Louis Van Gaal: His Story at Bayern Munich and Reflections on His Departure
Louis Van Gaal is certainly not the most loved person in the world. Neither is Uli Hoeness.
Hoeness, the president of FC Bayern Munchen rarely sees eye to eye with Louis Van Gaal. Is it, however, this conflict, that brought an end to the reign of Van Gaal, which had looked so promising after he completed his first year in charge?
When Louis Van Gaal took over Bayern in 2009, there were doubts about whether the authoritarian coach would survive in one of world football's toughest coaching jobs. Perhaps, the only job in which it is tougher to succeed in the world of football is perhaps the one that Jose Mourinho currently does at Real Madrid.
By December 2009, Bayern's decision to take a risk on the Dutchman appeared to be a mistake. The board clearly had the intention to sack him if things did not improve, especially if Bayern failed to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.
Bayern picked up in the league in December and found themselves occupying the final Champions League spot in the Bundesliga. The trip to Turin was however the turning point of the season.
Against all odds, Bayern travelled to Turin and started the game without Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. However, Mario Gomez, Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger stole the show on the grounds of one of Italy's biggest clubs as Bayern won the match 1-4. From that point onward, Bayern's season went from strength to strength.
Did Bayern take the right decision?
However, despite their dominance in the domestic competitions and their swagger in Europe, it was their possession-based style of play that stole the hearts of the neutrals.
What was more intriguing about this Bayern side was that the side consisted of talented youngsters in the like of Diego Contento, David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and Thomas Mueller.
The season ended with two domestic trophies and a disappointing Champions League final defeat at the hands of the all-conquering Inter Milan.
The World Cup followed and the very youthful and relatively unheralded German side made it to the semifinals. They left the World Cup with the bronze medals. The Dutch meanwhile made it to the final. The World Cup led to Louis Van Gaal's first error.
Van Gaal's tired players took to the pitch in August. The core of the Bayern side, including current captain Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, and most of all the two youngsters, Holger Badstuber and Thomas Mueller looked weary from the beginning of the season.
Arjen Robben, who had played for the Dutch through an injury, suffered the most and was ruled out for six months, resulting in a long feud between Bayern and the Dutch football federation. Mark Van Bommel, who had also starred for the Dutch, wasn't having the best of seasons.
Louis Van Gaal is fond of having a small squad. He is also fond of having plenty of youngsters at his disposal. However, he underestimated the impact that the World Cup would have on his players and didn't strengthen the squad.
The Bayern board gave him the money to do so but he didn't use the money. Bayern put in some abysmal performances in the league. Their form in Europe was unquestionably fantastic. However, their failings on the domestic front were there for all to see.
Bayern suffered from numerous injuries and with the likes of Andreas Ottl, Danijel Pranjic, the "new centre-back" Anatoliy Tymoschchuk, the ever-more confident Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos, strung some decent results together and made it to fifth spot in the table.
With the new year, dawned new hopes.
Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were both fit and ready to terrorize Bundesliga defences. Breno, the promising defender was fit and ready to pair with Holger Badstuber.
This is where Van Gaal made his second mistake: In his belief in Breno and Toni Kroos, he allowed Martin Demichelis and perhaps the most respected to and listened to player in the dressing room, the captain Mark Van Bommel to leave the club. Van Bommel admitted to shedding tears following his unceremonious departure from Bayern.
Will Bayern find a way to Wembley?
Breno, Robben and Ribery started off well and eventually started picking up wins in the league. Normal service seemed to have resumed.
Despite their worrying defending, Bayern picked up three very good results. A 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg was followed by two wins, a 5-1 win over FCK and a 3-1 win over Werder.
It was the result following these two wins that brought about question marks over Van Gaal's half-time team talks. Bayern, leading 2-0 at half-time against Koeln, absolutely capitulated in the second half and shipped in three goals.
Despite Diego Contento's return to fitness, Van Gaal left the half Italian half German defender out of the picture. He continued to play Danijel Pranjic, in defensive midfield, in the absence of Toni Kroos, Pranjic's defending is mediocre and sometimes calamitous.
Breno was left out of the side after a promising start. Tymo and Badstuber continued to pair in central defence. Luis Gustavo, who is a very good defensive midfielder, had to play at left-back.
Van Gaal's fondness of playing players out of position went unnoticed for the next three games as Bayern crushed Hoffenheim and Mainz in the league and beat Inter in the CL.
Thomas Kraft began to justify Van Gaal's faith in him ahead of the veteran Hans Joerg Butt. Luis Gustavo showed his potential as a defensive midfielder in the match against Inter Milan, in which Holger Badstuber played in the left-back's role and performed well.
In the very next match in the league against Dortmund, Van Gaal made his next mistake: He played Luis Gustavo at left-back and brought Danijel Pranjic back to defensive midfield.
He underestimated Dortmund and decided to keep to the same style. Also, he didn't withdraw Bastian Schweinsteiger despite the fact that the midfielder's errors led to the first two goals.
Everyone expected Bayern to rise, however, something was wrong. Teams seemed to have found a way to defend against Bayern and score goals past their soft paper-weight defence.
Schalke came to the Allianz Arena and ran away with a 1-0 victory in the German Cup semi-final. The third defeat seemed to have a sense of mutiny to it as Bayern collapsed, 3-1, dramatically against Hanover. The board had to act.
Most wanted to see the back of this stubborn coach, the man who had allegedly almost brought Holger Badstuber to tears with his harsh criticism. Bayern sacked him but had to hold on to him until the end of this season as they couldn't find an alternative. Ottmar Hitzfeld reportedly turned down the chance for a third-stint at Bayern.
Bayern's decision is potentially a double-edged sword. If Louis Van Gaal miraculously guides Bayern to a second spot finish in the very unpredictable Bundesliga and helps the team win the Champions League (Bayern has won six out of seven games in the CL), the board will be embarrassed.
On the other hand, if Bayern finishes the season out of the Champions League spots and gets knocked out of the Champions League, the board will have to accept that they should have hired a replacement.
Either way, Bayern will have a new coach next season. Louis Van Gaal will say goodbye but whether he will prove the board wrong remains to be seen.
Jupp Heynckes and Joachim Loew are two names mentioned in the press. Another name is Juergen Klopp. Klopp will be the perfect replacement. However, who will be willing to take on such a risky position? Only time will tell...
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