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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Bayern Munich v Besiktas: Heynckes and Gunes in a battle of the veteran managers

They are the senior citizens of the Uefa Champions League, conspicuous for their experience, and the long, eventful journeys they have travelled in the competition. And they stand out in an era where managers seem to get younger and younger.

Back when Senol Gunes was keeping goal at the top level of club football, the competition was still known as the European Champions Cup. Gunes made his debut in it way back in 1976. He proudly kept a clean sheet for Trabzonspor in a win over Liverpool, who would finish that season with the title.

Gunes is now 65. The Besiktas he lines up at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Tuesday night have already made history this season, the first Turkish club to finish top of their group.

Jupp Heynckes, his opposite number, played in his first European Cup final in the same season Gunes made his playing debut in the tournament, his Borussia Monchengladbach beaten by Liverpool in Rome.

Heynckes is 72, and began his fourth spell as Bayern’s Munich’s manager in October. He had been enjoying his retirement and promises that for certain, this will be his last year in management. A place in history is temptingly close, a third Champions League title seven matches away.

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Heynckes, who was sacked by Real Madrid immediately after he guided them to the 1998 European Cup, then stepped down at Bayern straight after their 2013 triumph at Wembley, has brought such a sure touch to his work, since being called up, in emergency, to replace Carlo Ancelotti, that in the boardroom and from several corners of the dressing-room there are voices appealing to him to think of postponing his retirement once again. “No chance,” Heynckes insists.

Fact is, the veteran with the ruddy cheeks and a physique barely altered since he was Monchengladbach and Germany’s centre-forward, has barely made a false step. His Bayern canter to the domestic title, leading the Bundesliga by 19 points with 11 fixtures left. Under Heynckes, the reigning champions have dropped just three points of the 45 they have contested.

His virtues? Clarity in the organisation of a big, star-studded squad and greater intensity in Bayern’s football. He quickly identified Javi Martinez, used in the past as a central defender, as the figure to command the base of his midfield. He has coaxed some excellent displays from James Rodriguez, on loan from Real Madrid where the talented Colombian had lost his pizzazz.

A widespread view is that Heynckes has had a little luck, as well, in as far as Bayern, who finished second in their group - thanks to a heavy defeat under Ancelotti away at Paris Saint-Germain - landed Besiktas in the last 16 stage rather than say Barcelona, or Manchester City, or free-scoring Liverpool.

Bayern’s budget dwarfs that of Besiktas. While the Turkish champions felt obliged to sell their leading striker, Cenk Tosun in January, the club accepting a fee in excess of €30 million (Dh136.7m) from Premier League club Everton, Bayern bought a Germany international, Sandro Wagner, who leapt at the opportunity to exchange Hoffenheim for one of the Champions League favourites, even if his role is defined as back-up to Robert Lewandowski.

Besiktas, fourth in the Turkish Super Lig, lost Tosun and signed Vagner Love, an old warrior enthusiastic about an unexpected adventure in elite club football to tag on to the end of a career that has taken him from his native Brazil and back many times, via Russia, China and France.

Love turns 34 in June, but hardly feels like the grandfather of a squad that Bayern’s Thomas Muller characterised accurately enough. “There are a few players at Besiktas whose careers didn’t always run at 100 per cent maximum for the quality they have,” Muller said.

He likely had in mind the winger Ricardo Quaresma, 34, once of Al Ahli and a serial collector of clubs who have European Cup pedigree – Barcelona, Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale – but never a European club champion himself. Or Ryan Babel, the Dutch winger, 31.

Gunes relies on his veteran players: on defender Pepe, who has triumphed before in Munich while with Real Madrid; on Gary Medel, aka “Pitbull”, the Chilean enforcer, previously of Inter Milan and Sevilla; on Adriano, the former Barcelona full-back. Heynckes intends to test their stamina to the full over the next 180 minutes.