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.
Christoph Daum’s return to Bundesliga football has grabbed the headlines and suddenly, the full heat of the media microscope is bearing down on him and his new employers, Eintracht Frankfurt.
So how will this famous motor-mouth do? He is known across Germany as a talented coach, beginning his meteoric career in Cologne, then progressing onto a head coaching job at Stuttgart. He was soon back on the Rhine, helping Leverkusen become a fixture as runner-up champions. At these dizzy heights, he almost made it to the top spot as national coach, but lost it all following a sleazy cocaine scandal, fleeing to Turkey and dropping off the radar here.
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.
I like Pierre Littbarski. First he was one of the country’s most elegant dribblers in midfield, contributing decisively to the World Cup success of 1990. Then he was a coach, with a distinct lack of vanity and an ability to stay focussed and unemotional. This weekend, however, I did find myself wondering about our “Litti”, who has taken over from the luckless Steve McClaren as coach at Wolfsburg. I mean, I know the guy is pretty relaxed, and I know he’s spent the last seven years playing and coaching in Japan, known as it is for its attachment to Buddhist Zen philosophy, but calling your new job “a nice little hobby” in front of television cameras is not really on – especially when your entire team has spent much of this season playing as if their Bundesliga exploits were, for them too, little more than a nice way to pass the time of day, not their primary means of putting food on the table. In fact, they’ve played so poorly that only their goal difference is saving them from the relegation spot; nevertheless, they still lost 1:2 to SC Freiburg this weekend.
In his native Britain, Wolfsburg’s new coach Steve McClaren has been given a rather nasty nickname: “the wally with a brolly” – or, to English-speakers not versed in the argot of the fair islands, “the idiot with the umbrella”. He got himself this unfortunate moniker due to his poor performance as the English national coach, which reached its lowest point as he passively watched his team suffer a crushing defeat to Croatia from the sidelines – sheltering under an umbrella. As England crashed out of the 2008 European Championship, there was McClaren not moving a muscle and trying to stop himself getting wet: he’ll have trouble ever workin in English football again.