Whatever one may think about him - be it as hero or villain - it can't be denied that Mark van Bommel left his mark at Bayern Munich...as well as on many a trailing leg. DW Sports looks at the hardman's legacy.
Van Bommel left Munich for Milan after almost five years
After four and a half years, it's unlikely the Bayern Munich faithful will forget the impact - both literal and metaphorical - that departed captain Mark van Bommel has had on the club. His team mates, however, appear to have gotten over the Dutch midfielder's transfer to AC Milan a lot faster.
Bayern's first game without the combative van Bommel - Wednesday's 4-0 victory over second division Alemannia Aachen in the quarter-finals of the German Cup - suggests that the departure of the 33-year-old Netherlands skipper will have a negligible effect on the rest of Bayern’s season.
With Luiz Gustavo signed from Hoffenheim as van Bommel's replacement, Bayern’s squad gets a good deal younger. The Brazilian defensive all-rounder is just 23, and is contracted until 2015, meaning the German champions can look forward to many years of his service, should he look the part.
Time to part
Bayern appear to have got the best out of the deal despite the fact that van Bommel left for Italy on a free transfer after the Bavarian giants agreed this week his request for his contract to be terminated. No money exchanged hands, but van Bommel's departure is an important step toward an overhaul at Bayern.
Van Bommel won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern
Few will argue that the Dutchman's best days in a Bayern shirt were ahead of him, as indicated by the club hierarchy's unwillingness to offer him a new deal and their swift agreement to let him leave. The marriage had been fruitful, but it was time for a mutually beneficial and amicable divorce.
Van Bommel certainly added to his gongs while in Bavaria. The Dutchman had won league titles in both his native country with PSV Eindhoven and in Spain with Barcelona before moving to the Bundesliga, not to mention a Champions League medal with Barca in 2006. In Munich he added two league titles, two German Cup wins and another trip to a Champions league final.
Loved by fans
Moreover, van Bommel found not just success at Bayern - he also built a cult following. His skill at reading opposing teams’ build-up was considerable, and his willingness to run himself ragged was remarkable. But it was his on-field physicality and mastery of the dark arts of psychological intimidation that endeared him to the hearts of the Bayern faithful.
Van Bommel became the master of what previous generations of soccer hard men used to call “the introduction.” In the opening exchanges of a game, when the teams were feeling each other out, van Bommel was the player most likely to commit the first hard foul.
Hi, I'm Mark. Nice to meet you. Hope you enjoy the game
Expertly claiming as much leg as he could - along with the ball - in a tackle, the Dutchman would often “introduce” himself to his main rival on the pitch, letting them know what kind of afternoon they were in for, within the first few minutes.
One infamous example came in the 2007/08 season when van Bommel, sold an early dummy by Stuttgart's Antonio da Silva, decided to forget the ball and play the man. Not an unusual occurrence but one which was followed up by the grabbing of VfB captain Fernando Meira's manhood in the resulting melee. Two birds killed with one stone, as it were.
A player who once described himself as "a vulture," van Bommel made an art of exploring the outer bounds of legality throughout his time in Germany. And while the fans loved his commitment and will to win, his darker side often led to him being cast as one of the game's most notorious pantomime villains.
The road to nasty
Van Bommel is a player loved and loathed in equal measure
It’s difficult to remember it now, but van Bommel came to Bayern billed as an attacking midfielder. In his first season at Bayern that’s indeed what he was and he scored a respectable six goals and layed on another four. But even then his roughhousing style was beginning to show - he led the team in bookings with a healthy ten for the season.
It was as much out of necessity as anything that he was recast as an enforcer. The next year, Bayern’s midfield was reinforced by the likes of Franck Ribery, Hamit Altintop, and Ze Roberto, meaning van Bommel was charged to hang back and break up play more than go forward and dictate it. He thrived in the role, and became one of the Bundesliga’s best holding midfielders.
Since then however, van Bommel’s pace steadily waned, and he began to resort ever more frequently to clattering opponents who threatened to leave him in their wake. His ebbing speed was probably the greatest factor in Bayern's decision to allow him to leave, but it cannot be ruled out that his increasing international reputation for nastiness swung the decision a bit.
Bayern’s deep run in the Champions League last year, as well as the Dutch national team’s long road to the World Cup final, gave a whole new audience a chance to witness van Bommel’s demolition man routine. They did not much like what they saw.
The British tabloid the Daily Mirror described him as a "cruel, cold, conman for whom bile is as nourishing as breast milk" and the Daily Telegraph called him "psychological warfare in a perm."
Van Bommel was never afraid to mix it up in an orange shirt
Perhaps the cruelest critique, however, came from a fellow countryman following last year's World Cup final where van Bommel was among many Dutch players who could count themselves lucky to still be on the pitch at half-time. Dutch master Johann Cruyff singled out van Bommel as one of the main culprits in what the Holland legend called a display of "anti-football" as the Netherlands kicked and chopped their way to defeat against Spain.
Some might say van Bommel's departure from Bayern signals the winding down of an eventful career, but it means a new start for everyone involved. Bayern can begin the slow rebuilding process around newer, younger stars while van Bommel may find that a change is as good as a rest.
Besides, Serie A has plenty of new players for Mark to "introduce" himself to.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann