Who could ask for a more enticing fixture than the UEFA Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid? Not only does it feature the two teams who have won the most league titles in Germany and Spain respectively, but it promises no few talking points both on and off the pitch.
"It's a funny old game...", or so the saying goes, and Jupp Heynckes is someone who knows about the vagaries and the ironies of football. With his side’s hopes of winning this year’s Bundesliga title all but extinguished, the Bayern Munich coach is concentrating all his attention on the forthcoming Champions League final to be held in their very own stadium. "The pressure could hardly be any greater," the 66-year-old said in the press conference ahead of the big game. "I can't wait for the second leg in Madrid – the atmosphere in the stadium promises to be absolutely sensational."
Winning not enough
"Any game against Real Madrid is something really special," added Heynckes, who is aiming to reach yet another milestone in what has already been an incredible coaching career. Back in the 1997/98 season, he became the first German coach in the history of Real Madrid to steer them to Champions League glory. Yet despite this success, he was let go after only one season in charge.
"It doesn't matter whether you win a title or not," Heynckes said in an earlier interview with Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "The most important thing for a Real coach is to get some credit from those in charge and then to pull the strings in such a way that you come across well on all sides. That includes with the media, since they can have a real influence on certain decisions," he added.
After enjoying some of his greatest coaching successes with Madrid, the man from Monchengladbach has made Munich very much his second home. This is the third time he has taken over the reins at Bayern Munich (1987-1991, 2009 and 2011 to the present day), and he knows that he is held in high esteem there, not least by current president and former director of football Uli Hoeness, who describes firing Heynckes in 1991 as "his biggest mistake".
Heynckes already has a storied career as a coach with clubs such as Borussia Monchengladbach, Benfica, Athletic Bilbao, Schalke and the two teams facing one another in this Champions League semi-final, but that is not to say success eluded him as a player – far from it, in fact. During his playing days from 1963-1978, he won the FIFA World Cup™, the UEFA European Championship, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and four Bundesliga titles, picking up 39 caps and scoring 14 goals for Germany along the way.
His record as a coach against his former employers is a little less flattering, however, with six wins, four draws and eight defeats. And he knows that you need to beware of Real Madrid at all times. "Real are an excellent team who are currently four points clear at the top of the league," the former attacker said at the press conference, before adding: "Most of all you have to remember they’ve already scored 104 times so far this season. They're a goal machine.”
While Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Co are closing in on the La Liga title, Bayern find themselves out of the running in the Bundesliga, eight points adrift of Borussia Dortmund with three games to go. That said, they have two chances to ensure they do not go home empty-handed – in the German Cup final (against Dortmund) and, of course, in the Champions League. "Selfishness, passion and a yearning for success" are what Heynckes thinks will be the deciding factors against the team from the Spanish capital.
Bayern Munich should be doubly keen to make the final, since it will be held on 19 May at their own stadium. According to Heynckes, the players are "incredibly motivated. When do you get a chance like this, to play the Champions League final at your own ground? Once in a lifetime, maybe."
In the almost 60-year history of Europe's premier club competition, only three teams have contested the deciding game at their own stadium. Real Madrid (in 1957) and Inter Milan (in 1965) capitalised on home advantage to win the coveted prize, while Roma came up short in 1984.
Can Bayern add their name to this exclusive list? It is not out of the question, even though Heynckes sees Spain's top two as the teams to beat. "Barcelona are red-hot favourites for the Champions League, followed by Real. We're just behind them though; Bayern are one of the best three teams in Europe."
Fans will be on the edge of their seats on Tuesday night and the following Wednesday to see who gets through on aggregate, with past performance favouring the team from Bavaria. The two clubs have met on 18 occasions on Europe's biggest stage, with Bayern Munich winning 10 times and Real Madrid only six (with two draws). Their paths have crossed in the semi-finals in four previous editions (1976, 1987, 2000 and 2001), with Bayern triumphing three times. The winner of those clashes also went on to lift the trophy on three of the four occasions, with Bayern's defeat in the1987 final being the only exception.
There will also be two cases of deja vu on Tuesday night. English referee Howard Webb will take charge of proceedings, as was the case in the 2010 final which Bayern Munich lost to Inter Milan 2-0. The man in charge of the Italian side back then was none other than Jose Mourinho, now pulling the strings at Real Madrid and, like Heynckes, hungry for more Champions League success.