It was the unassuming Jupp Heynckes (1st.r) who rekindled Real Madrid's love affair with the UEFA Champions League. - © imago sportfotodienst/imago/Team 2
It was the unassuming Jupp Heynckes (1st.r) who rekindled Real Madrid's love affair with the UEFA Champions League. - © imago sportfotodienst/imago/Team 2

Jupp Heynckes and Real Madrid: the UEFA Champions League-winning house that a Bundesliga legend rebuilt


Real Madrid have won the UEFA Champions League seven times since Jupp Heynckes broke the Spanish giants' three decade-long drought in the competition in 1997/98 — looks at how Bayern Munich's former treble-winning coach transformed the Merengue back into a continental superpower.

When Heynckes was appointed as successor to Fabio Capello, who had won the La Liga title in his only campaign in charge, in summer 1997, it wasn't quite a case of 'Jupp who?', but the Spanish football world was certainly not bowled over by the likeable German's abilities in the dugout.

Heynckes had, however, learned from some of the best names in the coaching business, playing under the legendary Hennes Weisweiler and Udo Lattek while winning four Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Cup with his home town club Borussia Mönchengladbach. He started his coaching career as assistant to the latter before replacing him in 1979 to become — aged 34 at the time — the Bundesliga's youngest-ever coach.

Watch: Jupp Heynckes' top 5 moments in the Bundesliga

He took the Foals to two third-placed finishes, and then — having succeeded Lattek at Bayern — won back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 1988 and 1990. He also reached the semi-finals of the then-European Cup — now the UEFA Champions League — in 1990 and 1991, beaten only by the eventual winners both times.

He had also enjoyed success in Spain, taking Athletic Bilbao to fifth in 1993/94, and after a disappointing season at Eintracht Frankfurt, returned to La Liga at Tenerife, whom he steered to the UEFA Cup last four in 1996/97 when — as he had been with Bayern — his side were beaten by the eventual winners, Schalke.

It was on the strength of those successes and — if media reports are to be believed — Madrid's failure to strike a deal with Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Swiss coach who had just made Borussia Dortmund European champions, that Heynckes arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu brimful of his trademark optimism.

"I have signed a two-year contract with Real Madrid, a club in an extraordinary position, with an impeccable history and European and worldwide reputation," Heynckes told journalists after officially stepping into the job. "Real Madrid are the reigning [Spanish] champions, and I trust they will continue in the same vein next year. I am really looking forward to coaching this club."

When you look at the players at his disposal, who wouldn't? Roberto Carlos, Fernando Redondo, Fernando Hierro, Raul, Davor Suker, Predrag Mijatovic, Clarence Seedorf, Christian Panucci and Germany's 1990 FIFA World Cup-winning goalkeeper Bodo Illgner. There was even a young Bundesliga legend-in-the-making Ze Roberto in the squad.

And Heynckes had no problem handling big egos. "I've always had a weak spot for guys like [Stefan] Effenberg, (Mattias] Sammer, and [Mario] Basler," said Heynckes, citing three of German football's most combustible characters. "You have to have patience with a player. Everyone can make a mistake, can arrive late. I have understanding for the little things when the big things are right."

Given the way his Madrid reign ended just 12 months later, it seems that even Heynckes' patience ran out, but he still did manage to get his squad to bring la septima — Madrid's seventh Champions League — to the club, snapping a barren streak that stretched back 32 years to 1966.

Heynckes won the Champions League as Real coach, 15 years before repeating the trick in charge of Bayern Munich. - Imago

Olympiakos, Porto and Rosenborg, who pushed Madrid hard and actually inflicted a defeat on them, were seen off in the group stage before Bayer Leverkusen, whom Heynckes would later coach, and reigning champions Dortmund were defeated over two legs in the quarter and semi-final respectively. That set up the final against Juventus — runners-up in the previous two seasons —  in Amsterdam on 20 May.

Bastian Schweinsteiger said of his former coach at Bayern that, "he gets all the players and the whole team in the same boat," and "I don't know anyone who's ever had a bad word to say about him." It seems at Madrid — despite their European success — Heynckes could not unite his band of stars consistently. And he certainly had something bad to say about them.

"A week before playing Juventus I called Jupp and asked him how he was doing. He told me he was deflated and that he wouldn't work with the team," explained then Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz, who saw the team fade to fourth in La Liga and go out of the Copa del Rey early that season.

"I then had to gather seven or eight of the more important players and tell them that Jupp felt he couldn't work with them, that they were sons of bitches, and that he couldn't win with them."

Watch: Heynckes found a lot more love at Bayern Munich compared to his time in Madrid

Except he could, and he did in the Dutch capital thanks to Predrag Mijatovic's 66th-minute goal. Eight days later, however, he and the newly crowned kings of the continent parted ways.

"Explaining that the coach who had made us European champions was not continuing was complicated, but I couldn't leave the situation how it was," said Sainz. "The players have to ask themselves if they have supported him enough."

Rebellious as the dressing room was, not everyone was against Heynckes, whose legacy was much more glorious than him becoming the first — and so far only — coach to lose his job after winning European club football's biggest prize.

"Aside from the tactical aspects, he's above all a great person," said Roberto Carlos. "He's very close to the players, you could say he's a friend. He was one of the best coaches in my career."

The Brazil international, part of the Galacticos team that also won the trophy in 2000 and 2002, said 'Don Jupp's' success laid the foundation for Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Luis Figo et al to conquer Europe as Madrid dominated European football like the legendary Madrid team of the late 1950s.

"By 1998, the club had waited 32 years to win it. That 1-0 victory was the beginning of an era. What we did was a bit like what [Alfredo] Di Stefano, [Ferenc] Puskas and [Francisco] Gento had done."

Ex-Bundesliga stars David Alaba and Toni Kroos helped Real win their 14th European Cup in 2022. - Imago

Heynckes also clearly bears no ill will to a club that has won the 'cup with big ears' again five times in the last nine years. He now lives on a farm with his wife Iris just outside his beloved Mönchengladbach that is named 'Casa de los gatos'. That's Spanish for 'House of the Cats'.