Bayern coach axed on Munich′s post-World-Cup hangover | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 07.03.2011
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Bayern coach axed on Munich's post-World-Cup hangover

The Bundesliga is set to lose one its most intriguing characters in Louis van Gaal. At the season's end, the best coach ever to guide the team will be terminated. Deutsche Welle explains why.

Louis van Gaal

At season's end, van Gaal is van gone - a year earlier than planned

It's official: At the end of the season - a year before his contract is officially up - Louis van Gaal is a goner. The only reason he temporarily remains in his post is the inability of Bayern's management to agree on an available replacement - despite a five-hour meeting on Sunday, March 6.

The last straw was Bayern's 3-1 loss to Hanover on Saturday. That defeat came on the heels of losses to Dortmund in the league and Schalke in the German Cup and cast doubts on whether Bayern will be able to qualify for the Champions League next season.

Qualification for Europe's premier club championship is vital, and not only for financial reasons. Munich's Allianz Arena is the venue for the final in May 2012, and it would be unthinkable for Bayern not to take part in the competition.

It's not a position Bayern expected to find themselves in a few months ago - especially as van Gaal had led the Bavarians to one of their best seasons ever in 2009-10.

Great start

Van Gaal getting doused with champagne

Less than a year ago, van Gaal was getting doused with champagne

Many coaches have come to Bayern and won titles. But none of them did it with quite the headstrong panache van Gaal displayed when he arrived in the summer of 2009.

He benched big names, promoted gifted youngsters and forced Bayern to play the sort of attacking 4-3-3 football favored by Barcelona and most of the other top clubs in Europe.

As a result, Munich came within a single game of pulling off the coveted triple: the German League and Cup, and the Champion's League. Big wins were nothing new for Bayern, of course, but winning in this sort of 21st century style was.

The downside to Bayern's success was that the squad attracted maximum attention from national team coaches ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Youngsters Thomas Müller and Holger Badstuber, for instance, went from the amateur ranks to the German national team within the space of less than a year.

Perhaps understandably, they have been unable to maintain their form over the many long months. Dutch superstar Arjen Robben was out injured for the entire first half of the season, a direct result of the World Cup, and by the time he returned, Bayern had effectively ceded the league title to Dortmund.

And questions arose about his ability to motivate his players. Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger have been far from their best all season, and Franck Ribery (2 goals in 17 matches) has become an overpriced disappointment.

But how much of this season's downward spiral is down to factors beyond van Gaal's control, and how much could he have prevented?

Predictable problems

German soccer players Holger Badstuber (L) and Thomas Mueller

Youngsters Badstuber and Müller may be fatigued

No team in Germany has more international players in its ranks than Bayern, and the Bavarians often stumble in odd-numbered years - the seasons immediately following big tournaments.

So it is somewhat puzzling that van Gaal decided not to strengthen key areas. Bayern's style is particularly dependent on their wingers, Robben and Ribery, and Munich were unable to replace them adequately when they missed significant parts of the season.

Van Gaal could have also used a top quality defender. Bayern's rotations in their back four have been positively kaleidoscopic, and they're middle-of-the-pack in terms of goals conceded.

Money isn't lacking in Säbener Street. So why didn't van Gaal ask his bosses to loosen the purse strings?

Part of the reason was his loyalty to two players he brought to the club: Edson Braafheid and Danijel Pranjic. Yet neither rewarded van Gaal for his faith. Braafheid quarrelled with the coach last fall and was shipped off to Hoffenheim, and Pranjic has been average at best.

But the other reason van Gaal decided to stand pat was precisely the tendency that stood him in such good stead last season: his willingness to take a chance on young players.

Lost wager

Van Gaal

The Dutch coach cut a lonely figure in Hanover

With Bayern's Bundesliga title hopes already looking remote in January, van Gaal decided to start planning for the medium term, allowing veterans Mark van Bommel and Martin Demichelis to go. He also benched keeper Jörg Butt in favour of 22-year-old Thomas Kraft.

As a means of opening up playing time for youngsters, especially ahead of the 2011-12 Champions League, this was a reasonable strategy. But it turned round and bit Louis in the derriere.

Two mistakes by youngsters - a red card picked up by 21-year-old defender Breno and a botched save by Kraft - doomed any chance of Munich salvaging a result in Hanover. The two scenes were the reverse side of the coin to Müller and Badstuber's stand-out performances last season.

And according to reports throughout the German media, van Gaal's treatment of veterans has turned many of the team's key players, including both Ribery and Robben, against him.

No one's thinking about the medium term any more in Munich. Rather than planning for what Bayern bosses hope will be a triumphant Champions League campaign ending in their own stadium, the team has to concentrate all its energy on just qualifying for the competition at all.

For now, that task remains Louis van Gaal's. But barring an unlikely rapprochement, it will also be his last at Bayern Munich.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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