Louis van Gaal will pit his wits against Armin Veh this weekend. Both coaches are vastly experienced, with recent Bundesliga titles to their name. And this week both became lame ducks.
After a series of embarrassing displays, Bayern finally showed Van Gaal the door. But unable to find a replacement at short notice, the Bavarians sheepishly added that the Dutchman would stay in charge until May.
Hamburg have been bereft of ideas on the pitch lately, and they showed little creativity the very next day. They also fired their coach, explaining that the decision to remove Veh would only become effective at the end of the season.
Bayern and Hamburg are perhaps the two biggest names in German football, so it’s fitting that when the sides clash this weekend they have so much in common.
The next few months are vital for both clubs. Failure to qualify for next year’s Champions League would be a disaster for Bayern, and not only because the final is at the Allianz Arena. And European qualification is a must for HSV.
But it’s a big gamble to keep an already-sacked coach at the helm. Doing so is a little like slowly tearing off an old plaster, instead of quickly ripping it off. The pain is only prolonged. Here are the risks:
- If Van Gaal or Veh turn around the team’s fortunes, fans will ask why the coach has been fired.
- If poor form continues, they’ll ask why the coach wasn’t replaced earlier.
- Van Gaal and Veh will be thinking about employment opportunities elsewhere next season, so their commitment to the cause will come under question.
- Players won’t worry about impressing their current boss.
- Media speculation about the clubs’ next coach could destabilise the team.
The dismissals themselves came as little surprise. Though Van Gaal led Bayern to a league and cup double and Champions League final in his first season, his team have struggled this term. Bayern had their worst 45 minutes in seasons during a second-half capitulation at Cologne. After a run of three defeats in eight days, Bayern slipped to fifth and Van Gaal’s already fractious reign became untenable.
Uli Hoeness has never seen eye-to-eye with Van Gaal. The club president, who once called Van Gaal a “one-man show,” made it clear that Bayern would not hesitate in changing coaches if Champions League qualification was in jeopardy. What is strange is that while that held true for Jürgen Klinsmann, the Van Gaal reign goes on.
The prickly Dutchman is known for humiliating players (Holger Badstuber was reduced to tears after a recent training session) but now it seems that the boot is on the other foot. With Van Gaal on the way out, snipes directed at the coach could become commonplace.
”He has made mistakes,” said honorary president Franz Beckenbauer in a barbed criticism this week. ”But he is at least better than a short-term solution.”
Those mistakes have been well documented: poor man-management, counting on tired players after the World Cup, failing to shore up a wobbly defence, releasing Mark van Bommel, and fielding players like Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Luiz Gustavo and Danijel Pranjic out of position.
Veh can match Van Gaal on that last flaw. Against Mainz on Sunday, he ordered Heiko Westermann to play in midfield. Strange, given that his captain quit Schalke because it was suggested he played in a position other than his favourite centre back role. Just to add to the confusion, midfielder Gojko Kacar took Westermann’s place in defence.
During the match, the visitors were everything that Hamburg were not: quick, incisive and dynamic. Veh, who led Stuttgart to the Bundesliga title in 2007, must have thought his luck was in when Marcell Jansen was awarded a goal for a shot that never came close to crossing the line. But Mainz scored four second-half goals in a resounding 4-2 win. Kacar’s expression after Mainz’s third summed up HSV’s season. Completely beaten for pace on a Mainz counterattack, the Serb had his head in his hands even before André Schürrle curled a lovely shot past Frank Rost.
As well as being the only team that can match Bayern for unfathomable player choices, Hamburg give the Bavarians a run for their money when it comes to turbulent behind-the-scenes politics.
Veh has been in the midst of boardroom bickering since taking over eight months ago.
Advisory board chairman Otto Rieckhoff hinted at dark forces this week. ”What is happening here is not an attempt to damage the personal integrity of certain individuals with half-truths and, at times, total lies, but it is an attempt to put individuals under threat with personal threats.”
Hamburg have spent two years looking for a sporting director (Matthias Sammer turned down a double-your-money offer in January). Chelsea’s Frank Arnesen was appointed last week, and his first and arguably most important job will be to find a successor to Veh.
So it’s the end of the line for Van Gaal and Veh. Although not quite. While Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim have fired coaches with immediate effect this season — mostly with positive outcomes — Van Gaal and Veh soldier on.
Ironically, all bets are off on the reigns of the only two other coaches who have denied Bayern the title in recent years, Felix Magath and Thomas Schaaf.
But if Schalke and Bremen decide enough is enough, they are unlikely to show the mercy afforded to the two men at the helm at the Allianz Arena on Saturday.
Follow the clash between Bayern and Hamburg on Eurosport 2’s special highlights show at 17:30 on Saturday. Our live coverage starts on Friday with Cologne against high-flying Hannover (20:30). We have live action from the leaders Dortmund against Hoffenheim (Saturday, 15:30), and the relegation battle between Bremen and Monchengladbach (18:30). Then on Sunday catch Mainz v Leverkusen (15:30) and St. Pauli v Stuttgart (17:30). Coverage in northern and eastern Europe only.