Champions League final: Departing Jupp Heynckes continues to show optimism even as his light fades at Bayern Munich
Victory for Bayern over Dortmund on Saturday would be a fitting finale for the veteran manager
As the Champions League final draws nearer, one man is beginning to take centre stage. A man who, as a player, never made it above the second division, and was largely unheard of five years ago. As a coach, though, Juergen Klopp has refined the art of making an impression. The unprecedented success of his Dortmund side has, in the last few years, been matched only by his mastery of the German media. And now he is turning his charms on the international press. The Cult of Kloppo is spreading its wings.
Spare a thought, however, for his opposite number this week. Far from being perpetually in the spotlight, Jupp Heynckes has spent most of his life being compared to it. His tendency to redden at times of high emotion long ago earned him the nickname of "Osram", after the lightbulbs.
While Klopp's appearance at Wembley this Saturday will mark his explosion onto the stage of world football, Heynckes' will represent a fittingly high profile closing number. As a player and coach, Heynckes has won everything that there is to win, and to leave the game with what is now arguably world football's biggest prize would be, even the most die hard Dortmund fan would have to admit, an appropriate swansong.
It was only last week that the Bayern coach confirmed his decision to retire at the end of this season, saying "I am not getting any younger". This summer marks the end of his two year contract with Bayern, and the arrival of Pep Guardiola thwarted any ideas of an extension. Up until very recently, though, he remained linked with moves to Schalke, Manchester United and Chelsea. It is sometimes difficult to remember that he is now 68 years old.
"You forget his age, on the training ground he's just like a forty year old," said club captain Phillipp Lahm last week, with a grin. A short time later, when a young reporter posed the idea to Heynckes that losing to Dortmund would be "the worst thing that Bayern could imagine", the Bayern coach couldn't resist a laugh.
"You're a young journalist," he said, "and young journalists should always be optimistic. There's some advice for you. Personally, I have always been an optimist, and I am optimistic that we will bring the Cup back to Munich."
Heynckes has put that inherent optimism to good use over his career as a manager. For all his successes – he has now won three German titles, a European Cup, and four Supercups – the former striker has frequently been at the wrong end of a shotgun dismissal. In 1991, his first stint as Bayern coach came to a messy end less than a year after winning consecutive titles, and in 1998 he was shown the door by Real Madrid shortly after having delivered their first European Cup for 32 years. Even this time around, there are some who feel he is being discourteously shoved out the back door to make way for a man whose seemingly invincible football legacy at Barcelona Heynckes has managed to break with his current Bayern squad.
The raucous, emotional displays of gratitude from the Bayern fans during his last two Bundesliga games, though, displayed the appreciation of what Heynckes has achieved in just a two year spell. Should his side triumph at Wembley, moreover, he will leave knowing that he has left the world's greatest managerial talent with possibly the hardest managerial job possible at the moment. Making this Bayern side even better, with the Treble as the minimum requirement.
This has been a season of ended eras and disintegrating dynasties. Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Barcelona's apparent stranglehold on world football and indeed the duopoly of the Premier League and La Liga have all disappeared. Among those departing, Heynckes is perhaps not the first to spring to mind, but he is certainly among the most remarkable. Whatever happens on Saturday, he will leave with the grace, the success and the optimism which has defined his glittering career in the game. The footballing world will be a little darker without Osram.
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