FC Bayern München’s 2017-18 season started out badly, but was quickly turned around with the arrival of old hand Jupp Heynckes. Fans can look confidently to the future, but only if we keep our hopes and expectations in check.
First of all, may I wish everybody a happy new year as I kick off the first ramble of 2018. My final piece from 2017 covered FC Bayern’s calm and steady approach to the end of the Hinrunde, a spell that was nicely rounded off with a patchy but ultimately decisive 2:1 DFB-Pokal victory against Borussia Dortmund.
As we await the early start of the Rückrunde, FC Bayern are in a good place. A place that nobody would have quite believed back in September, when the team were in crisis and the management approaching a total meltdown. The decision to reappoint treble-winning coach Jupp Heynckes has proved to be nothing short of inspired.
When Carlo Ancelotti was let go, Bayern were sitting five points behind rivals Dortmund. The critics were floating like hungry dementors. As we get set to kick off the second half of the Bundesliga season, Die Roten are a healthy 11 points clear of second-placed Schalke 04, with Dortmund a further two points adrift.
Crisis? What crisis?
The turnaround was nothing short of phenomenal. In the space of some three months, Heynckes had recharged Bayern’s mojo. Not everything was rosy, and there were some moments of luck that had eluded the hapless Ancelotti. However, it was clear from the moment of his arrival that Osram’s warm red glow had calmed things down in the Bavarian capital.
The team were happy, the board were happy, and the fans were happy. The rumblings were quickly quelled, and players described as unsettled settled down. Colombian star James Rodríguez had been earmarked for a quick exit, but has recently pledged allegiance to Bayern. Goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, who had looked as safe as a chocolate fireguard back in September, has been a revelation.
Heart of stone
Meanwhile, things had travelled in the other direction in Dortmund. After all the early media sniping and crazy predictions, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh. In September, Dutchman Peter Bosz was being hailed as the man who would break Bayern’s run of Bundesliga triumphs. By the end of the year, he was on his way out after a dismal run of poor results.
Dortmund had been dumped out of the Champions League and were struggling to even win a game at their noisy home fortress. As Bosz’s temporary replacement, Herr Watzke and Co. brought in the recently-sacked Peter Stöger, a coach whose latest achievement was leading 1. FC Köln to fourteen league matches without a win.
Yes, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.
According to the media gossip, Dortmund are lining up Julian Nagelsmann to take over at the Signal-Iduna-Park in the summer. If this comes to pass, it can only be a good thing. My prediction – you read it here first – is that Jung Julian will be back out on the job market by the end of the year.
Last season’s football hipster poster boy, Nagelsmann’s Hinrunde at Hoffenheim was hardly stellar. His team was indifferent in the league, and the highly praised coaching genius was badly exposed by what can only be described as fair to mediocre opposition in the Europa League.
Nagelsmann is a decent prospect, for sure. But one great season does not a great coach make. Give him a few years, and he might turn into a gem. For now, I am happy to watch Dortmund spend what silly money they want to spend. I have always believed that the idea of Nagelsmann coming to Munich this summer would have been a massive mistake, and can only feel that we have dodged a bullet.
With Nagelsmann seemingly out of the running and the awkward Thomas Tuchel an unpalatable choice for many, the big question is what happens at the end of the season. Jupp Heynckes had been brought in to settle the team and make way for a younger long-term successor, but right now the options are open.
As a Bayern fan, I would love to see Jupp stay on. The big question is whether the 72-year-old wants to. At the moment he is commuting back to his home in the Rhineland, which is hardly the best situation.
In looking forward to the resumption of the domestic season, I have been able to wind down nicely and recharge. The same cannot be said for the Bayern squad, who are at this moment out in Qatar.
It is an issue that divides fans, but I have never been keen on these midwinter jaunts. The choice of location also continues to concern me. Bayern are a big team. They do not need extra money from questionable regimes. The club really does not need to do this, and every time concerns are raised they are brushed off with a preselected soundbite.
While we will never return to the days of indoor tournaments such as the Hallen Masters, taking a winter break in a more politically agreeable country would be a far more sensible step. Sadly, with Qatar’s Hamad International Airport becoming a key sponsor, Bayern seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Many fans are not bothered by this, and for those, it is a case of “business is business”. A matter of not being left behind as the plastic moneybags rake in the cash. Yes, business is business. But to a point. When you are playing in stadiums and using facilities that are likely to have been built on a slave-labour budget, you are starting to sail too close to the wind.
The result is that I tend to switch off completely during this time of the year. All that I am concerned about is that the squad arrive back home safely, with no further names added to the injury list.
Bayern fans can look forward to the second half of the season with some optimism. The key is to maintain the same expectations as we had when Jupp Heynckes made his return. These were to concentrate domestically while remaining competitive in Europe.
On both counts, the coach has delivered. In spades. Bayern are looking nicely set to retain their Bundesliga title. They are still in the DFB-Pokal, having seen off two tough opponents to make it into the last eight. In Europe, the 3:1 win over Paris Saint-Germain as shown that the moneybags are not set to have it their own way quite yet. There is life in the old Bavarian dog yet.
So long as we do not set the bar too high and start dreaming of a repeat of 2012-13, it should turn into a good season. The Meisterschale is Bayern’s to lose, and there is little to fear among the seven remaining teams in the DFB-Pokal. A kind(ish) draw in the Champions League against Turkish side Beşiktaş J.K. means that Bayern should match last season by making the quarter-finals.
After that, who knows where the team can go. If we continue to be confident while not expecting too much, we may all be pleasantly surprised. Mia san mia.