Jupp Heynckes sent a timely reminder this week: he is still Bayern Munich's manager. "I'm under contract (until 2013) and I expect to fulfill it," the 66-year-old Heynckes told the press on Thursday, "I'm doing this job very passionately and I'm fully committed. Managing is not work for me". He even looked like he meant it, despite admitting that the next two home games -- Saturday's visit of TSG Hoffenheim and Tuesday's Champions League match against FC Basel -- were of "paramount importance." Tabloid Bild was so impressed with Heynckes' cool demeanor that they called the press briefing "Bayern's best performance of 2012."
FC Basel will take a 1-0 lead over Bayern Munich into the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie after a late winner from substitute Valentin Stocker earned victory on Wednesday, when 2010 title winners Inter Milan also conceded a last-gasp goal to lose in Marseille.
It was a historic win of sorts -- Bayer Leverkusen had not won any of its last seven games against Spanish teams in Europe -- and remarkable in the most enigmatic of ways. After the 2-1 win over Valencia on Wednesday night, players and officials weren't quite sure whether they should revel in a rather sensational second-half comeback or be shocked about the opening 40 minutes, when the whole team had "disappeared into an abyss of horror," as Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote. Michael Ballack, a 35-year-old veteran who has been around the block a few times, declared that non-performance before the break "probably the worst I've been involved in as a footballer."
Bayern Munich's 4-0 win over hapless Hertha BSC on Saturday was so comprehensive that Berlin midfielder Andreas Ottl professed himself "rather satisfied" afterward; it really could have been much worse for the visitors. The imperious league leaders kept another clean sheet -- their eighth in as many games -- and only looked troubled once during the 90 minutes, when the camera closed in on a glum-looking Arjen Robben in the Allianz Arena stands. The 27-year-old winger's continuous struggles with injuries and speculations about his standing in the team remain unseemly blots in the red and white copy book.
Bayern Munich's 2-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League wasn't quite as comfortable as the result suggested. Talk of "the invincibles" or of the team being an Bavarian answer to Barcelona is clearly premature. However, the quality of the performance against a top Premier League side did show that a run of 10 wins without conceding a goal (in all competitions) wasn't merely a result of a particularly kind fixture list. Bayern, as a team, is functioning better than almost any European heavyweight at the moment -- the turnaround from last season has been truly spectacular. Seven reasons explain the radical improvement:
Ever since income from the new Allianz Arena stadium (opened May 2005) significantly boosted Bayern Munich's spending power, its transfers have adhered to a strange symmetry . Little to no investment in even years (2006, 2008, 2010), after championships, has alternated with veritable shopping sprees in the odd, unsuccessful years (2007, 2009, 2011) as the German record title winner sought to address past failings and inevitably ended up paying over the odds. This summer seems like another case in point.
You don't win 21 Bundesliga titles in 41 years without a certain a degree of bloody-mindedness. At Bayern Munich, it used to manifest itself in an unapologetic transfer policy that could best be described as BIMBY -- best in my backyard. The Bavarians would routinely buy up the domestic competition's outstanding talent to kill two birds with one stone: while their own status as Germany's best (and wealthiest) team was strengthened, their league rivals would be instantly weakened, sometimes fatally so.
After signing a contract extension (until 2014) and tentatively solving the "Michael Ballack question" -- the Germany captain will have an unofficial farewell match against Brazil in August -- coach Jogi Löw has few problems left. The biggest one might be finding places for a wave of new, exciting prospects in the squad. Here's a projection of Germany's next top model professionals (under 22 years).
The announcement would perhaps have been a whole lot funnier 10 days before, on April 1, but then it's not actually meant as a joke, of course: On Tuesday, Bayer 04 Leverkusen confirmed it had trademarked and patented the word "Vizekusen."