Flash back 15 years. The year is 1998. Real Madrid are looking forward to a Champions League Final against Juventus, who would appear in their third consecutive final, at the Amsterdam ArenA on the 20th of May. Led by German coach Jupp Heynckes, they eventually go on to win the UEFA Champions League, beating the Italians 1-0 in the final, and in the process, claim their seventh European title, their sixth being in 1966. What happened next, wasn’t surprising only to a few. Real Madrid proceeded to sack European champion Heynckes, because he finished fourth in the league, and more importantly, 11 points behind Barcelona.
Today, the situation may be pretty much the same. In a few weeks time, Bayern Munich, led by German coach Jupp Heynckes, are hot favourites to complete a treble, after an astonishing season that has seen them smash records for fun, and he may not even be employed next season.
As a coach, Heynckes has, throughout his career, managed to do well almost everywhere he has gone. He left his beloved Monchengladbach after 8 years to join Bayern Munich for his first spell there in 1987. In his 4 years in charge at FC Hollywood, he won the league twice. After the 1990 title win, Bayern witnessed a mass sell out of star players, consequently leading to poor performances in the following season. Heynckes was held responsible by many, and sacked. The decision to sack him is one that is still regretted by Uli Hoeness, as the then Commercial Manager of Bayern Munich has admitted that it was a decision taken under the influence of a hostile media.
Subsequently, he tasted success with clubs like Athletic Bilbao, and Tenerife, even taking the Canary Islands club to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1995. After his spell there, he was hired by Real Madrid, where as mentioned, he managed them to European glory.
After getting the sack from the Galacticos, Heynckes went under the radar a bit, having spells at Schalke and Monchengladbach, which weren’t very successful. However, he reinvented himself, and at Leverkusen, whom in joined in the 2009-10 season, he enjoyed great success. In his first season there, he led them to a 24 game unbeaten run at the start of the season, eventually finishing in fourth place. The very next season, they finished second, and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
In 2011, it was announced that Jupp Heynckes would return to Bayern Munich for a third spell to replace Louis van Gaal. During this thrid stint at Bayern, he had a relatively successful first season, finishing second in all three competitions. This season however, Bayern have swept all before them, and look set to wrap up a treble.
Despite the fact that he is such a well established coach, and one who has so much experience, Heynckes isn’t really treated like he probably deserves to be. The man wanted to extend his tenure at Bayern for at least one other season, but the board refused him, which is fair play. But the act that they announced the arrival of his successor before he even left the club was a bit disrespectful to the incumbent. As if that wasn’t enough, they even went on to announce, a bit presumptuously, that Heynckes would retire at the end of the season. While this may have been discussed behind a closed door, the man himself has refuted these claims later:
“I have a right to think carefully about my future and what I should do next, if a new Pope can be elected at 76 years old, then why shouldn’t I work as a football coach at 68?”
When Heynckes took over Bayern Munich at the start of the 2011-12 season, all was not well at Die Roten. The club had just lost the league title to Borussia Dortmund, finishing 3rd in the league, and had crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16 after losing at home to the same team that had beaten them in the finals the previous season, Inter Milan. Louis van Gaal, a coach who built a brand of attacking football, had left, with some serious question marks hanging over his side’s defensive abilities, and after public spats with players in his two years at the club.
Heynckes took up the challenge well, and set about improving the biggest weakness of the team, the defence. In the two seasons that van Gaal was in charge of the side, they conceded 31 and 40 goals respectively, scoring 72 and 81. In his very first season, a massive improvement was seen at the back, with the team conceding only 22 goals in the league, almost half the number shipped the previous season. In terms of their potency up front, not much was lost, as they hit the back of the net 77 times. The real deal came this season, when the freshly crowned champions have conceded only 14 and scarily, scored 90 times (these stats are current at the time of writing). So, statistically speaking, Heynckes has improved them at the back, and going forward.
In terms of transfers made by the two coaches, and their man management in general, the contrast is there for all to see. While previously, van Gaal had disputes with players, leading the likes of Luca Toni and Martin Demichellis out of the club, Heynckes has had a rather reserved style, with the Bayern camp looking more or less united.
In order to improve the frailties at the back, Heynckes made some wise signings, and they paid off very well. Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng were added to the starting line up for a combined fee of 35 million euros. While the price may seem a bit steep, the results that these two German internationals have brought cannot be denied. In the current season, Heynckes struck gold in the transfer market, with some blockbuster signings. Dante at 4.5 million euros was a major coup, along with Mario Mandzukic for just 14.5 million euros. Both these players have come relatively cheap, and have been key to their dominance. The expensive Javi Martinez too, has been worth his weight in gold, being a key part of the midfield combination that has been so effective. Apart from that, youngster Shaqiri has impressed when give the chances, and Claudio Pizzaro, who came for free, has also chipped in with his fair share of goals this season(13 goals).
In terms of managing his personnel, he has done a fine job, moving Alaba to left back from his defensive midfield position, and giving Toni Kroos his breakthrough, at both Leverkusen, where he was on loan during Heynckes’ time, and at Bayern Munich. He has impressed in the big games, with his strategy to negate and beat Barcelona working wonders. What was great to see was how he coaxed even the likes of Robben and Ribery, two players not known for their defensive games, to track back and defend in a disciplined manner. Even veterans like Daniel van Buyten, who were starting to decline under van Gaal have turned in impressive performances when called upon. Of course, one may put down the success to the sheer quality of players at his disposal, but as Brian Clough once suggested, a good coach is made by good players, but good players, and hence, a good team, come from a good coach.
With a fantastic playing style, great experience, good record at transfers, fairly non-confrontational attitude with players, and of course excellent record (he’s gone through every time he’s played in a Champions League semi final!), one would expect a fair number of teams to be looking at him, especially as he’d be available in the summer. However, a cursory look at the odds will reveal that he is backed at 50/1 to take the Chelsea job, 33/1 to sign for Real Madrid, and 25/1 to take over at PSG. Apart from the odds, his name hasn’t been in the gossip columns as frequently as others like Pellegrini and Mourinho, despite the fact that their availability in the summer is far from confirmed. He has been linked to Schalke, but after the season he’s had, and after Bayern Munich, anything would be a bit of a step down really, and for what is potentially his last career move, he would probably want another shot at silverware.
Factually, it makes a lot of sense for a lot of clubs to chase Jupp Heynckes. The man has carried himself with great dignity, and has managed to achieve some fantastic results for his club. He is also experienced enough to be able to promote young players, and has a good eye for a transfer. As a Chelsea supporter, I would love to have a man of the caliber of Heynckes take the job at the Bridge. Logically speaking, anyone, apart from Bayern Munich it seems, would!