Win, lose or draw, Germany’s Champions League teams are squabbling more than scoring.
This week Bayern maintained their unstoppable European form, but their win was overshadowed by an unseemly spat between club coach and president. Schalke drew, then saw their most decorated player come under fire from the man who surprisingly brought him to Gelsenkirchen. And to complete a taxing week for club spin doctors, but a fruitful one for headline writers, Bremen’s woeful team was slammed by their own sporting director after a humiliating defeat.
Under normal circumstances Louis van Gaal, Felix Magath and Thomas Schaaf would be fearing for their jobs. But don’t expect dismissals any time soon for this particular trio.
Bayern’s Byzantine power structure has reached breaking point. A win against Freiburg made it seven points from nine games but club president Uli Hoeness wasn’t impressed and launched a stunning attack on his Dutch coach.
“It’s very difficult to have a conversation with Louis van Gaal. He can’t accept it when someone has a different opinion to him,” Hoeness said. ”He gives you the feeling that he thinks you’re a good guy, but he’s having his way nonetheless.”
Hoeness jumped at the chance to defend big name (and big salary) players like Martin Demichelis, Mario Gomez and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. All scored against Freiburg — but none are loved by van Gaal.
Hoeness’ attack was scathing. But in his first season in Germany van Gaal won a league and cup double, with a Champions League final thrown in to boot. In football terms, that makes him unsackable.
Before Bayern’s fourth successive Champions League win, a 4-0 victory at Cluj which booked them a place in the next round, Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge sought to play peacemaker, while vice chairman Karl Hopfner also weighed in. Sporting Director Christian Nerlinger will no doubt have his say too.
There should be a simpler management structure at Schalke, where Magath has a big role in policy as well as coaching. But with one win in ten this season, only goal difference separates the Royal Blues from bottom place. Schalke are in a deep crisis and their legendary player and manager knows it:
“This is no doubt the most difficult point in my career,” he said ahead of Friday’s match against St Pauli.
While Magath’s master plan to land the championship by 2013 is beginning to look a little foolhardy, Bundesliga survival should be enough to keep him in a job. The miracle of second place last year will ensure that.
Still, dressing room tensions are evident. Magath’s biggest summer coup was the signing of Raul. The Spanish legend has scored only once in the league but has been beyond criticism so far. That all changed after a disappointing goalless draw at Hapoel Tel Aviv this week.
“I want to see more from him in the penalty box,” said a stern-faced Magath.
Mild criticism, one might think, but the slightest reprimand from the famed disciplinarian is cause for concern for any player. Even one with three Champions League titles to his name.
Things aren’t much better for Werder Bremen’s embattled coach. Schaaf has been around long enough to know that the game is up in the Champions League this season after an embarrassing home defeat against Twente. But he probably didn’t expect the reaction of sporting director Klaus Allofs.
“We made too many mistakes throughout the match and you can’t afford that at Champions League level. You have to convert the chances you get or you will be punished for it.”
Bundesliga coaches worry when they hear such criticism. Publicly, powerful club presidents like to meddle in team affairs. Privately, they compare their coaches to Formula One drivers: talented, but expendable.
But Van Gaal, Magath and Schaaf shouldn’t be concerned for their jobs. By hiring Van Gaal, Bayern’s board tacitly admitted that the club needs a strongman as coach. After a decade in charge, Schaaf is nothing short of a Bremen legend. And Magath is Magath.
So expect the wrangling to continue. And the coaches to stay.
It’s a vital weekend for Schalke and you can catch their match against St. Pauli LIVE on Eurosport2 in north and east Europe (Friday, 20:30). On Saturday, see how Bayern Munich perform at Borussia Moenchengladbach (Saturday, 15:30). On Saturday we’ll bring you Freiburg v Mainz and Hamburg v Hoffenheim. And don’t forget our two live Sunday matches, Hannover v Dortmund and Stuttgart v Hoffenheim.