Bayern Munich Stuck With Arrogant Van Gaal

"It's not easy to fire Van Gaal" - Louis van Gaal, Head coach of Bayern Munich
It's a mark of a true genius that he's always right – even when he's hopelessly wrong. "It's not easy to fire Van Gaal," Louis van Gaal had predicted on Friday, "the question who will follow is a very difficult one to answer."

The Bayern Munich president, Uli Hoeness, the chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chief financial officer, Karl Hopfner, and the sporting director, Christian Nerlinger, took five and a half hours trying to find a solution to the conundrum on Sunday. All short and long-term measures were discussed and discarded as either impractical or undesirable. The best they could come up with was "keep calm and carry on".

On Monday, it was announced that the Dutchman would be allowed to stay in the job until the end of the season. It was a remarkable turnaround in the space of less than 48 hours and a curious decision in more ways than one. Internally, Van Gaal's dismissal if they were to lose at Hannover on Saturday had been seen as a given, especially since Hoeness had explicitly threatened that very move over a month ago.

"If qualification for the Champions League is in danger, I get nervous," Hoeness had said, "that was the case with Jurgen Klinsmann, too". The manager-impersonator from Huntington Beach, California, was fired when Bayern slipped to third in the spring of 2009.

The champions' 3-1 defeat at Hannover, the third in a row after a 3-1 reverse to Dortmund and crashing out of the German Cup (2-0 v Schalke), saw them slide to fifth. No Bayern manager could have been expected to be forgiven for such a run, least of all Van Gaal, whose stubbornness has long cost him the support of Hoeness. "We have to act, not talk," was all the president would say on his way out of the stadium on Saturday evening.

The fact that "Mr Bayern" did not get his way the next day points to a power shift. Rummenigge, nick named "Killer-Kalle" for his ruthless, heartless demeanour, seems to have grown into a much more rational, conciliatory figure and has managed to push through an unlikely compromise. Bayern must have dismissed fears of a lame duck scenario in light of challenges that are surely big enough (Champions League second leg against Internazionale and the fight for third place) to keep the players motivated.

There is, however, an interesting question about the relationship between Van Gaal and his players. Captain Philipp Lahm reportedly told Nerlinger that the team were still behind the manager, broadly speaking, but Bayern's chaotic performances have raised doubts within the dressing room.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper summed up the charge sheet perfectly: "Van Gaal is dogmatic without a plan B … Now that explanations for the weakness of Bayern's season [World Cup tiredness, Arjen Robben's injury] are no longer valid, he's at the centre of criticism. Why did he refuse to invest in defensive players [in the summer]? Why the constant positional changes? Why is he not interested in practising defensive dead-ball situations?"

Even his staunchest defenders will have noticed that a certain arrogance has crept into his decisions. In the last few weeks, Van Gaal was moving players across the pitch like pawns on a chessboard. Gustavo was not the only one to play in three different positions in one game.

The football professor was convinced his 4-2-3-1 system was so perfect that the personnel did not matter. Sadly, the opposite is true: Bayern's style has become so entrenched and predictable that more and more teams are able to take the appropriate measures. To make matters worse – much worse – the high priest of possession football from Amsterdam has not shown any inclination to develop a defensive methodology worthy of the name.

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