Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann is feeling the heat – despite his team’s thrashing of Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League.

By Nick Bidwell
In a perfect example of the hunter turned hunted, German pro-wildlife groups have offered a substantial reward to anyone willing to inform on the person who recently shot and killed a rare breed of wolf in Saxony.

Role reversal indeed and something which Bayern Munich coach Jurgen Klinsmann would surely relate to. Deified three years ago for leading the Nationalmannschaft to third-place at World Cup 2006 and begged to stay on after quitting at the end the tournament, Klinsi is now a man besieged by critics, his touchline competence questioned left and right.

The most pressing problem he faces is Bayern’s chronic inconsistency. Here is a team with a split-personalty. Smiling and confident when thrashing Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate in the first knockout round of the Champions League and recording their biggest win to date in the Bundesliga, a 5-1 victory at home to Hannover. Timid and withdrawn in their 4-2 German Cup quarter-final defeat to Leverkusen and the goalless league draw at Bremen,where despite having an extra man for most of the game following an early red card for home defender Naldo, Bayern inexplicably never showed the slightest sense of urgency.

Freud would have a field day. Now, tell me about your childhood.

Uli Hoeness, Bayern’s general manager has hit out at the media for creating an atmosphere of perpetual crisis at his club. More than slightly disingenuous of him. He knows full well that reporters are only adhering to the rules of the game in these parts. The minimum requirement for any Bayern coach is a trophy and if the signs are that he cannot deliver, the chimney is swept and the fire lit in readiness for the puffs of white smoke signifying dug-out change.

Bayern are far from out of a Bundesliga title race also featuring Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Hamburg. But Klinsi cannot hide from the fact that his charges have been on short-time domestically. This was a championship Bayern were expected to totally dominate. Not one in which they only stayed in contention thanks to the regular lapses of their rivals.

Although Hoeness has frequently backed Klinsmann to remain aboard until his contract expires in 2010, no one can be sure that the Bayern kingmakers are standing by their man behind the scenes. Rumours were circulating in the Allianz Arena before the Hannover game that Klinsi would not survive another defeat and that contingency plans were in place to appoint a caretaker.

One name doing the rounds was that of Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, in charge of the Bavarians on two previous occasions. Another whisper had a stop-gap coaching tandem of Hitzfeld’s old assistant Michael Henke – who is now head of video analysis at Bayern – and board advisor and legendary club full-back and midfielder Paul Breitner.

Klinsmann would be breathing easier in the wake of a pair of big wins (against Hannover and the 7-1 demolition of a slapstick Sporting in the Champions League return match). Yet he very much remains wobbling on the high-wire. A coach under pressure needs the complete backing of his squad and it has to be debatable whether he has it.

A number of Bayern stars have made it clear they find Klinsmann’s all-out attacking tactics too reckless and in an interview given by skipper Mark Van Bommel after the 5-0 first-leg win in Sporting, he intimated it was the players, and them alone, who came up with the conservative, hit on the break gameplan employed so effectively on the night. Had a mutiny taken place? The press certainly thought so, mischievously telling tales of the team holding brainstorming sessions without Klinsi.

In a bid to extinguish the flames licking around him. Klinsmann declared himself the fount of all decision-making, while striker Miroslav Klose insisted the coach was actively involved in all discussions. Too late, though, the PR riposte. Fact or fiction, revelations of player power could only serve one purpose – to dent the coach’s authority.

Just what Klinsmann did not need as he enters the final furlongs of a season which will make or break his Bayern leadership credentials.