Van Gaal, left, is gone, while Robben, right, faces a banImage: AP
Going, Going, Gone
April 10, 2011
One mistake by a young goalkeeper was all it took to turn Bayern ex-coach Louis van Gaal from a lame into a dead duck. But Bayern's troubles won't automatically end with his departure.
Somehow you had a sneaky feeling that Louis van Gaal wasn't going to last out the season after Bayern Munich and the Dutchman agreed to part ways in the summer.
One of van Gaal's controversial moves that alienated his former employers was his benching of veteran goalkeeper Jörg Butt in favor of 22-year-old homegrown prospect Thomas Kraft.
Kraft was again tending goal against Nuremberg on Saturday, April 9. And when the youngster ambled out of goal and took his time with a clearance on the hour-mark, he probably didn't realize that both his coach's and his own jobs were on the line. But they were.
Kraft failed to clear the ball, Nuremberg scored the equalizer in a 1-all draw, and Bayern's bosses decided after a brief Saturday night pow-wow that it was so long Louis.
"All this crap started with the decision to take Butt out of goal," Bayern President Uli Hoeness fumed to Bild newspaper. "Saturday was the last link in a chain of events, and the board had to act."
On the surface, replacing van Gaal with his former assistant Andries Jonker for the last five games of the season doesn't make that much sense. But the move was necessary to clear the way to reinstate Butt between the posts and avoid what star winger Arjen Robben has described as a "horror scenario" - playing Europa League football next season.
Unfortunately for Munich, Arjen Robben initially won't be able to help in their bid to secure third place. He was red carded on Saturday for insulting the referee.
And that's just one of the challenges Bayern are facing in their late season-salvage operation.
Kraft's blunder and Robben's ill-advised sending-off typified the mental mistakes that have made this a season to forget for the men in red and their supporters.
But Bayern management also have to take at least partial responsibility for Robben's lack of discipline, the sort of indiscretion that comes when players work under a lame-duck coach.
Munich took a risk in continuing to operate under van Gaal, whose authority in the squad was severely undermined when the club and coach negotiated a parting of ways in early March.
Bayern initially responded by reeling off three straight Bundesliga wins, but Saturday's match showed what can happen when there is no strong sidelines leader to keep players focused on the ultimate task at hand.
"I was just mad," a repentant Robben told reporters after the match. "I was frustrated and disappointed by the team and our performance. I should have let myself go in the changing room with my teammates and not on the pitch with the official. That was no example to set for fans or children. I accept full responsibility."
Interim coach Jonker is, by all accounts, well-liked in Munich. But will he have the clout to impress upon the squad and, especially, its stars that any lapses in discipline can turn a disappointing campaign into a disastrous one?
Robben isn't the only one taking an involuntary vacation. Defender Holger Badstuber also picked his fifth yellow card in Nuremberg match, leaving Bayern even more short-handed at a position they have struggled to fill all season.
The squad's offense has been fine, but a shaky defense has meant the team hasn't been able to pick up the sorts of narrow, patented "lucky Bayern" wins that have carried Munich to titles so many times in the past.
Barring a recovery from injury by Daniel van Buyten, Bayern now head into their next match without a trained central defender with any significant experience in their squad. Jonker will have to be creative in that area.
And Munich's upcoming fixture isn't an easy one – a home match against Leverkusen who will be eager to wrap up at least second place in the league. Ironically, Jupp Heynckes, the coach who has led Leverkusen to its current high, will be taking over the reins at Munich next season, but Bayern shouldn't be counting on any gifts next weekend.
And the coming weeks are loaded with tricky fixtures. Aside from a home match against Schalke, who have little left to play for in the league, Bayern's remaining games come against relegation candidates – Frankfurt, Stuttgart and St. Pauli – that will bite and claw for survival.
Bayern star ensemble is going to have to show a comparable amount of determination if they are to reclaim third spot in the table from upstarts Hanover.
The central shortcomings in Bayern's squad are obvious, and incoming coach Heynckes will have the resources to rectify them. If Munich needed further motivation to sign Schalke and Germany keeper Manuel Neuer, Kraft gave them some. And Heynckes no doubt knows that Bayern's defense is not up to scratch for the Champions League, whose 2012 final will be held in the Bavarian capital.
But before solving the medium-term problems, Bayern and their interim coach Jonker will have to address some immediate ones.
Otherwise, Germany's soccer powerhouse is in danger of missing out entirely on the sport's biggest club show.