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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Jupp Heynckes, on Comeback Number Four, the firefighter Bayern Munich turn to in times of need

Match against Celtic at the Allianz will be the 72-year-old German's 60th time in charge of a European Cup match

Jupp Heynckes, right, puts his Bayern Munich players through their paces at Saebener Strasse training ground. Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images
Jupp Heynckes, right, puts his Bayern Munich players through their paces at Saebener Strasse training ground. Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images

Jupp Heynckes confessed he felt nervous ahead of Comeback Number Four. Symptoms of that are well known: Heynckes’ rather rigid face turns redder in times of stress.

He said he sensed anxiety among his Bayern Munich players. The serial Bundesliga champions had not won for three games, Carlo Ancelotti had been dismissed as manager, and his replacement, a retired 72 year old, had not given a dressing-room team-talk for four and a half years.

A huge, deep roar thundered around the Allianz Arena on Saturday when Heynckes’ name was read out over the tannoy, after the names of a starting XI including five whom Heynckes had picked in his penultimate match of his third spell at Bayern, the Uefa Champions League final triumph at Wembley in 2013.

Word is that the veterans, men such as Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Javi Martinez, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng are largely content with their club’s decision to bring back Heynckes for his fourth spell as Bayern manager until next June, that he is the right man to recover the intensity of their football, the caretaker de luxe.

Comeback Number Four has started well. Against Freiburg there were uncertain early moments for a team whose confidence took a dent with the 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain at the end of September – that result ended Ancelotti’s time – but no excessive reddening of the cheeks.

Bayern were ahead after eight minutes, added another four goals and kept a clean sheet. Heynckes valued the fact that “the players kept their minds free". He warned of “tougher opposition ahead".

That means Celtic, at the Allianz on Wednesday for what will be Heynckes’ 60th match as a manager in the European Cup proper, an odyssey that began more than 30 years ago, in his first spell at Bayern, when he guided the club to two semi-finals of club footballer’s premier competition.

He went on to win the trophy at Real Madrid, 20 seasons ago, and win it again, with Bayern, 15 seasons later. That was supposed to mark his farewell.

Heynckes is the kind of firefighter you want to have on speed dial. Not only does he belong to the very select group of men who have lifted European Cups with different clubs – Ancelotti is there, with Jose Mourinho and Ottmar Hitzfeld – but he has a knack of extinguishing different sorts of fire.

The same executives now ask him to tighten up the slack they believed had developed under Ancelotti previously summoned Heynckes to sort out a slump that led to the energetic Jurgen Klinsmann ending his stint as Bayern’s charismatic figurehead. He was then called in to sort out a meltdown at the end of Louis van Gaal’s dogmatic tenure.

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The expectation is that, come the summer, Heynckes will retire – again – and Julian Naglesmann, currently at Hoffenheim, will be Bayern’s guide for the longer-term. Quite a change that will be. Nagelsmann, 30, had not been born when Heynckes was named for the first time as Bayern’s manager.

For all the pressures, the weighty expectations after five successive Bundesliga titles, managing Bayern remains a very desirable job. The last transfer window added to a squad of many gifts a pair of fine German internationals, Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy, and the €42 million (Dh181m) France midfielder Corentin Tolisso. And what use Heynckes can make of James Rodriguez, on loan from Real Madrid, is among the more intriguing questions around Comeback Number Four.

Against Celtic, Martinez, a Heynckes favourite, is unlikely to feature because of a shoulder problem and Franck Ribery has a knee injury. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is out until the new year, a significant absentee whose deputy Sven Ulreich has not yet established great authority between the posts.

Heynckes will make the point, as he has to Bayern players since the 1980s, that if they keep possession as well as they are equipped to, the keeper can have a nice quiet evening.

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