Heynckes has a crisis on his hands at Bayern Munich
Posted on March 21st, 2012
Jupp Heynckes shuffled in his seat. He shrugged and sighed, looked away then turned back to his interlocutors, fingering his chin for a moment before pulling his hand away in an instinctive gesture of baffled resignation. It doesn’t take much for the 66-year-old coach of Bayern Munich to look flustered, not with his reddish complexion and windswept grey hair. But now he looked particularly uncomfortable.
Heynckes was trying to explain Saturday’s 2-0 capitulation to Bayer Leverkusen. He sought to give a reason why his team had once again relinquished the initiative following an “outstanding” first half when Bayern had created chance after glorious chance only to fail to win a game they really should have won.
Unable to find one, he pleaded mea culpa. “The criticism is valid also for myself [not just for the players],” Heynckes said. “I am the person responsible for the whole thing. Whoever coaches Bayern has to deal with such situations. I must remain calm and confident in myself. I think I have the necessary experience.”
As a former Bundesliga and Champions League-winning coach, he should think so too. But Bayern’s season is unraveling before his very eyes. Like a piece of thread snagged on something sharp they’re beginning to look strung out and likely to tear at any moment, unable to reconcile sublime performances such as those against Schalke a couple of weeks ago and the first 20 minutes in Leverkusen with unexpected draws in Freiburg and defeats in Basel.
Stretching Bayern thin in this tug of war is Borussia Dortmund. A 2-1 win at home to Mainz was their eighth in a row and opened up an ominous seven-point lead at the top of the table. As the weeks go by, it seems more and more probable that Bayern will go two years without lifting a league championship for the first time since Dortmund last retained the Bundesliga between 1995 and 1996.
“There certainly won’t be any more talk of the title after today,” Bayern director of sport, Christian Nerlinger grimaced. “The title isn’t something we’re concerned with at the moment.”
Hearing those words of conceded defeat, it’s rather curious to recall the rude state of health Bayern were in not too long ago. Everything seemed to be clicking under Heynckes. For a time they were sweeping all before them, from their Bundesliga brethren to their competitors in the Champions League where they made relatively light work of the so-called Group of Death.
Between late August and early October they put together an impressive 10 straight victories in all competitions and kept 12 consecutive clean sheets. Dortmund, even at that early stage of the campaign, were grasping to hold on to Bayern’s coat-tails and found themselves eight points behind. How things have changed. Championships are marathons not sprints after all. Yet that doesn’t make Bayern’s stuttering pace any less surprising.
Why then have they gradually lost a step on their title rivals? Bild sought to answer that question by launching their own investigation on Monday, first of all taking issue with Bayern’s lack of depth, a point Franck Ribéry had recently raised.
Heynckes’s disagreed. He had been confident that, as winter champions, his squad didn’t need reinforcing in the January transfer window. Yet it looked like Bayern were to go over his head anyway when out of nowhere they revealed that a “new star” signing was to be announced, generating great excitement among the fans only for it to turn out, much to their disappointment, that it was a misjudged PR stunt ahead of the release of a Facebook application.
Making amends for that was the news that Bayern had in fact reached an agreement to acquire Basel’s highly regarded young winger Xherdan Shaqiri for next season, a fine riposte indeed from a club whose pride had been hurt by the decision of Borussia Mönchengladbach star Marco Reus to refuse their overtures in favour of those made by Dortmund.
Yet there remained the sensation that Bayern, despite spending £38m on new talent last summer, required a further injection of fresh blood sooner rather than later. The defence, on which they invested a large proportion of that sum, has, as mentioned above, held together rather well. But Daniel van Buyten has picked up his fair share of knocks, Jérôme Boateng has made some costly errors, and some would claim Rafinha hasn’t worked out.
Then there’s the midfield. It’s probably no coincidence that five of Bayern’s eight defeats in all competitions this season have come in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s absence first through a fractured collar bone suffered against Napoli in mid-October then with the ankle ligaments he tore in a DFB Cup quarter-final away to Stuttgart in early February.
Heynckes has tried other players in his position but a satisfying solution to the problem posed by his all too frequent spells on the sidelines has not been found. The same can be said of Bayern’s attack, where they could perhaps do with a more experienced alternative than Nils Petersen to share the burden Mario Gomez feels as the team’s principal goal-scorer. Ivica Olic seems to be an afterthought and is often used as a late substitute when fit.
Without a goal in each of his last four matches, Gomez has given his opinion on why Bayern are faltering. He claims they “get nervous and insecure” and consequently “no longer play with the necessary discipline” and compactness. Gomez has also suggested that within a 4-2-3-1,they’re sometimes “too static” and maybe lack a Plan B. Asked for a reaction to that comment, Heynckes said: “I would remind you that we have played very well and were above all very successful with that system.”
Heynckes is right of course. Bayern’s crisis is relative. They have their own high standards and the fact of the matter is right now they’re just not living up to them, especially away from home which is where they’ve really come unstuck. Bayern have only the fourth best record in this regard in Germany and have yet to win on the road in the Bundesliga in 2012.
The next two and a half weeks will define their season and perhaps Heynckes’s future too. The club have so far stood by their manager. They issued a strongly-worded statement today denying and condemning “the outrageous media speculation” that his job is under threat, insisting that Bayern have the “fullest trust” in his work.
To maintain their faith, however, one suspects that Heynckes will have to turn around Bayern’s Last 16 Champions League tie with Basel next Tuesday, overcome Gladbach in the DFB Cup semi-final, to whom they’ve lost twice already this season, and reel in Dortmund as much as possible in the Bundesliga.
It’s make or break.
This article first appeared on The Score