Louis van Gaal has paid the price for overseeing Bayern Munich's fall from grace this season. The question is: who has the stomach to replace him and what attributes will they need to succeed where the Dutchman failed?
Bayern's hierarchy ran out of patience with Louis van Gaal
It was inevitable that the news that Louis van Gaal will be vacating the Bayern Munich hot-seat this summer would set the cogs of the rumor mill churning - clunking through its permutations and spewing out the names of potential replacements.
The Bayern Munich job is the biggest in German club soccer and also one of the most prestigious in the European game. But it has become something of a poisoned chalice over the years. The club’s demand for success has increased, and with it the impatience and irascibility of the club's hierarchy when that success fails to materialize.
To coach Bayern Munich successfully, one has to be a combination of genius, diplomat and lackey; a mixture that the ego-driven world of soccer rarely produces.
Van Gaal showed he had the genius part down at times last season, leading Bayern to a German league and cup double as well as to the Champions League final. When Bayern were firing on all cylinders, they were an awesome sight - and one which placated the bosses, who chose to turn a blind eye to the Dutchman's lack of tact and penchant for autocracy while the team was performing.
This season, however, the touch of genius has deserted van Gaal, with a number of crazy selection decisions and man-management disasters removing his last remaining piece of armor. Without the success and flair on the pitch, and the diplomacy and good relations needed to work closely and in harmony with the bosses above him, van Gaal quickly ran out of credit.
Van Gaal's friction with club bosses led to his downfall
The man who follows him will need to look closely at the mistakes the Dutchman made and avoid them if he is to deliver the trophies Bayern crave, the style of soccer the fans and hierarchy demand, and the respect the men at the top believe they deserve.
"Louis van Gaal wasn't the right coach for Bayern Munich," Bundesliga correspondent Paul Chapman told Deutsche Welle. "He was too much of a loner and the club only tolerated him whilst he brought success to the club. Bayern Munich needs a much steadier coach. They need somebody who finds the balance between youth and experience, someone who the big stars will respect and give their best for."
Two names that fit that bill are those of former Bayern coaches Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jupp Heynckes. Both know what it means to be coach at the club, both have tasted success with the club and both have a respectful, well-established relationship with the club's power-brokers, namely Sporting Director Christian Nerlinger, President Uli Hoeness and Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
"Hitzfeld and Heynckes would be open to discussion with their employers, with whom they still have close relations, and joint decisions would be made," Chapman said. "There'd be no rocking of the boat caused by outrageous decisions."
Heynckes may be considering a third spell as coach at Bayern
While Hitzfeld has recently signed a new extended contract to continue managing the Swiss national team, Heynckes is currently stalling on signing a new deal at Bayer Leverkusen, suggesting he may fancy a third term in charge of Bayern.
Another former Bayern coach may be available in the summer, of course. But Felix Magath is decidedly not a candidate for the job. He racked up back-to-back double-winning seasons in Munich, but was just as disinclined to take the advice of the boardroom clique. That meant he got the sack in 2007, with the team in fourth place. And despite storming to another league title in Wolfsburg before taking over at Schalke, Magath's relationship with the Bayern hierarchy remains icy.
Bayern could take a leap of faith and hire a young coach to mold in the image the club demands. Dortmund's Jürgen Klopp looks set to win silverware with a brand of modern, attacking soccer that the Munich hierarchy would salivate over but the BVB coach has already ruled himself out a move down south. Freiburg’s Robin Dutt and Thomas Tuchel of Mainz are two other young coaches who have shown promise, leading their clubs to surprisingly high rungs on the table. But how they would respond to the pressure a big club would demand is unclear, and they are both under contract at the moment.
Klopp has ruled himself out as van Gaal's potential successor
If Bayern wanted to avoid the messy process of poaching a coach from his current club, Ralf Rangnick remains out of work. However, despite the fact that he’s the original thinking-man’s coach - in whose footsteps Klopp, Dutt, and Tuchel now tread - Rangnick has also shown that interference from above will not be tolerated - precisely the reason he’s Hoffenheim's ex-coach.
"A Bayern coach must be ready to discuss with Rummenigge and Hoeness," Jonas Keinert, who covered Rangnick’s Hoffenheim at the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung daily, told Deutsche Welle. "The Bayern coach must find a way to follow his own direction while compromising with Rummenigge and Hoeness."
Top of the range
Should the club's hierarchy look for a non-German to lead Bayern back to prominence, current Turkey coach Guus Hiddink would seem to fit the bill. Hiddink, who appears to be having a less than satisfying time managing the Turkish national side, is renowned for his tactical expertise and has managed stylish attacking teams in Russia, Holland and England. He is also known for his amiable nature and ability to work within structures. His CV alone would command respect from the players.
The restless Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea may also be an option. A hugely decorated player and coach who has worked under Silvio Berlusconi and Roman Abramovich, Ancelotti is a man who gets results, inspires respect and confidence in his team and manages to do so while under the dictatorial watch of a massively-rich and controlling owner. (It also helps that rumors have begun to swirl that Abramovich would like to replace him soon…with Hiddink.)
Others such as Jose Mourinho - should he bore of the politicking at Real Madrid - and the currently unemployed Rafael Benitez may have the personalities and records of success to lead the team, but both are control-freaks who might chafe at the hands-on approach of Hoeness, Rummenigge and Nerlinger.
Success has meant Löw and assistant Hansi Flick have become fashion plates
The juiciest rumor to be spat from the mill thus far is that Bayern are going after the biggest German fish of them all - Joachim Löw. His present contract with the German national team ends after the Euro 2012 tournament, and Bayern would need only to find a short-term successor to van Gaal this summer - a man to keep the seat warm for Löw.
Jupp Heynckes fits this bill perfectly, and if he does leave Leverkusen to take the reins in Munich this summer, expect to see a lot more V-necked sweaters on Säbener street a year later.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann