, UEFA Cup

Well before his first step at the club to his last kick, Matthaus wrote his unique history at Bayern Munich. He signed a pre-contract with Bayern when he missed his kick for Borussia Monchengladbach in a penalty shootout defeat to his future employers in the 1983-84 DFB Pokal semi-final.

In his first spell at the club, Matthaus won the domestic league and cup, but Bayern squandered their lead to fall to a European Cup final defeat to Rabah Madjer’s Porto in 1986/87.

A year later, he was tempted by the emergence of Serie A as he joined Inter Milan alongside his Bayern teammate Andreas Brehme. After a successful spell that saw him winning the Ballon d’Or, Matthaus returned to Bayern in 1992.

Again, he won domestic trophies on bucketload as well as the UEFA Cup (the then-Europa League), but the biggest one eluded him with another Champions League final defeat after Bayern scored the first goal.

That was his dark moment as a Bayern player with fans still pointing fingers at him for asking Hitzfield to substitute him when the club needed him the most. In the first season after his retirement, Bayern finally reunited with a Champions League title.

Putting the story of European glory aside, Matthaus engraved himself as one of the most iconic figures at the club. Whether it’s with the way he controlled games from midfield or how his second spell was highlighted by a rivalry with teammate Jurgen Klinsmann, Matthaus is part and parcel of Bayern’s history.

  1. Manuel Neuer

2011 – Current 

Major titles: 2 Champions League, 11 Bundesliga, 6 DFB Pokal, 2 Club World Cups

Neuer is a strong candidate for the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the sport. And Bayern has a big part in that claim since the sweeper-keeper has been playing for the club since 2011.

Including trebles in 2013 and 2020, Neuer won 28 trophies as a Bayern Munich goalie. He finished third in the 2014 Ballon d’Or ranking and UEFA picked him Goalkeeper of the Year on five occasions.

Even with injuries ruling him out of action for extended periods, he never lost his starting berth at both Bayern and Germany. His numerous records and game-winning performances on big nights put him in such a high place in the football world.

Neuer held the record for most clean sheets (both overall and in a season) in Bundesliga. But, before all of that, he had to win the hearts of the Bayern faithful as his transfer from Schalke wasn’t popular amongst the Bavarians.

In the 2011/12 Champions League season, Neuer took huge steps in doing that as he helped Bayern reach a home final by saving penalties from Real Madrid’s superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. When the final was also decided by penalties, Neuer scored Bayern’s third kick, but his efforts weren’t rewarded at the end.

But he won his first league title that season. Neuer the Wall repeated his European heroics the following season as he kept clean sheets in four knockout stage games against Juventus and Barcelona.

He saved eight shots in the Wembley final against Borussia Dortmund as Bayern won the treble. Neuer and Bayern repeated that feat in 2020 as Neuer once again kept Thomas Tuchel’s PSG at bay with spectacular saves.

As for the league crown, since his very first title in 2012, Bayern won eleven Meisterschale in a row. Neuer, who extended his contract once again, already leapfrogged Sepp Maier and Oliver Kahn to be considered Bayern’s greatest goalkeeper.

  1. Phillip Lahm

1995 – 2003, 2005 – 2017 (517 games, 16 goals)

Major titles: Champions League, 8 Bundesliga, 6 DFB Pokal, Club World Cups

Bayern’s long-time captain had a reverse transformation from the one Schweinsteiger had the decade earlier. While he’ll always be mentioned as one of the greatest full-back in football history, Pep Guardiola used him to great effect as a central midfielder.

Apart from a two-year loan spell at VfB Stuttgart, Lahm played his entire career at Bayern Munich. His leadership qualities were visible even before he joined the first team as he won the U19 Bundesliga as team captain.

On his return from loan, Lahm couldn’t jump into action right away due to an ACL injury. But, soon after, he managed to replace experienced figure Bixente Lizarazu as Bayern’s preferred option at left-back.

But the story nearly ended there when Barcelona came close to signing him before a turnaround saw Lahm extending his deal at Munich. The following season, there was also another hiccup as Lahm was fined for criticizing the club’s transfer policy and lack of planning.

Once again, instead of separation, Lahm reconciled with the club as Louis van Gaal’s appointment even had him shifted to his primary position of right-back, where he formed an iconic linkup with Arjen Robben.

Taking over the captaincy from departed Dutch international Mark van Bommel, Lahm led the way as Bayern won the treble in 2013. It was all the more satisfying with Bayern losing two finals in the previous three seasons.

While Bayern came short of their Champions League target in Lahm’s remaining time at the club, he retired from football alongside Xabi Alonso after winning his eighth Meisterschale. He entered the club’s Hall of Fame only a week after his last game for the club.

  1. Robert Lewandowski

2014 – 2022 (375 games, 344 goals)

Major titles: Champions League, 8 Bundesliga, 3 DFB Pokal, Club World Cups

It was a decisive transfer when the two-time champion left Borussia Dortmund to join Bayern in 2014. Lewy added eight Mesiterschale to his name before another high-profile move to Barcelona.

While that decision left a sore taste in Bayern’s camp, Lewandowski’s numbers at the club will have his name among the very best. And he did win the coveted Champions League trophy when Bayern won their second treble in 2020.

Although he lost on his debut to his ex-club in the Super Cup, the transfer was a big factor in the power shift of German football. Lewandowski won Torjagerkanone – the league’s top-scorer canon – six times as a Bayern striker.

Amongst his countless records in Germany, two of them stand out from the rest. On 22 September 2015, to Pep Guardiola and the football world’s amusement, he scored five goals in nine minutes as a substitute against Wolfsburg. That feat made history as Lewandowski even made it into Guinness World Records.

The second big achievement was rather a season-long effort. In the 2020/21 season, the Poland international broke Gerd Muller’s record for most goals scored in a single campaign with 41.

Lewandowski was the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or in 2021, but the award committee decided to skip that season due to COVID-19. In the following season, Lewandowski ended his tie with Bayern and German football as he joined Barcelona.

With an unprecedented start to a Bundesliga season, Harry Kane threatened to break Lewy’s 41-goal mark in his very first attempt.

With second-most goals for the club and countless memories at the Allianz Arena, Lewandowski will get back his flowers for the commendable service to the club when the dust settles on the Barcelona transfer.

  1. Franck Ribery

2007 – 2019 (425 games, 124 goals scored)

Major titles: Champions League, 9 Bundesliga, 6 DFB Pokal, Club World Cup

Arjen Robben

2009 – 2019 (309 games, 144 goals scored)

Major titles: Champions League, 8 Bundesliga, 5 DFB Pokal, Club World Cups

At the very beginning, we had French full-backs Willy Sagnol and Bixente Lizarazu mentioned together under our Honorable Mention. And we’re doing the same thing here for the Robbery connection.

It’s very difficult to separate the Bayern careers of the flying wingers. Signed under Louis van Gaal, both of them had a fairytale ending as they shared the final game of their careers.

Both Ribery and Robben played a lot less due to injury problems. But, when they’re out on the pitch, Bayern’s chances of winning football games would always have a better advantage.

29 August 2009 was the landmark day for their partnership. Ribery twice assisted his new teammate Robben in a 3-0 win against Wolfsburg.

When they won the Champions League in Wembley, the duo combined for the winning goal against fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund. And, on 18 May 2019, they both came off the bench to bid their respective farewell with a goal against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern’s dominant era started with the dazzling display from the flanks. From Van Gaal to Pep, they remained key players in Bayern’s stride under different managers. Many contemplated what was next every time there was a change of scenery, but the duo were decisive until their last kicks for the club.

The numbers tell the story. Their telepathic understanding resulted in a combined 268 goals and 284 assists from their time in Munich.

Ribery went on to play a few seasons in Serie A after Bayern, while Robben also returned to a very brief spell after initially calling it a day after Bayern.

  1. Thomas Muller

2000 – Current (entire professional career)

Major titles: 2 Champions League, 12 Bundesliga, 6 DFB Pokal, 2 Club World Cups

Just like Neuer, Thomas Muller extended his Bayern contract by another year recently. He might not have been the most technically gifted player in the squad, but few can rival Muller for his sheer consistency and team chemistry.

When he first broke into first-team action in 2009, Louis van Gaal was certain he’d soon be joining his untouchable list. And, in 2011, fresh from winning the Youngest Player of the World Cup, he was nearly the Champions League final matchwinner when he scored in injury-time against Chelsea.

But Bayern couldn’t handle the pressure at their ground as Ivorian striker Didie Drogba inspired the Blues to a comeback win. The next season, Muller and Bayen were rewarded with a victory against Dortmund.

His record of 12 league titles, 11 of which were in back-to-back seasons, meant the academy graduate can be considered as one of the greats. His 21 assists in the second treble season also reached record books.

In the current 2023-24 season, he became the first Bayern player to feature in 16 Bundesliga seasons. And, against Real Madrid, Thomas Muller joined the 100-goal club in Champions League history.

While Tuchel first reduced his minutes, Muller clawed back to win his place at the club. As Germany will host the Euros in the summer, Muller hopes to play a key part under Julian Nagelsmann.

  1. Gerd Muller

1964 – 1979 (611 games, 568 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 European Cup, 4 Bundesliga, 4 DFB Pokal, Intercontinental Cup

From the current day Muller to the most-loved striker in the club’s history. Gerd, Der Bomber, is not only highly regarded by Bayern, but he was also considered one of the finest goal-scorers in the history of the game.

Muller’s first steps at Bayern were very similar to that of Ferenc Puskas at Real Madrid. His physique led to many questions as to how he could compete at the very top level of Bundesliga when he signed from his local club Nordlingen.

With Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier, Gerd Muller shaped the formative years of Bayern Munich. As they were competing for a promotion to Bundesliga, it wasn’t to be expected for what came next.

Bayern achieved the first target in the first season of the three future stars. They followed it up with domestic and continental titles in the 1960s and 1970s. Including their prolific striker, Bayern also contributed the most to West Germany’s successful World Cup and European Championships.

Muller scored 365 Bundesliga goals in just 427 matches. While Robert Lewandowski broke Gerd’s record of a single-season tally, that all-time stat remained intact for over half a century.

Finishing top-scorer on seven occasions where he scored a goal per game or better, Gerd Muller had 53 more strikes than the Polish striker, who departed the league last season.   

After the end of his playing career, Gerd Muller was severely affected by alcoholism. And, in 2015, it was announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Just months before Lewandowski broke the single-season record, Muller died in a nursing home at the age of 75.

  1. Franz Beckenbauer

1964 – 1977 (582 games, 74 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 European Cup, 4 Bundesliga, 4 DFB Pokal, Cup Winners’ Cup, Intercontinental Cup

Der Kaiser is the guy who had the most influence in the club based on his playing days. While Gerd Muller’s goals were in desperate need, Beckenbauer was the star performer pulling the strength with the utmost freedom of roaming the pitch.

If he joined 1860 Munich as he initially intended, the story of the Munich clubs would’ve been different right now. But Bayern managed to convince him at the time when they were in the second division.

The rest is history. Beckenbauer played with aura and technical prowess as Bayern dominated Europe in the first half of the 1970s. On the domestic front, his competition with Gladbach’s own maverick Gunter Netzer was a sight to behold.

Beckenbauer twice won the Ballon d’Or as a Bayern Munich player. He was the captain of the side when Bayern first lifted a league title in 1968-69.

With Beckenbauer in the side, Bayern won three league (1972-74) and three European Cups (1974-76) in a row.

Although he had some more success as a manager of Bayern and Germany, he later became a controversial figure with wrongdoings in the process of the 2006 World Cup hosting right. On 7 January, Beckenbauer dies at the age of 78.

About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

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