Louis van Gaal has guided the German club to the Champions League final and back to the top of the Bundesliga. A 3-1 win last week against Bochum, four days after beating Lyon 3-0 in the Champions League semifinals, means Bayern will reclaim the German league title.
Bayern brought in no fewer than 11 new players along with Van Gaal at the beginning of the season. Gabriele Marcotti points out that van Gaal demoted incumbent goalkeeper Michael Rensing in September and opted for veteran Hans-Joerg Butt, and discarded Italian forward Luca Toni. Mario Gomez, bought from Stuttgart for around $40 million, is now platooned as part of an ensemble cast of strikers that includes Miroslav Klose and Ivica Olic.
Frenchman Franck Ribery, the Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2008, has been limited to just nine Bundesliga starts. But after a shaky start that saw it fall to eighth place as recently as November, Bayern stormed back, thanks to van Gaal's reliance on veterans such as defender Phillip Lahm, midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and, above all, Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who arrived from Real Madrid in the summer for around $33 million.
And van Gaal showed an uncanny ability at promoting from within. Holger Badstuber, a lanky 21-year-old defender, and Thomas Müller, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder -- both products of Bayern's youth academy -- were largely unknown to the general public a year ago and now are both mainstays. Müller has emerged as one of the most exciting young talents in the European game.
The colorful Mr. van Gaal is a cross between Bill Parcells (his disciplinarian ways led to the departure of Luca Toni, Bayern's top scorer the previous season, and the benching of Mario Gómez, the club's record signing) and Dick Vermeil (while there is no record of Mr. van Gaal crying in public, he appeared close to welling up when reciting a poem he had written to celebrate his return to Ajax as technical director in October 2003).