Longevity at the highest level of football is rare and to be an integral part of a club like Bayern Munich is no mean feat. In Daniel Van Buyten, Bayern enjoyed a great servant. The time was right though and as Van Buyten moves on to the next phase of his life, Alankrith Shankar takes a trip down memory lane.
Daniel Van Buyten who is fondly called Big Dan decided to hang up his boots recently. Big Dan ended 8 year relationship with Bayern Munich at the end of the 2013-14 season, as his contract came to an end, the 36 year old CB did the best for his country at the World Cup and has now decided to spend more time with his family.
8 years is a long time. Defenders have come and gone at Bayern Munich, but Dan stayed. He was not always the best CB in the squad or in the world, but he always an integral part of the back line. Having watched Bayern since 2009, Big Dan has given me many moments to cherish.
When he arrived from Hamburg in 2006, Van Buyten slotted alongside Brazilian stalwart, Lucio. The duo formed a good partnership and Van Buyten had a very successful first season making 46 appearances and scoring 5 goals. His most valued contribution in the first season came in the Champions League quarter finals against AC Milan, where he scored 2 away goals to give us the advantage in the tie, but the first goal he scored in Bayern Munich colours came in December 2006 against Energie Cottbus. My earliest Dan memory was the late winner against Frankfurt in a home fixture. It was the dying moments of the game and the scores were level, not for the lack of trying by both sides though. Bayern kept pressing hard and penned Frankfurt into their own half. The Frankfurt defenders had just cleared the ball only as far as Phillip Lahm on the right flank, who was about 35 yards from the goal. He whipped in an early cross that took a touch off the head of the young Thomas Muller and found Big Dan who rose high and headed it in with power beating the goal keeper at the bottom right corner. This late winner was more than reason enough for me to become a huge fan of Big Dan. An ecstatic Louis van Gaal celebrating on the touchline while all the Bayern players jumped on Big Dan, the scene was incredible. Bayern did not have a smooth start that season, though started to get some sort of stability under LvG after this game and were crowned Bundesliga Champions at the end of the season.
Under Van Gaal, Daniel Van Buyten was not only a defender, but a key goal scorer too. Most of the times, when Bayern were struggling to open up staunch defenses, Van Buyten would score important headers from set pieces. The one I remember very vividly was the header of a Robben free kick against Hamburg. This became more or less like a second outlet for goals for Bayern as the size and aerial ability of Van Buyten was difficult to contend with for defenses in Germany. This ability was primarily used for defending long balls and corners, which he was exceptional at, but goals win you games and this ability of his made Van Buyten an even bigger player for Bayern under Louis van Gaal, than what most people thought. But Van Buyten was not only scoring goals with his head, he scored smart tap-ins too and sometimes took long shots and free kicks notably one against Leverkusen in 2012. He blasted the ball beneath the legs of the defensive wall and the powerful shot gave the keeper no chance. Big Dan could have repeated the act against FC Cologne, but this time, the shot was so powerful that he ended up in deflating the ball!
What became more important post the Van Gaal reign, was Van Buyten’s ability on the ball. Almost every game that Big Dan played, you could see him starting counters with his accurate long balls to Robben or Ribery in the wings. Sometimes, he would rather just play it to the striker, who would be clear on goal due to the accuracy of the pass. But life was good at Bayern for Big Dan. Before Van Gaal took over, he had been reduced to the role of a bench player in the previous 2 seasons. Van Buyten admitted that he found it difficult but was determined to prove himself again after an excellent first season. When Louis van Gaal took over, the Belgian was entrusted with a starting berth again at the club and he racked up 48 appearances in Bayern colours that season in all competitions, scoring 9 goals. Arguably the best season Van Buyten has had in his career. He played a key role in Bayern completing the Domestic Double and runners-up in the Champions League as they lost to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan at the Santiago Bernabéu. The treble would have capped off a brilliant season for the Belgian who earned a contract extension at the German outfit, in February 2010.
Big Dan did rack up 39 appearances in 2010-11, but still found himself on the bench for long periods of the last few months of a turbulent second season under Louis van Gaal. The axing of the Dutchman and the arrival of Jupp Heynckes meant Van Buyten again had a fresh start and a new competitor in the Brazilian Dante, who had just arrived from Monchengladbach. Big Dan did not give in like expected due to his age, but he carried on fighting for his place and formed an integral part of Heynckes’s defense. Though Bayern did end up trophy-less after making it to 2 finals, including the home final at Munich in the CL, at which some feel Dan Buyten was at fault for the Chelsea equalizer, the coveted Champions League trophy that had eluded him on 2 previous occasions, finally became his in the 2012-13 season. His last season at Bayern though was by far his worst, Van Buyten seemed to have lost a lot as a defender, as his age finally caught up. Van Buyten retires at 36, citing that he would like to enjoy the finer things in life and spend time with his family. Big Dan helped Bayern win 11 domestic trophies, 2 European Trophies and 1 Club World Cup. Defenders with all round capabilities like Big Dan are hard to find. I hope that he returns to Bayern one day in a coaching or mentor role. Auf Wiedersehen, Dan! Thank you for the goals. Thank you for the memories.
Written by Alankrith Shankar.
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