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When asked what has made FC Bayern so special this season in the aftermath of their 4-0 destruction of FC Barcelona, chief-trainer Jupp Heynckes pointed to one specific characteristic of his squad: “Teamwork”.
In a two-year spell, Heynckes has altered the dynamics of the Bayern dressing room. The 68-year-old took office in July 2011 from interim-coach Andries Jonker who had begun the cleaning-up process in the aftermath of a messy ending to the Louis Van Gaal era.
Van Gaal’s reign started well enough, with the former Ajax coach returning the proverbial swagger back to Bayern. His first season garnered a domestic double, while the Bavarians were denied the treble by Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
All wasn’t well in Munich though and cracks soon began to emerge between Van Gaal and his players, with influential captain Philipp Lahm describing him as “unwilling to budge from his philosophy.” The Dutchman’s defiance when it came to the potential signing of Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer also irked some within the club.
Meanwhile, results on the pitch began to suffer and the Dutchman was sacked following a 1-1 draw with Nuremburg in April that left Bayern behind Hannover 96 in the race for the third Champions League position.
"Football should be enjoyable, but there has been nothing enjoyable about football at FC Bayern for a while now.” Club president Uli Hoeness said in April 2011. "And to say that he had the players behind him was a myth.”
Referring to the Neuer saga, Hoeness added: "Problems were created which were totally unnecessary and which have ripped the club to pieces. Louis Van Gaal should consider what he has done."
Van Gaal – and his only backer in sporting director Christian Nerlinger who was eventually sacked – made some frustrating moves in the transfer market. The arrivals of Edson Braafheid, Nils Petersen and Danijel Pranjic failed to work and despite being offered funds to invest after their Champions League final loss in 2010, the head coach stood firmly by his additions, and the club’s emerging young talent.
Lost control
Essentially, it was Van Gaal’s inability to control a dressing room packed full of big players and bigger personalities during his second season that proved his ultimate downfall.
And this is crucially where Heynckes has succeeded; bringing together a multi-national squad of immensely talented players that have gone on to earn the tag of ‘best Bayern side of all-time’.
Heynckes won the hearts of his players and re-introduced the squad cohesion lost under Van Gaal. German magazine KICKER led with a front-page feature in January on why the intense competition between attacking quartet Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben was creating stress in the camp.
However, there was never friction in the squad, with all four understanding the value of the team, while still being encouraged to show the individualism that makes Bayern a force.
Naturally, Robben and Gomez have expressed their unhappiness about being on the bench, but this hasn’t detracted from the overall picture in Munich.
Indeed, Robben and fellow attacker Franck Ribery have shown unfamiliar characteristics of playing for the sake of the team.
Their overall contribution this season is telling; Ribery contributes directly to a goal – by either scoring or assisting – every 109 minutes, while Robben does so every 81 minutes. And this is all thanks to the “teamwork” Heynckes has demanded of his players during his time in charge.
Impressive record
Heynckes has battled for self-recognition for some time, despite a CV illustrious enough to rival the very best managers in the game. The diversely-travelled German won back-to-back Bundesliga titles in his first spell at Bayern, before guiding Real Madrid to Champions League glory.
After spells at Benfica and Athletic Bilbao, he returned to his homeland and successfully carried out short-term stabilising missions at Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen. Heynckes’ patience has been an integral asset to Bayern’s success of the last 18 months.
He has bitten his lip on many occasions when defied by the Bayern chiefs above him. The appointment of Pep Guardiola certainly annoyed the 68-year-old who hadn’t planned on retiring from his position, contrary to the official comments from the club.
Yet he hasn’t dug his heels in or looked to actively seek a move to a new club, and he will leave in the summer having turned down other roles within Bayern.
Instead, his remarkable shaping of this side, still on course for a treble – or quadruple if you include the DFL Super Cup – has alerted others of his unconfirmed future.
Perfect present
His 32nd season as a head coach will come to an end in potentially glittering style. He celebrated his 68th birthday on May 9, and the only present he will want is the Champions League trophy.
In the first-ever all-German final, Heynckes will take charge of the penultimate match of his career when his Bayern charges take on rivals Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium on May 25.
From London it’s on to Berlin for the German Cup final and Heynckes’ swansong.
If Bayern prove triumphant at Wembley – and with the Bundesliga title already tucked firmly into their belt –VfB Stuttgart will be the last remaining hurdle to overcome in Bayern's search of the treble.
And success in the domestic cup final will consolidate what has already been a remarkable season for both coach and club.
* Ross Dunbar is the editor of and avid follower of German football. Follow him on Twitter @rossdunbar93.

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