By Preben Gietz
The term ‘lame duck’ reached unexpected prominence in Germany during the past few weeks as several coaches either were told that their contracts would be terminated at the end of the season or that a firing was imminent.
Hamburg’s Armin Veh, who agreed to leave the club at the end of the season earlier this week, was told to pack his bags this Sunday morning following yesterday’s 6-0 debacle in Munich. Felix Magath is set to meet with Schalke boss Clemens Tönnies on Sunday for a “conversation between men”, as Tönnies described it. Credible sources, however, have reported that Schalke’s board, of which Magath is a member, will dismiss the coach during a scheduled meeting this Wednesday.
The other lahme Ente, as the term has been coined in Germany, is Louis van Gaal, maybe the most high profile duck. One week after the 3-1 loss to Hannover and the announcement of van Gaal’s departure at the end of the season, the team gave the perfect response in clobbering Hamburg.
This was an impressive performance following days of distractions. Throughout the week players were asked questions about Bayern’s uncertain coaching situation. They all gave the right answers, behind the microphone and on the pitch this Saturday.
“The relationship [between van Gaal and the team] is good”, said Bastian Schweinsteiger this week, “Of course we all want to be successful in the upcoming last few weeks. We want to make sure he will have a positive departure. He deserves this. The success we had [with him] last year, I have never experienced that in my career at Bayern.”
The players knew that another dismal performance and fourth defeat in a row would lead to their coach being sacked. Of course Hamburg, a club in complete disarray, was an ideal opponent. Bayern’s performance, however, could not have been more convincing.
Van Gaal decided to change the composition of his backline yet again. In 39 games this season this was the 15th different back four, with Daniel van Buyten returning after spending months in the dog house. The only constant piece has been Philipp Lahm who played in his 100th consecutive game this Saturday. During this stretch he has played the full 90 minutes in each game.
Defensive struggles have been Bayern’s Achilles heel this season, thus far conceding 33 goals in the league. Dortmund, in comparison, have given up a mere 15. Keeping a clean sheet this Saturday will help in regaining some confidence ahead of the Champions League clash with Inter Milan. It seems more than likely that van Gaal will stick with the back four from the Hamburg game, Lahm, van Buyten, Gustavo and Pranjic.
Arjen Robben scored three goals, taking his Bundesliga total to 24 in 32 games. After the game he stressed that, “Now we have to be present and go through to the next round on Tuesday.” Having squandered all chances to defend the Bundesliga title and being knocked out of the German Cup, the players know that a successful run in the Champions League is the only way to get anything out of this season.
Most importantly, the win on Saturday put an end to the constant questions regarding Louis van Gaal. The club knows that this is only temporary. A loss on Tuesday and the pressure is back on. Neither club officials nor van Gaal have dismissed the idea of parting ways before the end of the season. “That could always happen”, van Gaal said on Saturday, “but that depends more on my players than the club’s board.”