“Football is a team sport. You can’t be selfish and follow your own goals,” said Jupp Heynckes this week. The rebuke was aimed at Borussia Dortmund’s want-away striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it could just as well have been directed at Heynckes’ own employers. Bayern Munich have been nothing but selfish themselves in recent weeks, trying to coerce the 72-year-old coach into extending his managerial role beyond the current against his better judgement.
Heynckes told journalists that the answer was no and remained no “even if they made handstands.” But club bosses Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge are not listening. They’re determined to change Heynckes’ mind by chipping away at his steadfastness, one compliment about his leadership qualities at the time, and by getting the players and the media in on the act. The club’s strategy since the start of the year has been transparent but that is not to say it won’t work: they believe if Heynckes feels that he’s wanted and at the same desperately needed given the lack of a viable alternative, he will agree to heed the call.
The second part, at least, is beyond question. Bayern’s renewed charm offensive towards Heynckes reflects their lack of suitable options. Hoeness and Rummenigge don’t seem to agree on a preferred candidate to succeed the incumbent. The only man they would both hire instantly is Jurgen Klopp but he won’t be available.
No one can begrudge a club being so content with its manager that they want to stop him from leaving at the end of the summer, in a reversal of the usual football dynamic. But there really is a darker, and rather ruthless, side to Bayern’s pursuit.
It should be remembered that Heynckes had made a decision in September of 2012 to step down after the 2012-2013 season — well in advance of Bayern securing Pep Guardiola’s services and the historic treble win in the spring of 2013, incidentally — hinting that his family wanted him to retreat from the hyper-pressurised life of coaching Germany’s biggest football team. Upon his return from retirement in late-September 2017, Heynckes again emphasised that his wife, daughter (and German shepherd Cando) expected him back in May.
Bayern’s attempts at talking the former Borussia Monchengladbach man round don’t just run roughshod over the heart-felt assurances he’s given to his family, but will also fuel the suspicion that Bayern don’t necessarily have his own best interest at heart. Nobody knows if the spirit of harmony that has befallen Sabener Strasse since his return would last into another season. Is he really ready to face the pressure of having to win at least two out of three titles for an additional year?
Heynckes, a man who’s not at all motivated by money, will rightly wonder what’s in it for him. There’s precious little to gain, and much to lose, if he continues to sit on the bench until he’s 73 years old. At what point does a reluctant relationship become an failing one?
Moral considerations aside, it won’t be easy to sell “Bayern 18-19” to Heynckes as a project. As a team, the Bavarians are ironically still struggling to evolve meaningfully from Heynckes’ 2013 template, both in terms of tactics and personnel. A fresh impetus, either by way of new coaching ideas or big transfers, is badly needed.
What’s more, it looks as if only a narrow set of circumstances pertaining to the current campaign’s realists will help Bayern in their cause to Heynckes down. If he were to somehow land a miraculous second treble this year, and enter the history books as Bayern’s most successful manager, staying on would make no sense whatsoever. Conversely, an early or particularly heavy defeat in the Champions League, the only trophy that really matters from Bayern’s point of view, would leave him with little incentive to try again in the following year.
If Heynckes and Bayern are really to continue their relationship, they need a Goldilocks kind of season in Europe: nothing too good, nothing too bad.
It all adds up to a rather tall order but Hoeness in particular will be unperturbed by the size of the challenge. The 66-year-old believes that Heynckes will ultimately be unable to refuse the request of a close friend, and of the club that effectively rebooted his managerial career when they appointed him as caretaker in 2009 after the short-lived Jurgen Klinsmann reign.
Hoeness’ power of persuasion should not be underestimated, either. When Michael Ballack ran down his contract ahead of his move to Chelsea in 2006, he at one point refused to conduct any more face-to-face talks with the club boss. Ballack was too worried Hoeness might talk him into staying at Bayern after all.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert. Follow: @honigstein