How Jupp Heynckes turned Bayern back into the machine we know

Heynckes | FI

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You would be hard-pressed to find any considerable argument to discredit the strength of Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. Despite their ultimate failure to win the Champions League under the Catalan, the Bavarian giants expounded on their domestic dominance in a massive way. Three Bundesliga titles, two German Cup wins, and a UEFA Super Cup triumph to complete the treble in his first season at the helm.

A grand total of seven trophies in three seasons under the former Spanish international is all very impressive, but such dominance would come into question once Guardiola swapped southern Germany for northern England.

In the wake of Pep’s departure for Manchester City, the question of who should be brought in and charged with continuing his work loomed greatly. Eventually Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge settled on veteran Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti to fill the void. Don Carlo was, at least on paper, a sensible choice. With a managerial pedigree that included stints at Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid, he saw it all and did it all. While three league titles and a host of domestic cups on his CV were attractive, it was the treble of Champions League wins that made him stand out to the Bayern brass more than any other factor. In hindsight, this was the mistake in his appointment.

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Yes, Bayern went on to win the league in Carlo’s only full season on the touchline, but no further progress was made on the European front. In fact, Die Bayern regressed in the competition, only navigating to the quarter-finals last season, and in conjunction with their failure to haul another German Cup trophy to the Allianz Arena on the home front, Carlo’s status as headmaster was insecure to say the least.

A stuttering start to the current season, including an embarrassing 3-0 European defeat to PSG early in the group stage would be enough for the board to act and release Ancelotti from his duties as manager. When you dream of empire, there is never enough domestic success to quench the thirst of expansion. It was perhaps fitting that his replacement – though not for the long term – would be the very same man who not only Guardiola himself tried to better, but the last to taste continental triumph at the club; Jupp Heynckes.

One of the deadliest striker’s German football has ever seen, Heynckes, a son of Mönchengladbach and a Die Fohlen legend, is now in his fourth stint with Bayern. Having managed eleven clubs in three different countries, he’s won a combined twenty trophies as both a manager and a player. His pedigree is hard to ignore, but it’s not a history of achievement that saw Heynckes replace Ancelotti on an interim basis. It is his understanding of the club that earned the confidence of the board once again.

Despite his success in terms of the league, Ancelotti’s Bayern were not the machine that Heynckes bread and Guardiola nurtured. Tactically they became rigid under the former Italian international in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation that not only lacked real attacking verve and incisiveness, but often alienated key players such as Thomas Müller, one of the clubs most vital attacking assets. Not only were team selections both puzzling and often haphazard – including a half strength eleven against PSG – but the players lost faith in the manager for more reasons than just questionable managerial decisions.

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One of the hallmarks of Pep’s time at Bayern was the expectations he set not only for himself, but the players as well. His hands-on approach to training, at which he always demanded high levels of work, and his recognized approach to man-management were the cornerstones of why Bayern became the monster they were under the Santpedor native; these are all key factors that Ancelotti completely neglected. Instead training levels became deficient, or even cancelled outright, and little effort was made to truly understand the players on a personal or collective level. A continued dip in morale amongst the players camp soon became evident to the naked eye, and once the players had voiced their concerns to the brass, it became too much to bear.

Heynckes, a German who, though not a player at Bayern or a Bavarian with any emotional ties to the club in his personal roots, managed the club and won major honors with the club. His understanding of the club, what it stands for, the expectations all Bayern players are held to by both the club and its supporters was the main reason he was brought back, even if temporary. In that same light, efforts by Guardiola to gain that same understanding is a key reason why he became so popular. Past his hyper-active style of management and high levels of expectations, he embraced the culture of the club from the moment he began, even doing his first press conference in German rather than needing a translator. Every reason that made Guardiola such a success is why Ancelotti failed, and it is why Heynckes has righted the ship in wonderful fashion.

Heynckes’ tactics are tailor made for the CL campaign wherein they can make a telling impact, having already won the prize in 2013 on course for their treble. The compact nature of their play will suit them in the knockout stages and Heynckes will ensure that his experience will come in handy when it matters.

But perhaps more than any other factor, both Guardiola and Heynckes understood the nature of the Bayern footballing ethos, which is the value of a team game and a team camaraderie; such a value is at the very core of the club, and that is highlighted by the boards desire to be a haven of German players. It helps that they can peg talented nationals away from their domestic rivals to keep upstart clubs in check, but as Hoeneß and Rummenigge look to progress the club in all areas, their desire to do so with a strong core of Germans is at the top of the list. Strength as a collective is paramount, and it was another reason why the Ancelotti regime ultimately failed.

Heynckes commands the utmost respect from the core of this Bayern squad having been in charge of the Bavarian club before and seeing unprecedented success. While he is an astute tactician, it is by no means a stretch to say that he is a great motivator and has it in him what it takes to motivate and improve the players in his squad, and bring out the best in them.

As for the Heynckes regency, the core values and expectations have once again come to the fore. Players now have the required levels of belief in themselves, the manager, and his tactical schematics. Training levels have risen, match-management and indeed man-management have been made a focus, and faith in the right players is once again commonplace. In the sixteen outings in all competitions with Heynckes at the helm since his return, Bayern have won fifteen, including a 3-1 reversal against PSG. Ironically, the only match that they failed to win since his re-appointment was a 2-1 loss away against, you guessed it, Gladbach.

There is a real sense of direction once again in footballing terms, and even if it may be all too familiar, sometimes the way to steady the ship is by relying on recognized and identifiable methods. Just like with all things stability is key, and in football this rings true more than most aspects of the game.

Now 72, the World Cup and European Championship winner is sure to insist he only remain in Bavaria for a short while, making it of the utmost importance that the Bayern board get the next appointment correct. Rumored to be interested in the likes of ex-Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel as well as current Hoffenheim headman Julian Nagelsmann amongst others, it is vital that whomever picks up the mantel from the Bundesliga icon truly understands what it means to be “von Bayern.”