A Champions League would not only bring belated validation but cement his place in the pantheon of German greats. He would also become the first Bayern manager too good to be let gone
Last week at the Allianz Arena, Jupp Heynckes was careful to explain who was chiefly responsible for that brilliant result against Barcelona: it was him. "We looked at the opponents' way of playing; I prepared the team, of course with a power-point presentation, and they implemented the tactical plan fantastically well," the 67-year-old said after Bayern Munich's 4-0 win in the first leg. The extent of this self-praise will have seemed curious if not slightly unedifying to many, but Heynckes has been at pains to emphasise his role in Bayern's historic, treble-chasing season for months now.
This need to put himself at the centre of this success story shouldn't be confused with arrogance, however. It's actually the opposite, borne out of defensiveness. In his 32nd and probably last year as a manager, Heynckes is still fighting for recognition.
It's not so much Pep Guardiola coming in next summer as Bayern's handling of that appointment that rankles with him. Heynckes had talked about his plan of leaving Munich at the end of this season back in August ("a new chapter in my life will begin"), he knew of the club's negotiations with the Catalan well in advance of the confirmation of his signature in January. But the former European Championship and World Cup winner with West Germany got very upset when the news of Guardiola's arrival broke quicker than he anticipated. A Bayern press release that said he was retiring in June compounded the insult. Heynckes, a stickler for decorum and honesty, took it personally.
Despite his team's excellent performances, he's been a prickly customer over the last few months, brusquely turning down Bayern's offer to remain with the club in an extremely well-paid position of his chosing ("I'm not interested, Mönchengladbach is my club," he sneered) and taking up every opportunity to remind the board of his expertise. When a reporter mentioned the importance of new €40m (£33.8m) recruit Javier Martínez not long ago, Heynckes couldn't help but mention his hand in the signing of the Athletic Bilbao midfielder: "Nobody knew him when he came here, Franz Beckenbauer thought we were talking about a coffee brand!"
But this is about more than Pep and the subsequent cooling of his close friendship with the Bayern president Uli Hoeness, this cuts deeper. Feeling undervalued is anything but a new sensation for Heynckes. It's been almost a leitmotif in his coaching career. His desire to hog a little of the limelight at the moment must be seen in the context of three decades in the job that have been anything but straightforward.
It has taken Heynckes, the manager, a very long time to catch up with Heynckes, the world-class striker. He was nearly prolific as Gerd Müller, with 220 league goals in 369 games, but more refined than his Munich counterpart; a true kind der Bundesliga (child of the Bundesliga) and iconic figure at Gladbach and beyond. He took over the Foals as a manager aged 32 but didn't win any titles in eight years. He won two championship with Bayern in 1989 and 1990 before Hoeness fired him the following season.
The Bayern boss later described the decision as his "worst mistake ever". At the time, however, it seemed logical. Heynckes, whom rival coach Christoph Daum had insulted as "suited for sleeping pill ads" seemed to lack the charisma to deal with a difficult dressing room. Midfielder Stefan Effenberg famously threatened to "take matters outside" after a changing room dressing-down. Taking Athletic Bilbao to the Uefa Cup in 1994 was a success but then his return to the Bundesliga at Eintracht Frankfurt proved disastrous. Heynckes backed himself into a corner by insisting on strong discipline and ended up dismantling the best Frankfurt side of a generation in the process.
A stint at CD Tenerife rescued his reputation. Heynckes then won Real Madrid's first European Cup in 32 years, only to get the sack immediately after. A fourth-placed finish and uninspired football are frequently cited for that dismissal, but in reality president Lorenzo Sanz had fatally undermined him in the dressing room. Heynckes had tried to impose fines on his hard-partying "Ferrari team"; Sanz told Mijatovic, Seedorf and Co not to worry.
"He had a tendency to lose his nerve and lash out at players when put under pressure," says Ronald Reng, the author of Robert Enke's biography, who frequently interviewed him during his second spell abroad. (Heynckes had made the young German goalkeeper, who took his own life in November 2009, his captain at Benfica in 1999.)
A return to Bilbao and a season at Schalke didn't work out either – and then it was seemingly over. Back at Mönchengladbach, Heynckes had received death threats when the team flirted with relegation. He resigned in January 2007, waived his payoff fee and left the company car with a full tank of gas and freshly cleaned outside the club office. He was done with football, and vice versa.
A chance stay at Hoeness's house two years later brought about his incongruous comeback – the Bayern president needed someone to take over from Jürgen Klinsmann in the last five games of the season. The break from the game, as well as some health scares, had changed his outlook. Heynckes was much more relaxed, he spoke about taking the pressure off players and making them enjoy playing again. He did so well that Leverkusen appointed him as manager that very summer, and Hoeness took him back for a third stint in 2011. Players have praised him as "a father figure" (Jérôme Boateng). The assistant coach Hermann Gerland, who has seen many coaches come and go, called him "a saint".
Nevertheless, the bosses at Säbenerstrasse didn't seem quite sure he had the appetite and physical stamina to get the team over the disappointment of three runners-up finishes in all competitions last season. Matthias Sammer was installed as a sporting director and possible stop-gap manager in case things wouldn't work out. Heynckes wasn't happy about that appointment either but bit his tongue.
He's got his eyes on the bigger picture now: a Champions League win with Bayern would not only bring belated validation but catapult him a couple of levels up, smack into the pantheon of German greats, where Beckenbauer, Udo Lattek and Ottmar Hitzfeld reside. He'd also become the first manager in Bayern's history who's really too good to be let gone. But that's a problem both parties would happily settle for.