Bayern eye German title
Bayern Munich target Bundesliga crown as Ribery's future remains unknown.
Last Modified: 05 Aug 2009 14:40 GMT

 Franck Ribery will miss Bayern's season opener against Hoffenheim [EPA]
Franck Ribery will most likely be watching from the stands when Bayern Munich kick off their attempt to reclaim the Bundesliga title this weekend.

Ribery will not be fit for the season opener at Hoffenheim after struggling with several injuries that severely restricted his practice time in the build-up to the season.

If things had gone well for the French star, he could well have been in Madrid, not Munich.

Ribery sought to find more fame and fortune at Real Madrid but the Spanish side apparently lost interest when Bayern put a price tag of at least $144 million on their most influential player.

With the transfer period extending until the end of the month, it is possible that the last act of what the German media have dubbed the "Ribery theatre'' has not played out yet.

Problematic start

After a turbulent season that ended with coach Juergen Klinsmann getting fired with five games remaining and Bayern surrendering the title to Wolfsburg, the German powerhouse had hoped the arrival of experienced Dutch coach Louis van Gaal would bring some calm to the club.

"Everywhere where I've been, I've written history and I want to do it again,'' van Gaal said shortly after his arrival.

So far, he has been dealing with problems.

The Ribery episode went on for weeks and may have unsettled the team.

President Franz Beckenbauer, saying what many fans thought, sharply criticised Ribery's attitude and questioned his commitment to the club.

But Bayern's other key powerbrokers, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and club
manager Uli Hoeness, like Beckenbauer all former stars, were quick to support Ribery and praise his dedication and professionalism.

Ribery's desire to leave surely has not made him more popular with Bayern's famously unforgiving fans and the club may find it healthier to eventually make a profit by releasing an unhappy player.

There may be others. Anatoly Timoshchuk, brought from Zenit St. Petersburg, appears not to be first choice.

Mario Gomez and Ivica Olic have been added as strikers, with Gomez likely to pair up with Miroslav Klose.

That could also leave Luca Toni on the bench. The Italian has been nursing an Achilles' tendon injury and, like Ribery, has missed pre-season games.

After striker Lukas Podolski, Bayern let go defender Lucio and midfielder Ze Roberto in the offseason.

Coach Louis van Gaal is expecting a tough season for Bayern [AFP]
Shaky start

Bayern's official start of the season came last weekend in the German Cup, when they laboured to beat sixth-division side Neckarelz at the same stadium where they will play on Saturday.

"We had 10 matches in 4½ weeks and that was too many,'' van Gaal said after an unimpressive performance.

Despite a squad that looks impressive on paper, van Gaal expects a tough season.

"We are going to be battling hard with several clubs for the title - Schalke, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg.

"We want to play attractive football and to be successful. But we have a new coach and many new players and we need time,'' he said.

Wolfsburg also return with a new coach, Armin Veh, whose predecessor Felix Magath left the club after winning their first championship to go to Schalke.

Veh inherits the core of Wolfsburg's championship team, including strikers Grafite and Edin Dzeko, who combined for a Bundesliga record 54 goals last season, plus several new signings.

If the team can adjust to the twin demands of competing in the Champions League and the domestic championship, they could be a contender again.

Europe bound

Stuttgart, which finished third behind Wolfsburg and Bayern, compensated for the departure of Gomez to Munich by taking on loan Alexander Hleb from Barcelona and signing Pavel Pogrebnyak from Zenit.

"Bayern is really the only team that has a claim on the title,'' Stuttgart's coach Markus Babbel said.

"Our goal is to confirm what we did last season and qualify for the Champions League.''

Babbel's team kick off the season on Friday when they visit Wolfsburg, with Babbel facing Veh, his former boss at Stuttgart.

"He got me into the business of coaching and we never had a problem,'' Babbel said of Veh.

Hamburger SV is another team with a new coach, Bruno Labbadia, previously at Leverkusen. They have lost Olic but signed Ze Roberto.

Of the three promoted teams, Nuremberg appears to have a strong enough team to remain in the top flight, while Freiburg and Mainz seem destined to struggle.

Mainz fired coach Joern Andersen just ahead of the new season and appointed the coach of their junior side, Thomas Tuchel, as his replacement.

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