Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Around Europe: Bayern Munich blown off course — will returning presence of Uli Hoeness help steer the ship?

In this week's Around Europe column, Ian Hawey looks at a Bayern Munich side entering a mini-crisis under Carlo Ancelotti.
Bayern Munich's defeat to FC Rostov ensured the German champions will not finish top of their Uefa Champions League group. (Photo by Joosep Martinson / Getty Images
Bayern Munich's defeat to FC Rostov ensured the German champions will not finish top of their Uefa Champions League group. (Photo by Joosep Martinson / Getty Images

Bayern Munich held their annual general meeting on Friday evening, and the principle item on the agenda was whether or not to endorse the return of Uli Hoeness, former player, general manager and club legend to the top of the club’s hierarchy. Hoeness vacated the role of president rather suddenly in March 2014 to serve a prison sentence for tax evasion.

Among the power-brokers at the largest club in German, there seems widespread agreement that Hoeness, 64 and has emerged from his incarceration — he was released halfway through his three-and-a-half year sentence — sufficiently remorseful to be invited to exercise influence again. Lately the idea has strengthened that perhaps Bayern could immediately use the wisdoms of a dynamic, driven executive who oversaw the appointment of the last two head managers at the club: They were Jupp Heynckes, who delivered, in 2013, a first Champions League title in 12 years; and Pep Guardiola, who a majority of European superclubs wanted but who Hoeness persuaded, over dinner in New York, that a German adventure would suit him better than anything else.

The rest is history. Hoeness mostly watched from afar as Guardiola’s Bayern set new standards of domestic superiority, Bundesliga champions at a canter the last three seasons, admired worldwide for the slick, inventive football they played. Three months into the post-Guardiola era, with the Spaniard now at Manchester City, Hoeness has just watched something alarmingly unfamiliar: Two defeats on the trot, the first, 1-0 at Borussia Dortmund last weekend; and, on its heels, 3-2 at Rostov in midweek.

Some context, here. In three seasons under Guardiola, Bayern only once lost successive matches, and it happened only in the May after the first of his league titles had already been won. So the manager who has followed him, Carlo Ancelotti now carries the burden of knowing that, a third of the way through his first campaign with Bayern, he has overseen several things that you have to scroll back a long while to find a precedent for: A run of three fixtures without a win; a certain finish below top spot in their Champions League group; and, almost a third of the way through the Bundesliga calendar, a position in the table that is not first place. They go into today’s tricky home game against Bayer Leverkusen trailing RB Leipzig

Having the firm voice of Hoeness in his ear may or may not become the cause of further anxiety for Ancelotti. Bayern have hardly been short of booming reprimands from the boardroom even in Hoeness’s absence, and the latest setbacks have not gone unremarked by the club’s blazered class. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, another former player and a long-serving executive, broadcast his displeasure at the loss to Rostov, and focused on one star player. “Jerome Boateng needs to come back down to earth,” Rummenigge told reporters.

Why Boateng, totem of Bayern and Germany’s defence and a footballer whose authority, and indeed creativity as a passer largely flourished under Guardiola? The defender’s performances in the recent Bayern slump have included some errors of judgement, but the criticism was taken by the player as linked to his off-the-field activities. He has not broken any rules but his endeavours to raise his commercial and public profile have been conspicuous, attending red-carpet events, endorsing fashion products and promoting his image in the United States.

Boateng responded to Rumminigge’s words by telling Bild newspaper: “The reasons for any drop in form are nothing do with any PR or lifestyle issues,” he said. “Everybody who knows me knows I give everything to be in top form.” Substituted after an hour in Rostov, Boateng is a fitness doubt for the XI against Leverkusen.

In pinpointing Boateng, and alluding to possible distractions, Rumminigge touched another nerve. If Guardiola’s management style was characterised by its intensity, and the rigid control of his squad, Ancelotti’s is perceived as more laissez-faire. For that, the appointment of the Italian, who guided AC Milan and Real Madrid to Champions League triumphs, and Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain to league wins, was initially deemed welcome.

But a lack of urgency on the pitch has put Ancelotti’s methods under scrutiny. Captain Philipp Lahm, without citing his manager, said: “Our problem is that we are being careless. Things have to change.”

Would having the bullish Hoeness back on the scene make a difference to the players? “I don’t know if it will give us a push,” said Lahm. “But it’s a positive for the future.”

PLAYER OF THE WEEK — Emre Belozoglu, Basaksehir Istanbul

In Italy, he was known as the ‘Maradona of the Bosphorus’, and, at Internazionale, his charmed left foot, peripheral vision and low centre of gravity on occasion lent the comparison validity. And Emre Belozoglu, the Peter Pan of Turkish football, has staying power that even Maradona might envy. Now in his 21st season as a top-flight professional, Emre is eyeing yet another major title.

Itinerant of Istanbul

Emre, 36, will on Saturday lead out, in his umpteenth Istanbul derby, the Turkish league leaders in their top-of-the-table meeting with champions Besiktas. Those leaders? The surprise pacesetters Basaksehir, who Emre, formerly of Galatsasaray and Fenerbahce, has captained through their emergence as a convincing fourth force in the city.

Finesse and fire

It was back in the 1996-97 season that Emre first gave notice of his poise and skill on the ball in senior football, a 16-year-old debutant in a Galatsaray who he helped to barely precedented success. By the time he turned 20, he had won four league titles with Gala, and a Uefa Cup-winners medal, in 2000.

Red mist

By then, it had become evident that there was an edge to his midfield game to go with the nimble dribbles and eye-of-a-needle passes. A red card in the Uefa Cup semi-final denied Emre his place in the triumphant final against Arsenal that year. His total of 93 Turkey caps would be greater but for a ban following his part in a notorious 2005 brawl after a World Cup qualifier against Switzerland. Later in his career, playing for Fenerbahce, he was banned for making racist remarks to an opponent.

Global renown

That is a blemish that stays with Emre, for many years the leading ambassador for Turkish football in a peak period for the national team. He played a key role in the national team’s bronze medal at the 2002 World Cup, and a summer later moved to Serie A, with Inter. There were spells in the Premier League, with Newcastle United, and, briefly, in la Liga, with a resurgent Atletico Madrid.

Title collector

If Emre became a star at Galatsaray, it was with their fierce rivals, Fenerbahce that he established himself as a leader. Domestic Player of the Year in 2010, he won the leagues in each of his two stints with Fener, in 2011 and, after returning from Spain, in 2014. To add another, a seventh of his career, with upstart Basaksehir would draw down the curtain on his career in spectacular style.

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Updated: November 25, 2016 04:00 AM

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