Although the new season is only three matches old, new Bayern Munich coach, Louis van Gaal, is already starting to feel the pressure.
By Nick Bidwell in Munich
Bayern Munich boss Louis van Gaal must be regretting a recent interview with top German sports magazine Kicker in which he claimed he felt completely at home in his new workplace: “This club and this city suits me like a warm coat,” went the unusually laid-back line from the ex-Ajax and Barcelona coach.
Only a couple of weeks later, the fit of the Dutchman’s outer garment is not nearly so snug. With only two points from their opening three fixtures this season, his Bayern side remain stuck on the launch-pad and already the critics smell blood, happy to point out that the Bavarians have not suffered a worst start to a campaign for 43 years.
It was not the end of the world for Bayern to draw 1-1 in Hoffenheim and achieve the same score-line at home to Werder Bremen. Both are tough opponents, both have the capacity to to be a top-six side. But losing 2-1 away to promoted Mainz was a quite different story altogether. Van Gaal’s troupe of stars should have won in a canter and, make no mistake, this result will send shockwaves through the Bayern boardroom. They did not spend £45 million on fresh talent this summer to come apart at the seams in the provinces.
Of course, it’s early days. Van Gaal has only just had the sheriff’s badge pinned on him and needs time to put into practice his complicated and highly-choreographed brand of football. However, there is no shortage of worrying signs, not least his apparent uncertainty as to his best system. Is it a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond? Or the 4-2-3-1 he went with for much of the Mainz game.
Bayern are not playing as a unit, they are pedestrian and far too many individuals seem inhibited, almost as if they are paralysed by the fear of a citation in Van Gaal’s famous notepad, the one he uses on matchdays to list errors.
Nor is the Franck Ribery question making Van Gaal’s life any easier. The French attacking midfielder has beem limited to walk-ons this season due to knee injury and when he is not available, Bayern lose 50 per cent of their goal-threat. The problem is he does not want to be there, still hankering for the move to Real Madrid he had set his heart on.
The winds of war could be about to blow in this most uneasy of partnerships While Van Gaal wants to use Ribery in a central position just behind the strikers, the latter thinks he is best on the left-side and recently went on the record to state as much. One of the game’s control freaks, the Bayern boss is not used to being told he is wrong. Mercury rising, you might say.
A coach’s life can be a pressurised one. Ask Hannover’s Dieter Hecking, who resigned from his post to become the second man to quit a Bundesliga hot-seat this term. Strange the spin clubs put on dramatic events. Although Hannover general manager Jorg Schmadtke insists the decision was a surprise, it was, in truth, no such thing. Hecking had long been a target for a hardcore of disgruntled fans and his position was further erdoded by a first round German Cup exit at the hands of amateur side Eintracht Trier. Rumours were also rife that players had issued management with a “sack him” ultimatum.
In yet another display of his notorious tetchiness, Stuttgart’s veteran keeper Jens Lehmann has once again proved himself a volcano waiting to erupt. During a league game at old club Dortmund, the forty-year-old was involved in a skermish with opposition centre-back Neven Subotic and both appeared to throw elbows. Neither referee Helmut Fleischer or his assistants noticed the flare-up, but the DFB disciplinary panel surely will not let it pass.
Lehmann, ever intolerant of opponents invading his space, said he was close to losing a tooth or having his jaw broken. As for Subotic, he admitted lashing out but insisted he was provoked: ” I hit Lehmann but he hit me first. I didn’t have the feeling I struck him at 400 kilometres an hour. He didn’t have to fall over. ”
Plus ca change.