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Following the departure of Michael Ballack for Chelsea FC, FC Bayern München are hoping Mark van Bommel can be the latest in a line of team "chiefs".
Before every UEFA Champions League campaign, Bayern fans' hark back to the 2000/01 season when they won their most recent European Champion Clubs' Cup following their trio of successes in 1974, 1975 and 1976. For most, the memories of that triumph are linked to the star midfielder of that side - Stefan Effenberg.
The leader of the Bayern team on the field, his skills were sumptuous but his ability to goad his team into life was even more important. In that final victory against Valencia CF in 2001, he could be seen exhorting his side into action after they conceded an early penalty, and he showed no fear as he struck the levelling blow from the spot as Bayern won 5-4 on penalties. "Every team needs a chief," explained the then Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn added that Effenberg was "the dominant personality in the game".
It is exactly such a person that Bayern have been on the look out since Ballack, the man who took on the "chief" role following Effenberg's departure in 2002, left for Chelsea. Initially, Ballack did not thrive in the role but as the tall midfielder grew in confidence, Bayern rediscovered their composure, winning three domestic doubles in four years. His departure - along with those of Bixente Lizarazu, Jens Jeremies and Zé Roberto - left Bayern with a big pair of boots to fill.
Initially, coach Felix Magath and sporting director Uli Hoeness pondered a change of tactics. "We want to try to build up a young team over the next two or three years which then might be able to compete at international level," Hoeness said with uncharacteristic modesty. "The championship is not a must and to talk about winning the UEFA Champions League is impossible."
With that in mind Magath first experimented with more creative tactics, deploying Roque Santa Cruz or Julio dos Santos in midfield before switching to a "double No6" tactic, deploying two defensive midfielders. However, neither option thrilled the coach and he was forced to go for a more dramatic solution.
So it was that Dutch international Van Bommel ended up making a €6m move to Munich from FC Barcelona. For many, the 29-year-old is a natural successor to Effenberg and Ballack. "You need someone who has the mental strength to change things," Hoeness said of his new signing. Magath added: "He has a big personality and this is the reason we signed him."
The burden of replacing such an iconic Bayern figure as Ballack will be an onerous one. The German international scored 44 goals for Bayern in 107 league appearances, but his Dutch successor hopes that he will prove to be a more than adequate replacement. "Of course I want to score a lot of goals," said Van Bommel.
Van Bommel certainly has good pedigree as a title-winner. He was in the starting XI as Barça won last season's UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 victory against Arsenal FC. Now, as Bayern kick off their 2006/07 UEFA Champions League campaign at home against FC Spartak Moskva, he is eager to secure a second triumph in as many seasons with his new club. "I want to win titles with FC Bayern," said the Dutchman. Spoken like a true "chief".
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