Player discontent, internal power struggles with critical bosses and inconsistent performances on the pitch are combining to put pressure on Louis van Gaal and undermine his position as coach at Bayern Munich.
Van Gaal fights on at Bayern - but for how much longer?
According to former Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni, coach Louis van Gaal used to prove he had the 'equipment' necessary to impose his iron will on the team by dropping his trousers to players and exposing himself. While attempting to show that he clearly had the balls to do what he wanted, van Gaal has only enhanced his growing reputation as a trainer who is clearly nuts.
While the main story of Bayern's season may be about the endless game of catch-up they've been playing and their apparent self-destructive inconsistency on the field, the subplot of the narrative is one of mutiny and divisions behind the scenes with van Gaal cast as the protagonist of the piece.
Inexplicable implosions on the pitch have mirrored the alleged collapse of unity off it. Even when Bayern are winning, they seem to be losing it - Arjen Robben's attempt to tear out Thomas Mueller's throat during the 3-1 defeat of Werder Bremen in January a case in point. There seems to be little joy in victory and bitter recriminations in defeat.
It's in times like these that the coach earns his keep by bringing his frustrated, dispirited players together and binding them to the common cause once again. But evidence suggests that, far from uniting Bayern's stars, van Gaal is further alienating the players and in turn riling his masters in the corridors of power.
Public criticism hints at deeper divide
Hoeness has twice spoken out against van Gaal's approach
Bayern Munich is an institution that only very rarely washes its dirty laundry in public. Things have to reach boiling point for anyone in the strict regime to let off steam in earshot of an outsider.
So it's a measure of how bad things have become this season that Bayern president Uli Hoeness has not once but twice criticized van Gaal publicly, first questioning the Dutchman's coaching methods and then complaining that he's difficult to work with.
Club legend Franz Beckenbauer recently joined Hoeness in issuing public criticism of the coach. Bayern's honorary club president laid into van Gaal in his column in the Bild tabloid last month over the Dutchman's decision to drop 36-year-old veteran goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt midseason in favor of 22-year-old Thomas Kraft.
Beckenbauer's words not only showed that coach and club hierarchy seem on different pages when it comes to tactics and team selection but also hinted at the growing belief that van Gaal refuses to adhere to the club's authoritarian structure.
Der Kaiser's most telling criticism in this case was his unhappiness that van Gaal had made the decision to switch keepers without consulting other club officials, echoing the claim of Hoeness who accused van Gaal of "running the team as a one-man show."
In this context, rumors have also abounded that the sale of club captain Mark van Bommel to AC Milan in January was orchestrated by van Gaal despite Bayern bosses wanting the Dutch midfielder to stay.
Toni left Bayern because of van Gaal - and he's not alone
Ex-stars twist the knife
Van Gaal's growing distance from playing staff and management appears to be a central theme in the leaked reports of unrest. While few of the current playing staff have come out publicly to criticize their coach, players who have recently moved on have been queuing up to air their grievances.
Luca Toni and former Bayern captain Lucio both jumped ship after van Gaal joined the club in June 2009. Inter Milan defender Lucio claimed that the Dutchman "hurt me more than anyone else" in the game and "erased my positive memories of winning the title with Bayern in an instant." Italian striker Toni, who left for AS Roma, stated there was no dialogue with van Gaal or motivation from him.
Argentina defender Martin Demichelis, who moved to Malaga this season, also claimed that he left because of van Gaal. "I felt like a son of the club," Demichelis, who played in Munich for seven-and-a-half years, told reporters. "But from the first moment that Louis van Gaal joined, everything started to go wrong."
Reports of van Gaal's abrasive nature and lack of subtlety are nothing new, however. Even during last season's highly successful double-winning campaign, disputes with leading players made for colorful reading in the sports pages.
But this season, news of friction and rebellion at Bayern go hand-in-hand with the bad press the team is getting over its performances. There's no title charge or exhilarating cup run to paper over the gaping cracks.
Van Gaal rips up successful blueprint
Thomas Müller has not prospered under the new tactics
Van Gaal has come under fire for basically reversing all the positives he achieved with the team last season. Thomas Müller's revelatory debut season as a supporting striker is all but forgotten as the youngster has spent most of this campaign floundering out of position on the flanks. The confidence he displayed in Bayern's winning team and Germany's exciting World Cup squad looks spent as Müller continues to struggle.
The stability and creativity Bastian Schweinsteiger gave the team last season in his new role as a holding midfielder has evaporated since van Gaal pushed him further forward, leaving Danijel Pranjic - a left-back - to anchor the midfield. Bizarrely, midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk - a man who could at least lay claim to Schweinsteiger's former position through experience alone - has been playing as a central defender.
As a result, Bayern are less fluid and less offensive. Van Gaal has seemingly abandoned the formation that struck fear into opposing sides with its attacking verve, width and cohesion and replaced it with an overly defensive, rigid setup which invites teams to attack Bayern and play them at the game they so masterly played themselves last season.
Van Gaal has said that he intends to sign one more contract before retiring from the game. He has not confirmed whether it will be an extension with Bayern beyond his current deal which ends in 2012, or if he will look to manage a national team or return to Holland, although his preference would be to stay in Munich.
However, if the climate of discontent and the erratic, inconsistent performances continue, that decision may taken out of his hands.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Martin Kuebler