Jupp Heynckes deserves to lift one last Champions League trophy

Who would you choose as the most-iconic manager of the modern era in the Champions League? The guy who lost the dressing room at Eintracht Frankfurt? The coach who oversaw Benfica when they were humiliated 7-0 by Celta Vigo in the UEFA Cup? Or the man who failed at Schalke? Or do you prefer the manager who resigned after taking Borussia Monchengladbach on a 14-game run without a win?

Maybe roll of all four of those failures up into one package. And call him Jupp Heynckes. As Real Madrid prepare to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the former Real Madrid and current Bayern Munich coach is back in fashion. 

He’s the jedi-like, guru figure of the new generation of coaches. His career is long enough to caricature him as you will: as the man who outperformed Pep Guardiola and cleared up Carlo Ancelotti’s mess, or the man responsible for all of the above dismal scenarios.

Jupp Heynckes is back in fashion as he looks to steer Bayern to the Champions League final

At his less-exalted moments, he earned the nickname Osram, which is a German manufacturer of lightbulbs. Players and commentators would mock Heynckes as he grew angrier and angrier on the touchline, reddening in the face until he lit up.

You could say the same about Sir Alex Ferguson, but with Heynckes the rages weren’t associated with pushing his team over the line to one more trophy. 

Ten years ago, he looked like the washed-up manager. You know the sort: in his early sixties, principally a man motivator, lacking a distinct ‘philosophy’ like Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho. 

He was the kind of the manager who took at a team and tried to adjust his tactics to the players who were there. He wasn’t wedded to one particular style. In short, he wasn’t brand, like Mourinho or Guardiola.

But he does have the chance to end his career as one of the greats. In fact tonight you only wish that, as occasionally happens in the Premier League, the two managers had the opportunity to share a glass of wine at the end of the game rather than complete endless rounds of TV interviews.

The conversation between Heynckes and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane would surely be one the most-fascinating football chats you can imagine. 

Heynckes is the man who the Champions League trophy with Real Madrid in 1998 but was let go anyway, after finishing fourth in La Liga. Zidane knows that feeling. 

He’s currently third in La Liga and so has spent much of the season with his job in doubt. Yet he’s still in with a chance of matching Carlo Ancelotti and Bob Paisley with a third Champions League trophy in his first three years of coaching.

Heynckes won the treble with the club in 2013, and could repeat the feat in his 30th season

Heynckes won the treble with the club in 2013, and could repeat the feat in his 30th season

Heynckes could manage the same, except his third Champions League trophy would come in what will be his 30th and last campaign. He won his second Champions League in 2013, with Bayern Munich, after which he stepped down for Guardiola. He is doing so again and it would be a glorious finale to win a third European Cup and depart the stage.

Heynckes is 72; Zidane is 45. They stand at opposite ends of their respective coaching careers. But there are bountiful lessons for Zidane, and pretty much any coach, from Heynckes’ career. 

The most obvious is that being fired from Real Madrid is no disaster. And that you will get fired at some point. If a Champions League trophy can’t save you, nothing will.

More importantly, as we attempt to assess what makes a good or bad manager, is that if you have the opportunity to oversee 30 campaigns, some of them are likely to be shockers. 

There is a new breed of coach in Guardiola, who Zidane may be fortunate enough to emulate, who have started their careers at a top club and never had to manage anything other than an elite team. And in doing so you can accumulate some pretty impressive stats. Failure looks like a season finishing third in the Premier League with no trophies. And failure in those terms is clearly a relative concept and one that is unlikely to become a permanent trough.

When we think of the super managers of the modern generation we immediately tend towards Guardiola and Mourinho: charismatic individuals, forever overseeing Champions League contenders. Notwithstanding the fact that Mourinho clawed his way to the top with few favours from anyone, other than Sir Bobby Robson — who gained almost as much as he gave — there is another model.

Pep Guardiola replaced Heynckes at Bayern in 2013 and is on of the modern super managers 

Pep Guardiola replaced Heynckes at Bayern in 2013 and is on of the modern super managers 

Firstly, Heynckes is more in the Paisley mould in some respects. Paisley was no Bill Shankly in terms of charisma. And Heynckes has suffered for that, famously being sacked by Bayern first time around in 1991, despite having own two Bundesliga titles, mocked by his rival Christoph Daum, as being suitable for sleeping pill adverts. 

Daum soon after lost the chance to manage Germany amidst claims of using prostitutes – which he denied – and taking cocaine, which he admitted. So maybe there a an appropriate time to be dull. 

At Real Madrid Heynckes attempted to impose some discipline on an undisciplined dressing room and fell foul of a president closer to the players than his manager.

Thereafter his career seemed to be on a slide. His star had shone brightly for a time and he had been the man of the moment. But as Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho held sway and then Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, he began to look like a jobbing manager.

Except that experience matures. Friends say that he genuinely calmed down in his sixties and gained a fresh oulook on life. He has had health issues with a knee injury and his wife has also needed care. It helped him find perspective. 

At Real Madrid Heynckes attempted to impose discipline on an undisciplined dressing room

At Real Madrid Heynckes attempted to impose discipline on an undisciplined dressing room

The Osram jibe is no longer so pertinent. He’s older and wiser. Whereas once he put pressure on players to perform, he now sees his job to absorb the pressure and to free his players to play. He seems more content, less wound-up.

He did such a good job as stand-in at Bayern Munich in 2009, clearing up the mess of Jurgen Klinsmann, that he was appointed by Bayer Leverkusen. He took them to second place in 2011 – behind Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund – and so was invited back, winning the treble in 2013, before moving aside for Guardiola, who, of course, never managed to emulate the feat.

He may have lightened up personally but he still works seriously. Bayern players were ready for his intensity after what they perceived as the holiday camp atmosphere of Ancelotti. But he has been improving and developing through his sixties and seventies. And as such is an object lesson to us all.

Who is to say, for example, that David Moyes is doomed to be a jobbing manager fighting relegation? Or that Gary Neville has been exposed as a coach at the age of 43. Or that Brendan Rodgers, 45, was ‘found out’ at Liverpool? Or even that Ancelotti has lost his touch. 

Bayern players has welcomed his intensity following the 'holiday camp' feel of Ancelotti's reign

Bayern players has welcomed his intensity following the ‘holiday camp’ feel of Ancelotti’s reign

Claudio Ranieiri taught us that wily old coaches have plenty to offer and that we ridicule their mistakes with a little too much schadenfreude than is strictly necessary.

It may be human nature to categorise people into rising stars and failed has-beens. But football management is too nuanced a business and human beings are too complicated and varied to suggest that no-one ever changes and thus that experienced managers don’t have a huge role to play. 

The most-experienced of all may be lifting the Champions League in May. After thirty seasons of doing the job, he deserves it.

Heynckes is Europe's most experienced manager and would be deserving of another title 

Heynckes is Europe’s most experienced manager and would be deserving of another title 

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