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Jürgen Klinsmann’s failed revolution at Bayern Munich

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Before Bayern Munich’s first game of the new decade, BFW goes back into the history books to look at what went wrong for Jürgen Klinsmann as Bayern’s manager.

Photo : Thomas Pictures / Jean Paul Thomas / Icon Sport via Getty Images

Munich, 25th of April 2009: Bayern are on the verge of losing their eighth game of the 2008/09 season, this time at home against sixth-place Schalke 04. As the team was down by a goal, the stadium erupted in mixed chants, one trying to cheer on the red-shirted home players and the other with a firm message to the Bayern board:

Klinsmann raus! Klinsmann raus!

Two weeks before that game, Jürgen Klinsmann had been the subject of a newspaper article from the Berlin-based Tageszeitung. The paper featured a montage of the former German manager being nailed to the cross with the slogan ‘’Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’. Ridiculing the former World Cup winner’s unshakable optimism, taz concluded its satirical representation with the caption ‘’From Germany’s superstar to Bavaria’s bogeyman.”

The Klinsmann revolution, which was supposed to change Bayern dramatically both on the pitch and from within, had failed.

This article will revisit optimistic expectations that accompanied Klinsmann to Munich when the Göppingen-native became Bayern Munich’s next head coach, the reasons for his downfall, and the necessary changes at the club that were made afterward.

Germany’s superstar

To fully understand why Bayern decided to take a chance on Jürgen Klinsmann in July 2008, it is important to realize the poor state the German national football team found itself in when Klinsmann became Germany’s head coach four years earlier.

Although Rudi Völler’s German side reached the World Cup final in 2002, their campaign was rather unimpressive, and they would have never gotten there if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Even qualifying for the tournament in Japan and South Korea was far from straightforward. Germany came second in their group after England, who beat them 5-1 in Munich. Germany had to qualify through the playoffs, where they were victorious at home against Ukraine after drawing in Kyiv.

Little changed in the two years after the World Cup. and Germany crashed out of the 2004 Euros. They drew to both the Netherlands and surprise-package Latvia and concluded their campaign by losing their last group-stage game against the Czech Republic, who were already confirmed as the group winner and played with a rotated squad.

The DFB needed change and they needed it quick. The 2006 World Cup was on the horizon, which would be hosted by a unified Germany for the first time.

Klinsmann wasted no time both in pursuing an aggressive program to revamp the team’s management and in fostering a youth movement to revive an aging squad. Klinsmann also made the bold decision to bench Oliver Kahn for Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann after rotating the two goalkeepers at the 2005 Confederations Cup.

Klinsmann also wanted the change the German football mentality. He wanted to dispel the notion that performances were irrelevant as long as results were in their favor. He demanded that German football should be quicker, more attacking, and, most importantly, more attractive. He was not shy about criticizing the then slow pace in the Bundesliga and he was not afraid of publicly complaining about his players’ fitness.

Upsetting the status quo brought Klinsmann criticism from all quarters, but he quickly silenced his critics.

His criticism of traditional German football gained momentum with each World-Cup victory. Germany played fun and attractive football for the first time in a while and sailed through an admittedly easy group stage, scoring eight goals in three games. Motivating his players in inspiring ways, Klinsmann’s Germany came third in the tournament, and this time they got there by playing attractive football.

This easy-on-the-eyes national team was accompanied by a revived social atmosphere. It would be too simplistic to say that the 2006 World Cup enabled Germany to love itself again, after a long and painful process since the fall of the Nazi regime 1945. But it was hard not to feel a change of the national mindset witnessing the euphoria that broke out in streets all across Germany as the national team progressed further and further in the tournament. Interviewed by The Guardian during the tournament, 29-year-old Otto Hensch epitomized the change of attitude perfectly:

I never put up a flag before because it felt strange... Now I have had one in my window for three weeks. It is going to feel too empty if I take it down, so I have decided I am going to keep it up for good.

It would be even more simplistic to say that Klinsmann himself was the reason why Otto decided to leave his flag in his window, yet the charismatic football manager perfectly fit in the overall positive aura of the 2006 summer.

Bayern’s bogeyman

Klinsmann’s appointment as Bayern’s new head-coach hit the footballing world like a bombshell. Former Bayern coach Udo Lattek, for example, said that he predicted many different sorts of alternatives as Die Roten’s new manager but never Klinsmann, a manager who had not been on a coaching bench in two years.

The excitement and expectations were there. Many believed Klinsmann could lead the expensive new Bayern squad to European glory, but there were doubts, too. It was public knowledge that Klinsmann had been the heart of the German dressing room but the tactical brains of the operations belonged to his assistant, Joachim Löw, who subsequently led a young squad to the Euro 2008 final.

There were no doubts, however, whether Klinsmann was going to once again shake up the status quo. The man who already turned the DFB upside down was going to do the same with Bayern and he began to do so the day he arrived.

Klinsmann introduced the club to sports psychologists, nutritionists and experts from other fields and sports to help with training. He introduced a “quiet room” in his effort to revolutionize everyday life at Säbener Strasse, where he held yoga classes for the players. In the quiet room and at other places around the Bayern training ground, Klinsmann famously placed multiple Buddha statues, which criticized by politicians, religious leaders, and players like Ze Roberto, who saw the statues as nothing more than a distraction. Klinsmann’s drastic changes were criticized as an attempt to “Americanise” German club football.

Klinsmann made other dubious decisions, such as hiring Martin Vazquez as his assistant coach. Although a good football coach, the Mexican-American knew little about the Bundesliga or German football in general.

All of these changes might have been accepted if results went in Bayern’s favor, but they did not.

Klinsmann was also heavily criticized for his tactics. He dabbled, unsuccessfully, with a 3-5-2 formation and left many of his players confused about the tactical plan. Philipp Lahm, who also criticized Rudi Völler and Louis van Gaal, did not hold back what he thought of Klinsmann’s tactical ability in his autobiography:

We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann, there was very little technical instruction and the players themselves discussed the way they would play a game before the match.

Lahm was not the only player who criticized Klinsmann’s man-management, Ze Roberto later revealed that many of Klinsmann’s halftime talks consisted only of: “You have to score a goal.” Klinsmann, the great motivator of Germany’s 2006 World Cup triumph, had lost the Bayern dressing room.

In March, Bayern was eliminated by Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal. In April, Bayern lost 5-1 to eventual Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg. The biggest blow came when they were humiliated at the Camp Nou: a 4-0 loss to Barcelona in a game that was so lopsided that Bayern were lucky not to concede double-digits. The Champions League had been on the top of the agenda when the club hired Klinsmann. After they conceded 4 goals in one half to the eventual champion Barcelona, it was clear that, even with Klinsmann’s changes, Bayern was light-years behind the best teams in the world.

Two days after Bayern’s loss against Schalke at home, Klinsmann was fired. Bayern’s 10-month experiment with the German savior had ended.

A club willing to change

Bayern Munich hired Jürgen Klinsmann because he wanted Bayern to move in a new direction. That did not change when Klinsmann was fired. Bayern had not been in a Champions League final since they won it back in 2001; before Klinsmann’s arrival, they had been knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the semi’s by Zenit St. Petersburg.

The club needed a new vision to compete in a football culture that had gone from capitalistic to hyper-capitalistic.

The Barcelona team that crushed Bayern in April 2009 was the opposite of what Bayern was then. Barcelona had youth players like Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, who were all born and raised with Barca-DNA. Bayern bought individual players, while top teams such as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Sir Alex’s Manchester United created harmonious groups. The Bayern players acted more like a cluster of single players. In 2008, many players moved to Munich, only to decline in quality. German national players such as Marcell Jansen, Lukas Podolski, Tim Borowski, and Miroslav Klose are examples of players who failed to reach their previous heights in Munich.

At the turn of the decade, however, change finally came. Bayern hired Louis van Gaal, who was not afraid to include young players in the starting line-up. In only three years, formerr youth players such as David Alaba, Thomas Müller, and Toni Kroos all became vital parts of the starting eleven that won the 2013 treble. The problems that beset the club in 2008 were certainly not Klinsmann’s fault, but his revolution failed to turn them around.

Bayern wanted to change on their terms and achieved it, but with an eccentric Dutchman and his successor rather than the charismatic former Bayern player from Göppingen.