Instead of just minding the shop in his fourth stint as manager the man from Mönchengladbach is being begged to stay
Jupp Heynckes has a proud record to protect. In each of the three seasons he has coached a team in the Champions League, they have reached the final. And should Bayern Munich win this season’s competition – a quest that continues with Tuesday’s first-leg meeting with Beskitas – he is likely to repeat what followed his two victories: swiftly departing the club he guided to Europe’s premier prize.
In 1998, Real Madrid sacked him despite a first European Cup in 32 years, while in 2013 Bayern had already agreed to bring Pep Guardiola to Bavaria. Having beaten Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley, Heynckes somewhat reluctantly entered a retirement that lasted until September’s return as a sprightly 72-year-old.
In this fourth Bayern stint, he calls the shots. Despite 22 wins from 23 matches since succeeding Carlo Ancelotti, the latest being Saturday’s late-arriving 2-1 win at Wolfsburg, he has repeatedly ruled out staying beyond the summer. Last month, the club president Uli Hoeness told a gala dinner that “when I stand in front of him, almost naked, perhaps there’s a small chance” but has said he has only a “10%” hope of convincing his former West Germany team-mate.
Hoeness says there is no plan B. One suggestion is that his masterplan is Heynckes staying on until 2019 when the Germany manager, Joachim Löw, becomes available following a post-World Cup sabbatical. The alternatives appear less suitable. Thomas Tuchel, the most likely non-Heynckes candidate, remains available after being sacked by Dortmund last May but would be a risk. He fell out badly with club execs in Westphalia, and Bayern’s hierarchy, a cabal of highly opinionated former players, is far more overbearing.
At the time of Ancelotti’s removal, the plan seemed to be Heynckes minding the shop before Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, the latest “new Jürgen Klopp”, arrived this summer. However, at the age of just 30 and having suffered setbacks this season, Nagelsmann appears too callow for the biggest job in German football.
“It’s a labour of love, which is in vain,” was Heynckes’ view of Hoeness’s sweet nothings two weeks ago. Though he remains a sharp-minded fitness fanatic, the march of time is likely to deny Bayern the coach who best fits the club’s unique demands.
One of life’s enthusiasts, a supreme man-manager and motivator, he has the gravitas to stand up to the likes of Hoeness and CEO Karl Heinz-Rummenigge. At Bayern, the grand soap opera, a dressing-room revolt is almost always part of the story and a delegation of senior players went to Hoeness et al once Ancelotti’s laissez-faire management style had stopped being effective.
The Italian was sacked after a 3-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain. Bayern won last season’s Bundesliga by 15 points, but such success is taken as read at a club on course for a sixth successive title now that Heynckes has righted the ship.
Having inherited a team three points off the top, Bayern are now 19 points clear of second-placed Bayer Leverkusen. Heynckes favours simplicity and has pushed Javi Martínez forward from central defence into midfield, where the Basque was a lynchpin of Heynckes’ 2013 treble-winners. That allows James Rodríguez greater liberty as a playmaker. Bayern have been far more direct than they were under Guardiola, placing less emphasis on possession and more on set pieces.
Lessening the burden on Robert Lewandowski, scorer of 26 goals this season, was addressed by January’s addition of the Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner, who scored Bayern’s equaliser at Wolfsburg. Lewandowski, benched until the last 10 minutes, came on to convert the match-winning penalty. Saturday’s team selection was made with Besiktas in mind, with the goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, Arjen Robben and Martínez the only likely starters for Tuesday.
A trio of Champions League semi-final disappointments blighted Guardiola’s tenure after inheriting Heynckes’ holders. Expectations this year are reasonably high – Ancelotti’s Bayern came close to denying Real Madrid, last season’s winners, in the quarter-finals until Arturo Vidal’s harsh dismissal prior to extra time in the Bernabéu where Cristiano Ronaldo put them to the sword, collecting a hat-trick in an eventual 4-2 second-leg defeat.
Besiktas are not expected to present many problems despite impressively topping a group containing Porto, Leipzig and Monaco. Selling Cenk Tosun to Everton in January removed a prime attacking threat. The quarter-finals, where England’s revived contenders, Real and Barcelona are likely to lie in wait, is where Heynckes’ competition record will be put to a tougher test.
And meanwhile, Hoeness still hopes his unsubtle seduction can convince his old friend to stay on.