Van Gaal out as Bayern chase final Champions League spot
Louis van Gaal’s failure to steer Bayern Munich past Nuremberg on Saturday saw the Dutch manager placed promptly on gardening leave, with the reins passing to his assistant Andries Jonker. The Bavarian behemoth, already out of contention for the title, is now in danger of missing next year’s Champions League as well. Germany’s quota of teams in Europe’s premier tournament won’t increase from three to four until the to 2012-13 season, and Bayern, currently in the dreaded fourth position, won’t want a repeat of 2006-7, the last time they finished there and were forced to spend a year apart from the continent’s footballing élite.
Of course on that occasion Bayern went on to rebuild their squad, bringing in the likes of Miroslav Klose, Franck Ribéry and Luca Toni in the summer of 2007 and walking away with the Bundesliga title the following year. Perhaps the time is right for another overhaul. A club’s personnel will always be in a state of flux of course, and much has already changed since 2008. Toni has long since departed, with Mario Gómez both assuming the Italian’s role as giant frontman and often keeping his fellow countryman Klose on the bench. Arjen Robben arrived in 2009, but glimpses of the Dutchman at his dynamic best have often been few and far between throughout an injury-plagued career.
Perhaps the player who provokes the most contention is Ribéry, whose partnership with Robben has promised so much but delivered only intermittently. Ribéry, like Robben, has found himself all too often in the treatment room, meaning that Bayern have on too few occasions been able to field one of their dangerous wide men, let alone both (their first competetive appearance together this season was on the 12th of February). The brilliance of the Frenchman’s talent is beyond question. When fit he has consistently put opposing defences to the sword and he seems now to be returning to peak condition after suspicion that one injury too many had robbed him of that burst of acceleration so crucial to his kinetic style of play. Yet questions about the Frenchman’s temperament abound. Considered something of a prima donna, his allegedly pernicious dressing-room influence is held by some to have been at the heart of the discord that struck the French World Cup squad last year. However, it is unlikely that Ribéry will be leaving Munich in the near future; Bayern publicly stood by him throughout his sex scandal and only this week he, along with Gómez, pledged his future to the club. Even if he were to leave, the rot of disunity may already have spread throughout a squad with no shortage of sensitive and pampered egos; it remains to be seen if the bickering that took place during and after Bayern’s recent Champions League defeat to Inter was the temporary manifestation of frustration at the failure to seal a patently winnable match or the product of some deeper malaise.
Whatever the case, this could well be a summer of change for Germany’s best-known football club, though it’s not just Ribéry and Gómez who seem unlikely to leave, as captain Philipp Lahm and midfield lynchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger both signed contract extensions earlier this season. Still, both have been transfer targets for big clubs in the past and could yet attract the attentions of Europe’s aristocrats despite their recent failure to match their high standards and large sums it would take to secure their signatures. There will certainly be another coaching change when interim boss Andries Jonker makes way for Jupp Heynckes, whose arrival was negotiated well before van Gaal’s dismissal. Unlikely therefore to have the luxury of worrying about transfer deals, Jonker will know that his priority will be to wrest that precious third Champions League spot from Hannover. Fourth though they may be in the Bundesliga, Bayern currently top the world commercial revenue table, a position they will be reluctant to relinquish. That phenomenal revenue stream, achieved in spite of the comparatively low prices of Bundesliga fixtures is in no small part built on the club’s worldwide commercial appeal. Should Bayern, as a result of a sustained period of time outside Europe’s top club competition, cede their position Europe’s biggest economy’s pre-eminent club, they may well find the sort of monstrously lucrative arrangements they currently enjoy with the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Audi start to dry up rather rapidly. This fear no doubt played its role in the squad rebuilding of 2007; if president Uli Hoeneß were to engage in a similar restructuring this year, he would certainly rather it happened while Bayern were enjoying a Champions League place and its attendant financial benefits.
Curious times ahead for Bayern. Then again, when has it ever been otherwise?