Bayern Munich's succession plan to replace Jupp Heynckes is a mystery
Bayern Munich's appointment of Jupp Heynckes for a fourth term has proved inspired, but the canny 72-year-old's transformation of the German champions has once again raised the bar for any successor next summer.
Since taking over from Carlo Ancelotti in October, interim boss Heynckes has overseen an incredible turnaround in Bayern's fortunes, marching 11 points clear in the Bundesliga, racking up 15 wins in 16 games in all competitions (if you include a penalty shootout success in the DFB Pokal against Leipzig). In the final game before the winter break, Bayern saw off ailing Borussia Dortmund to seal a cup quarterfinal spot, to remain on course for another domestic double -- at the very least.
In the bigger picture, earlier this month, Heynckes' side also reminded the continent of their own credentials in Europe's top club competition with a convincing 3-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain. Of course, his predecessor Ancelotti paid the price with his job in the aftermath of Bayern's embarrassingly high-profile 3-0 loss to Neymar & Co. in September.
Bayern already had the comforting luxury of having a certain Pep Guardiola lined up when "Don Jupp" was eased into retirement following the treble in 2013 -- including the "El Teutonico" Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. Basking in the glory of that historic triple, Heynckes was able to hand over the Bavarian machinery in perfect working order to Guardiola. And despite two domestic doubles in three seasons, Heynckes' boots proved almost impossible to fill even for the brilliant Catalan, who's now working his magic (after a season of adjustments) at Manchester City.
Fast-forward to 2017 and finding a suitable successor next summer for the magisterial Heynckes remains the key issue.
Bayern have gone on record as saying they want a German-speaking coach and Thomas Tuchel, a Guardiola disciple, remains the favourite to take over. However, president Uli Hoeness apparently has his reservations about hiring the cranky former Borussia Dortmund coach. Tuchel is also supposedly not high up on Mats Hummels' Christmas card list either, with reports surfacing of a fractious relationship between the pair at BVB.
The Bavarian Julian Nagelsmann also appeared a standout candidate when Ancelotti was fired. The 30-year-old Hoffenheim coach soon added fuel to the fire by saying "Bayern is his dream club." However, the 30-year-old's stock has fallen appreciably this season on the back of a particularly woeful European campaign at Hoffenheim, so the local lad would appear to have failed his audition, at least for the time being.
Another scenario is for Joachim Low's Germany to defend their World Cup title in Russia next summer. Low is contracted with the national team until 2020. But if the former Stuttgart coach wins back-to-back World Cups, he might fancy another crack at club management after going out at the very top -- Philipp Lahm style -- as Germany coach. With Hoeness dreaming of Bayern having a team of German internationals, club transfer policy of late has seen the acquisition of a host of promising Germans -- adding Niklas Sule, Serge Gnabry, Sebastian Rudy to the existing talents of Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller and Hummels. With Leon Goretzka possibly added to the mix come next summer, it's safe to say Low would fit in quite nicely at the German giants.
Also remember that Jurgen Klopp has been courted in the past and will always have his admirers at Bayern. It will be interesting to watch Klopp's progress in the coming months in Merseyside. The effervescent "Kloppo" may not get such an easy ride at Liverpool after spending 75 million of the Queen's pounds on a central defender in Virgil van Dijk. Another top coach, Ralph Hasenhuttl, is doing a great job at Leipzig. But the former Bayern reserve team striker has explicitly said he wants to garner more experience in Europe before putting himself in the frame for the elite jobs.
To sum up, clearly, no one of Guardiola's calibre is waiting in the wings to succeed Heynckes this time around. Therefore, Hoeness has been very persistent in his attempts to get his close friend to extend his stay on for another season -- almost to the point of begging.
Heynckes is of course no spring chicken but is constantly at pains to stress he enjoys the rudest of health. However, the veteran regularly states his dislike for living from a suitcase in a hotel away from his family, understandably yearning for the home comforts of the Niederrhein.
But with Bayern still on course for another treble under Heynckes, Hoeness will cling to these very faint hopes that Heynckes can still be swayed. It would probably help Bayern's cause if Heynckes' wife, Iris, who is recovering from a knee operation -- and, most importantly, his dog Cando -- are willing to uproot to Munich again.
And despite Heynckes appearing to rule this possibility out, in football you would be foolish to ever say never. After all, who would have thought Heynckes would ditch his pipe and slippers in the autumn to bail Bayern out of trouble aged 72?
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.