Munich - A staggering 17,438 days after he appeared in his first Bundesliga game as a player, Jupp Heynckes took charge of what in all likelihood was his last-but-one as coach when FC Bayern Munich beat FC Augsburg in their final home game of the season on Saturday.
In the wake of the 3-0 victory over the relegation-threatened visitors, Bayern were presented with the Meisterschale and formally crowned Bundesliga champions for a record 22nd time. In his 1,010th match as a player and coach combined in Germany's top flight, there could hardly have been a more fitting swansong to a career of one of the Bundesliga's greatest figures.
Josef ‘Jupp’ Heynckes’ Bundesliga career began on 14 August 1965, when he made his first-team debut at Borussia Mönchengladbach. In his two spells with the club, separated by a relatively brief stint at Hannover 96, the wily forward scored 220 goals in 396 league appearances, winning the title four times and lifting the DFB Cup. He ended his playing days in 1978, and remains third on the list of all-time Bundesliga goalscorers, behind Klaus Fischer and FC Bayern legend Gerd Müller.
Heynckes' appetite for the game was as insatiable as his playing career had been enduring, and barely a year after hanging up his boots, he moved into coaching. He took up the reins at Mönchengladbach, where he would stay until 1987, before moving to Bayern for the first of three separate stints with the Bavarian giants. He left Munich in 1991, returning 17 years later for a short spell at the end of the 2008/09 season after coaching Eintracht Frankfurt, FC Schalke 04 and Gladbach again. He then led Bayer 04 Leverkusen to second place in 2010/11, before returning to Bayern at the end of that campaign.
He has never been one to shy away from a challenge, though and those 17 years were not spent idly. On the contrary, Heynckes perfected his art of coaching by going abroad. In 1992 he moved to Spain, taking charge of CD Tenerife and later Athletic Bilbao, as well as Portuguese giants SL Benfica. His proudest moment away from the Bundesliga came at Real Madrid CF however, when he led the Spanish giants to their seventh European title by beating Juventus FC in Amsterdam in 1998.
The first full season of his final stint at Bayern was one that even now must still hurt, yielding three second-placed finishes, among them a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat on home soil to Chelsea in the final of the Champions League. Like a phoenix from the flames, however, FC Bayern, under the astute tutelage of Heynckes, have recovered, and the veteran tactician has moulded the squad into one of the finest ever to represent the club.
The Reds began the season with eight straight wins, subsequently becoming Herbstmeister with a record three games to spare before the halfway mark. They maintained their relentless pursuit of the title after the winter break and raced to a 20-point lead over holders Borussia Dortmund, winning the league with six games to spare after victory at Frankfurt and breaking record after record in the process.
Quite simply, no other team, not even the great Bayern side of the early 1970s, has won a Bundesliga title so stylishly and comprehensively. At Saturday's post-match banquet, club chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge made sure the man behind the success was given his due, saying, "Our coach is an extraordinary man, with a character far from the norm in modern football. He's pleasant, polite, modest and a master of his craft. It’s because of you, dear Jupp, that we are able to sit here and celebrate together.”
After three ‘failures’ last season, three successes could follow this time around. FC Bayern are on course for an historic treble, with the final of the UEFA Champions League against Borussia Dortmund on 25 May yet to come, followed a week later by that of the DFB Cup in Berlin.
The great Udo Lattek led the club to a double in 1974 and won six league titles in two spells in Munich, while Ottmar Hitzfeld presided over a Champions League success and five league titles of his own. Neither of them managed a treble, however, a feat rarely achieved anywhere in the European game and, as yet, never by a German club. What better way for Heynckes to add a final golden lustre to a legacy that is already secured.