Sport Soccer

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Heynckes's Bayern machine will not go quietly

Manager handing keys of fine-tuned vehicle to incoming Guardiola, writes Marcus Christenson

Jupp Heynckes was not happy. The Bayern Munich manager had seen something he found unacceptable. White socks. Unbelievable. Had he not told the entire squad to wear black socks for this particular training session in Qatar? And yet there were Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos in white socks.

"We have a joint goal we are working towards," he barked at the players. "We need discipline. And that starts with having the same socks."

The manager even wanted to fine the two players. The club captain, Philipp Lahm, was told to collect the money but in the end they arrived at a truce.

Heynckes, however, had made his point. Schweinsteiger and Kroos wore black socks for the afternoon session.

"Did our manager overreact? No I think he did the right thing," said the Bayern chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

The incident happened in January, by which time the manager already knew he was leaving at the end of the season. The Bundesliga club, who face Arsenal in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, were pursuing Pep Guardiola but the 67-year-old German was not going to go quietly.

Inside him raged an incredible determination to make up for that gruesome night last May when his team had dominated Chelsea in the Champions League final but still, somehow, managed to lose on penalties. At their own home. After missing a penalty in extra-time. Schweinsteiger, for one, was in tears after missing his spot-kick.

Up in the stands in the Allianz Arena on that May evening sat Uli Hoeness, completely expressionless. The Bayern president cannot stand defeats. He talked after the game about "this not being the time to criticise anyone" but he was already thinking about the ruthless decisions needed to make Bayern winners again. "We used to laugh about Leverkusen always finishing second. Now that is us," he said pointedly.

Hoeness's first victim was the sporting director, Christian Nerlinger. The former midfielder had annoyed the president in March 2012 when he had conceded the title to Dortmund after a defeat against Leverkusen that left Bayern seven points behind the leaders. "When a sporting director says that the title is lost when nothing has been decided then I am of the opinion that someone in the club must say: 'No, no, that is actually not the case'," Hoeness told die Abendzeitung in October. "It gives the wrong signal to the team, when the club lies on its back and puts its four legs up in the air.

"This is not a problem I have with Nerlinger's replacement, Matthias Sammer," Hoeness said. "He will fight until the bitter end. It has been proved that for this position we need a man who has a strong charisma and projects strength to the outside world. Matthias has that. Christian Nerlinger, on the other hand, couldn't deliver that."

When asked whether Nerlinger would have kept his job had Bayern won the Champions League, Hoeness answered coldly: "Yes, until January 1. Then he would have had to go, regardless. I had made up my mind."

Against Chelsea, Hoeness had also noticed two other weaknesses in the squad. First, there was no "calf-biter", no Jens Jeremies in the team, a defensive midfielder who did the really dirty work – and enjoyed doing so. Second, the Bayern bench had looked a bit too callow for Hoeness's liking on a few occasions that season. "We need players with international experience, even on the bench," he said.

For their "calf-biter", Bayern turned to Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez, a defensive midfielder who had called Cristiano Ronaldo a "son of a bitch" during one particularly bad-tempered match the previous campaign. The then 23-year-old was exactly what Bayern wanted and, after paying a Bundesliga-record fee of €40m (his buy-out clause), Hoeness admitted that they probably had paid "€10m too much". No matter, they had got their man.

Other signings were the relatively unknown centre-back Dante from Borussia Monchengladbach, who has since become a Brazil international, as well as the outrageously talented midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri from FC Basel for €11.6m and Wolfsburg's Croatia international Mario Mandzukic, who was the joint-top scorer at Euro 2012 with three goals.

Bayern started their new campaign last August amid questions over whether the players had managed to get over the trauma of Chelsea. One psychologist had suggested that some of the players could suffer from a lack of self-belief and mood swings, which could "lead to depression".

Hardly. Bayern's response has been utterly magnificent. They started their season by beating Dortmund in the Super Cup and went on to win their first nine games, scoring 27 goals.

After a blip against BATE Borisov in the Champions League, they have gone back to pulverising their opponents. They have won 17 of their first 21 league games and were, going into the weekend, 15 points ahead of Dortmund in second. Away from home they have won nine out of 10 games and conceded only once. In the four games after the winter break, Bayern have collected 12 points, scored 11 goals and conceded none. They have become a machine. All talk of Guardiola joining this summer has not had an impact on the team – or the manager.

No wonder Heynckes is proud, saying that this is the best Bayern side of all time, better even than the team who won three straight European Cups in the Seventies. "Bayern have never played such a modern and attractive football in the entire history of the club," he said in January.

Franck Ribery, who is having an outstanding season, believes Bayern are up there with Barcelona and Real Madrid in terms of quality, while striker Mario Gomez said recently that only the Catalans are better than the 22-times German champions at the moment.

That is not to say that everyone is happy at Bayern and that there is no hope for Arsenal. Arjen Robben, most notably, has been unhappy at losing his place in the team, provoking an angry rebuke from Sammer, who said: "The coach decides who plays, there is no discussion. If you are left out we don't expect the player to shout hallelujah and be all happy about it, but we will not tolerate any egoism at this club."

Martinez is an injury doubt for the Emirates and Schweinsteiger has been criticised for his recent form. Heynckes, though, is not going to let such small matters ruin his farewell season. He recently praised 'Schweini' as the best midfielder in the world together with Sergio Busquets and talked about how much he has enjoying being a manager. "The past six months have been great," he said. "I have really enjoyed them. To be happy at work is the most important thing."

That, and matching socks, of course.


Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup returns, Jacob Stockdale's development, and Simon Zebo goes back to Munster

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport