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The Heynckes effect

Stars report renewed belief and purpose

On Tuesday, Uli Hoeneß said he hoped the club would collectively experience the feeling of a fresh start. The following day, three days ahead of the home Bundesliga meeting with Borussia Mönchengladbach, that very feeling appeared to take hold. “I reckon the club has rediscovered its belief, and so have the fans,” said captain Mark van Bommel. With five games to go, the champions have by no means given up on retaining their domestic crown, but second place and direct qualification for the Champions League is officially the priority.

“It’s about the team, and it’s about the club. I want this team to play in the Champions League again next season,” said Hamit Altintop, two days after Jürgen Klinsmann’s departure and the arrival of Jupp Heynckes as caretaker boss. “I honestly don’t care whether we finish first or second right now,” the Turkey international continued.

Previous experience

The initial training sessions under Heynckes were a little special for both Altintop and Van Bommel. As a 20-year-old hopeful, Altintop exploded onto the Bundesliga scene in 2003, becoming an instant first-team regular at Schalke under Heynckes. “I have very, very positive memories of the coach,” the 26-year-old stated. “It’s great to be working with such a great coach again, even if it’s only for five games.”

Van Bommel’s connection to Heynckes dates back to 2004, when the Schalke supremo sought to lure the then PSV Eindhoven skipper to Gelsenkirchen. However, a switch from the Eredivisie to the Bundesliga “fell through due to the transfer fee,” recalled Van Bommel, who left for Barcelona a year later. The player described his impressions of the coach after negotiations in 2004, and his initial reaction after training under the 63-year-old, as “very positive”.

Clear and precise

“He says exactly what he wants and doesn’t want. He puts things right and gees you up, he’s always clear in what he says. We like that,” said Van Bommel. Courtesy of his vast experience and “wonderful career” as a player and coach, Heynckes was a man “who knows how it works. You see it in the details. You sense his wealth of experience. We’re delighted to be working with Mr Heynckes,” the 32-year-old continued, describing the mood in the dressing room as “outstanding”.

Altintop agreed with his captain. “He expects the simple things like discipline and commitment.” The man who coached Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 1998 “has seen and done it all, so he really understands the situation we’re in.” And that, Hamit conceded, was precarious: “I think all the players have realised time’s almost up.”

Aiming for 15 points

The goal over the next four weeks is simply defined. “This club has to qualify for the Champions League. We’ll aim for that at the minimum, which means second place. I’m confident we’ll do it,” Van Bommel said, although it will very likely require five wins out of five. “We’re assuming we’ll take 15 points, and we’ll see where that gets us.”

Altintop warned his team-mates to “take each game as it comes” and secure three points against Mönchengladbach, “regardless of how we do it. It’s down to the players now. You can say and think what you like, it’s results that matter, and they’ve not been what we wanted in recent weeks. That’s what we have to work on.”