SPECIAL though it is to win the Champions League, it does not guarantee job security. Just ask Roberto Di Matteo, who was sacked by Chelsea six months after winning last year’s competition.
Or Jose Mourinho, who knows that nothing he can still achieve with Real Madrid is likely to keep him at the Bernabeu beyond the end of this season.
Then there is Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern Munich coach who is seeking his second Champions League success as a manager. If he pulls it off, making him only the fourth coach in history to win the competition with two different clubs, the outcome will be the same as it was when he triumphed with Real Madrid 15 years ago. The boot.
Heynckes, who takes his team to London this week for the first leg of a last-16 tie against Arsenal, has already been told that he is to be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer. The 67-year-old has recognised – with a little help from his employers – that, whatever he manages to achieve between now and then, it will not delay his retirement. All he can do in the meantime is try make it as embarrassing as possible for those who have shown him the door. Guiding Bayern to a trophy that has too often eluded them in recent years would do the trick. They have won the competition four times, but not since 2001, a period in which they have twice been beaten in the final.
Heynckes could be the man to end that drought. In last season’s final, his Bayern team lost only on penalties to Di Matteo’s Chelsea. If they go one better this season, it will be almost like a rerun of 1998, when he was sacked just eight days after leading Real Madrid to their first European Cup in 32 years. On that occasion, he paid the price for a disappointing league campaign in which Real finished fourth, 11 points behind Barcelona.
There are no such domestic struggles this season. Just as Barcelona are running away with La Liga, and Manchester United the Premier League, so do Bayern Munich have an iron grip on the Bundesliga. They visited Wolfsburg on Friday night with a record of just one defeat in 21 outings. Their only other loss this season was in Belarus, where they played BATE Borisov in the Champions League group stage.
Pipped to the title by Borussia Dortmund last season, they are cruising to it this time round, thanks partly to Mario Mandzukic, below, the Croatian striker signed last summer from Wolfsburg. He and Thomas Muller, a product of the club’s youth system, have formed Bayern’s most prolific goalscoring partnership since 1976, when Muller’s namesake, Gerd, and a young Karl-Heinz Rummenigge shared 30 goals between them. Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez have had to watch much of this season from the touchline.
It’s an awkward situation for Bayern, whose president, Uli Hoeness, is a long-time friend of Heynckes, but the club can hardly be criticised for taking the opportunity to sign Guardiola. He is the most wanted manager in the game. Not only is his track record as good as they come, his arrival will give the German club a realistic chance of doing what every big European club is trying to do right now. Namely, mould themselves into the next Barcelona.
Bayern, whose self-sustaining revenue streams are the model of stability, are well-placed to thrive in the new era of financial fair play, an advantage that is thought to have appealed to Guardiola. At which other behemoth of the European game, except perhaps Manchester United, would he be given the same freedom to let his philosophy take root?
It helps that Bayern’s squad already includes Javi Martinez, a Spanish midfielder cut from the same cloth as Sergio Busquets. Guardiola wanted to sign him for Barcelona. They also have Bastian Schweinsteiger, one of the best passing midfielders in Europe, as well as Toni Kroos, thought by many to be a perfect fit for Guardiola. Had Bayern passed up this chance of a lifetime in order to keep Heynckes at the club for another year, their sanity would have been called into question.
Nonetheless, you feel for the incumbent, and not just because it was he who signed Martinez last year, eased Kroos into the first team and allowed Bayern to become second only to Barcelona in the possession and passing stats for Europe’s top five leagues. Had the penalty shootout in last season’s Champions League final gone in his favour, he would have conquered Europe with two different clubs, putting him in the same bracket as Mourinho (Porto and Internazionale), Ottmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich) and Ernst Happel (Feyenoord and Hamburg). It would also have meant that he was aiming this year to win the trophy for a third time, something that only Liverpool’s Bob Paisley has done.
He wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of greatness but he has certainly flirted with it. Only Otto Rehhagel has more experience of managing in the Bundesliga. Had it not been for Guardiola, Heynckes would surely have been given the contract extension he was asking for at the end of this season. He would also have been allowed to go about his business in this most promising of seasons without the spectre of his successor hanging over him.
Bayern have been sensitive enough to delay the unveiling of their new man until the old one is off the premises but it is a messy end to Heynckes’ third spell as manager. As well as a short stint as caretaker after the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2009, there was a period in the late 1980s, when he won two consecutive league championships. His failure to make it three in a row, despite a clearout of players, led to his dismissal.
Those were the days when Heynckes was so intense that his face turned bright red, a habit that earned him the nickname Osram, after the German light-bulb manufacturer. Now, he is a more relaxed, avuncular character, better equipped to take the rough with the smooth. He, more than most, understands that a manager’s fate is in someone else’s hands.