Professional footballers have a lot in common with children – well, at least the FC Bayern boys do in any case. On the one hand, they’re unpredictable, moody, and have real difficulty concentrating on one thing for 90 minutes, as shown by their poor 1:1 performance against a much weaker Nuremberg side last week. Then again, just like children, they can be fresh, creative and full of innocent pleasure, which is what the Bayern team was like yesterday as they stormed to a 5:1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
The 29th match day of this Bundesliga season was a day of big-name duels. There was Frankfurt-Bremen, Stuttgart-Kaiserslautern and Mönchengladbach-Cologne, all of which were fights between relegation candidates – the latter, of course, was also something of a local Rhineland derby.
There was the Bavarian derby duel, too, with Munich up against Nuremberg. Attention was focussed pretty much exclusively on Bayern’s president Uli Hoeneß, though, who had had a real go at the club’s own fans last week after they gave him some flak for wanting to save TSV 1860, the other Munich club.
If you read last week, you’ll remember me dedicating the entire text to the absolute lunacy that has swept through the Bundesliga in the last few weeks, with boards of directors running around like headless chickens and firing coaches left, right and centre.
Well, the bad news is that these chickens are still headless. Bayern München, for example, lost its Champions League round-of-16 decider against Inter Milan and ended up in stormy waters, desperately looking for somewhere to drop anchor and get back to an even keel: to do this, however, they’ll need to offload some ballast in the form of Louis van Gaal, but he just doesn’t want to walk the plank – and, try as they might, the Bavarian boatswains can’t find a replacement first mate. For the moment, he has been saved from going overboard by Franck Ribéry, who shot a winning goal against Freiburg which has at least kept Bayern on course for the Champions League next season. The map who’ll be leading the good ship München through this, however, is likely to be Leverkusen’s Jupp Heynckes.
It’s been a dramatic few days, and as I write, a whole locker-room full of coaches is facing the sack, jockeying to try and find other teams or biting their nails about their first ever trip to the dole office. In fact, the kind of frenetic behind-the-scenes wrangling that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks is something of a novelty for most Bundesliga fans: Van Gaal, Magath, Veh, Skibbe, Littbarski, Dutt, Tuchel, Heynckes – 8 out of the 18 club trainers in Germany’s top football league are making more headlines than the teams they coach.
Just what was Bayern president Uli Hoeneß thinking? Or, more to the point, was he thinking at all? It’s certainly hard to believe that Hoeneß, in his time a national squad member and now former general manager of the best club in German football, had his brain in gear at all.
It’s been a week now, and football journalism has been talking about almost nothing except FC Bayern München. It all started on 29th October, when Hoeneß gave Louis van Gaal a verbal drubbing after the side’s victory on that day: he accused the Dutch coach of being “completely impervious to criticism”, of not doing enough to encourage all the members of the squad, and of not having prepared a plan in case important stars got injured.
It was the fourth match-day, and in this year’s Bundesliga, that could only mean one thing: derby time! In Wolfsburg, Gelsenkirchen and Hamburg too, neighbouring clubs lined up against each other, and it is this last local clash that really stood out. After all, it had been 48 years since the city rivals HSV and St. Pauli had met on the latter’s home turf at Millerntor. Up until this point, all meetings between the two teams had always ended up being relocated to HSV’s far bigger stadium at Volkspark.
This Saturday, 22nd May, Bayern Munich will be playing in the Champions League final against Inter Milan. Yes, you read right: on a Saturday! It’s unusual, what with Wednesday tending to be the day for European football – but the marketing whizzes from UEFA will no doubt have noticed that Saturday is far better for viewing figures. And we all know that bad TV ratings are a sure way to destroy a good competition.