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International Soccer
Heynckes, Leverkusen have tough act to follow

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jupp Heynckes was lured out of retirement nine months ago, and the former World Cup winner with West Germany planned to be back in the coaching hot seat for just five matches.

Heynckes delivered four wins and a draw to rescue a stuttering Bayern Munich, helping the German giants finish second to secure a Champions League berth.

Then, as planned, Bayern parted ways with Heynckes - who had previously delivered Bundesliga titles to Munich in 1989 and 1990, before being fired in 1991 - and turned to Dutch coach Louis van Gaal.

It seemed that Heynckes' storied coaching career, which included a Champions League title at Real Madrid in 1998, was over - again.

Bayer Leverkusen had other ideas, though, and turned to Heynckes to guide the club as it continued searching for its first-ever Bundesliga title.

Although Heynckes' coaching resume included the impressive stop at Bayern and the stint at Real - he was fired after he helped Madrid end a 32-year drought in the Champions League - the 64-year-old bounced around to seven other clubs before ending his second spell at Germany's Monchengladbach in 2007.

Leverkusen saw enough of Heynckes during his return to Bayern, and just weeks after the Bundesliga season wrapped up, signed the veteran coach in June.

Heynckes will be on the sideline as a manager in a German game for the 524th time on Saturday, when the Bundesliga returns from its winter break. Pretty impressive for a man who also sits in third place all-time as a player in Bundesliga history with 220 goals.

17 matches stand between Jupp Heynckes and Bundesliga's first title.
And after an undefeated first half - Spain's Barcelona is the only other club in one of Europe's major leagues that is undefeated - and the "winter title," just 17 matches stand between Heynckes and the club's first title.

But Heynckes and Bayer have a tough act to follow, especially after the nearly perfect first half left the team with only a one-point lead at the break.

"I've got no worries," Heynckes said. "The other sides have got more to think about in terms of dislodging us - particularly Bayern Munich."

Perhaps, but Heynckes' club could be looking up at Bayern before it returns, as the Munich side opens the season's second half Friday against Hoffenheim.

Following a first half that included nine wins and eight ties, Heynckes knows one match, or weekend, will not decide the title.

"The first half of the season showed how strong we are. We are confident and the team is sure it can repeat the levels of performances in the second half of the season that it produced in the first," Heynckes said.

Heynckes has molded a mixture of young (19-year-old Bayern loanee Toni Kroos and 21-year-old Brazilian Renato Augusto) and old (36-year-old defender Sami Hyypia), and that's one of the qualities Bayer sporting director Rudi Voller saw in the veteran.

"It's as we'd imagined it under Jupp Heynckes, with his vast experience, his knowledge and his ability to interact with young players," Voller, who was a member of Germany's 1990 World Cup champion, told the Bundesliga website.

"It's something he's done time and again, at every club he's worked for. It's gone tremendously well up to now."

Heynckes navigated the first half of the season through numerous injuries and will have Michal Kadlec, Simon Rolfes, Augusto and Patrick Helmes, all coming back after long-term absences, to start the second half against Mainz.

"Of course I'm glad that we're out in front, but we're taking a very realistic approach to our current position," Voller said.

"We're aware that the teams right behind us are very strong indeed and Bayern, as always, have to be viewed as the big favorites."

Twice, Leverkusen has entered the final day of the Bundesliga season in first place, and both times the team let the title slip away in the last 90 minutes of the season. Since 1997, Leverkusen has finished second four times.

Heynckes obviously isn't worried about the last 90 minutes of the season yet, but it is obvious Bayer made the right choice to possibly have that chance - again.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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