Friday, May 18, 2012
Home is where the heart is for Bayern
John Brewin, Senior Editor
There were beers being sunk at Heathrow Airport at 7am, and even a few half-hearted Chelsea songs attempted as time ticked down to flights to Munich. A long weekend of consumption awaited, and Bavaria's capital was ready for them. Having held an Olympic Games and a World Cup final in the 1970s, and a modern World Cup in 2006, it is a city more than capable of assimilating a huge event such as this, even when it holds such high stakes for the city and state.
Station and roadside adverts have all manner of different companies willing on Bayern. This is the moment they have been dreaming of since January 30 2010, when UEFA announced the Allianz Arena would host Europe's club showpiece. That May, defeat in Madrid to Inter in that year's Champions League final crystallised further hopes that 2012 would be their year. They have been building for this Saturday night of all nights ever since.
The European Champions Cup is a trophy that has brought as much pain as delight to Bayern. This will be their ninth final, and they have won and lost an equal amount. The golden era, of course, was from 1974-76 when they won three straight continental titles with Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness among the leading men. Three and a half decades on, and that pair are twin godheads of the club's senior administration. Hoeness, a man who was won a World Cup, and a European Championship to go with cupboard full of club honours, has described Saturday as the biggest match of his lifetime, which also includes being Bayern's general manager since 1979.
The man tasked with making sure the trophy stays in Munich beyond Sunday morning is Jupp Heynckes - at 67, one of the European game's survivors. He has tasted victory in the Champions League before, in 1998 with Real Madrid. There he earned himself an unwanted footnote in the competitions's history when sacked, despite winning the trophy that Real had so wanted since 1966.
"It is a historic opportunity. We will never relive it again, to play the Champions League final in our home stadium," said Heynckes, back for a third time at Bayern, where he won two titles in his first stint in the late '80s, and then in 2009, as a temporary manager to step in after the Jurgen Klinsmann experiment failed and ahead of the reign of Louis Van Gaal.
"We could lift the trophy for the first time in 11 years. Real's win was 32 years after their last one. This is a great opportunity for us and I need to drive it through to my players."
Even at a moment of such high stakes, Heynckes' years of experience have allowed him to be wry when many would be consumed by tension. He finds time for some classic German dry humour. The idea of penalties, despite German teams' age-old superiority in such a discipline brings him out in giggling laughter. Even after despatching Real Madrid in their own backyard by that very method, Herr Heynckes has a reason not to play for them.
"I hope we can avoid that. It would be our third match with penalties this season and at my age I do not know if my heart can take it," he said before being able to bury a myth that the English had taken as read for years. It becomes official - this German team doesn't practice penalties.
"It does not make much sense to train for penalties and I do not think we should do it. They have nothing to do with talent. It is the mental strength that helps a player score a goal," he said, his comments probably conjuring ill memories among Chelsea followers of that night in Moscow when mental strength failed both John Terry and Nicolas Anelka.
Heynckes then headed to the pitch to oversee a training session played fully in the open, with many a smile and a joke shared between he and his players. They performed in front of a home audience, and one clearly getting in their own practice ahead of what will be their big night too.
Bayern's training pitch has a terrace, and fans could be heard dishing out that Germanic chanting that always sounds so organised when compared to its English counterpart's lusty, but often atonal anthems. But before Heynckes takes the session, he has a word for Di Matteo, who may well follow in his footsteps in being sacked despite winning the trophy his club have desired above all others. If growing rumours from the Fabio Capello camp are true, then he may be keeping the seat warm for his fellow Italian to in turn keep it warm for Pep Guardiola.
But Heynckes is supportive. "Di Matteo makes an excellent impression on me and if I was Abramovich, I would continue with this young man," said the German, and his words of support are not remotely patronising.
"I think really, until today, his work has been outstanding and no matter if they win or not, I hope he stays there because there is a need for continuity," his grasp on the culture of Chelsea perhaps failing him at the last.
There is one moment to break the chummy detente, when Heynckes is asked about Didier Drogba. "Sometimes he overdoes it a bit. Sometimes he's an outstanding actor on the pitch," said Heynckes, perhaps knowingly writing the headlines, while certainly laying a marker to Polish referee Pedro Poenca. A later attempt is made by Bayern to put the cork back in the bottle just as Drogba is asked of his own assessement of his thespian qualities. As so often in football's quote unquote culture, a mistranslation is blamed. Heynckes actually meant 'performer', they say.
Drogba, after denying any theatrical ambitions, plays a straight bat of respect. "They have a great manager with a lot of experience. I have a lot of respect for him and that's all I can say".
Just before Chelsea take to the field for their own training session, this time on the pitch of the giant stadium, which resembles a giant bleached eggbox from the outside, their manager is at pains to downplay the importance of having to play in the belly of the Bayern beast.
"They are playing in their stadium, they know the environment. It is their pitch, that is all it is," said Di Matteo, adopting a now familiar neutral stance that may come naturally to him, given his Swiss roots.
Frank Lampard, however, has converted being the away team, the usurper, into a motivational tool. "For me it gives them an advantage, we can play around with how much so, but to change in the dressing room you are used to and to play on the pitch you are used to... but bring it on," he declared. "The fact they are the home team is a great challenge for us."
For now, Chelsea are being embraced as guests of honour in Southern Germany's biggest city. They will hope to outstay their welcome on Saturday night.