It doesn’t just rain, it pours. At least this is the thought circling in Munich today. With the team just about back in Germany following the frustrating, disjointed and at times traumatic encounter in Porto news would break about the departure of one of the longest-serving members of the FC Bayern family, Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt.
An immediately recognisable figure for many years both in the dugout in Munich and for the German national team, the seventy-two year old Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt had become part of the furniture at FC Bayern, a man who had got to know the many hundred of players who had passed through the gates of the Säbenerstrasse since his appointment in the spring of 1977.
Just like that, it was all over. Along with his son Kilian and two other members of his staff, the man who has forged a reputation as one of sport’s – not just football’s – most well-known and widely-respected medical practitioners was off, citing a “damage of trust” as the reason for his decision. According to reports, he and the medical team had been shouldered with the blame for the 3-1 defeat in Porto – a rather bizarre accusation unless one chooses to believe that Dante’s socks were laced with itching powder or weights were attached to Jérôme Boateng’s ankles.
The news of Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt’s departure was released through the press, with even the club caught cold by the sudden announcement. For a short while the circulation of the news looked like little more than gossip and hearsay, but as soon as the more serious sources started redistributing the details the realisation had slowly started to dawn on FC Bayern fans everywhere. Late on the morning of 17th April the club officially confirmed the news, thanking the long-serving doctor for an almost unbroken thirty-eight years of service.
Thirty-eight years. That’s three years more than I have been an FC Bayern fan. When Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt first arrived in Munich none of the current squad were even born, and many of those now running the club were still out on the pitch wearing the famous red Trikot.
For all long-time supporters, we had lost a well-trusted and much-loved member of the family.
Over the years Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt has divided opinion. To many, he is the world’s greatest name in the the successful treatment of sports injuries. To others, he is a charming practitioner of “exotic” homeopathy who sails close to the wind – a modern incarnation of Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein or Hitler’s quack physician Dr. Theodor Morell with an acquired celebrity status. While the rest of the field use more orthodox treatments, Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt has become widely known for the use of controversial miracle cures including Actovegin – a concentrated, filtered amino acid extract from calves’ blood that is banned in the United States – or Hyalart, a lubricant obtained from the combs of cockerels.
By describing such methods in the most lurid way possible it is easy to dupe the reader into believing that the man popularly known as “Healing Hans” is little more than a well-marketed quack. Talk of calves’ blood and extracts from the combs of cockerels will almost certainly get some people thinking weird thoughts, but this is offset by the stories of the thousands – indeed, tens of thousands – of people who have benefited from his methods where all others have failed.
In line with his unorthodox methods, Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt doesn’t fit the description of your typical German doctor. With his mop of floppy dark shoulder length hair he looks more like a rock star – save for the youthful face that makes him look considerably younger than his seventy-two years.
As well as FC Bayern and the German national team, the Munich-based doctor’s client list has included the likes of athletes Usain Bolt and Paula Radcliffe, tennis star Boris Becker, England cricketer Darren Gough and Spanish golfer José María Olazábal – to name but some. It’s not just sportspeople either. Regular members of the public continue to seek Dr. Müller-Wohfahrt’s advice and treatment at his massive clinic on the second floor of the grandiose Alte Hof, and his clients have also included the late opera star Luciano Pavarotti and U2 front man Bono.
One of course can add to that list the many hundreds of German footballers, going back to the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller. For more than three decades Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt has been a fixture in the FC Bayern dugout, so where did things all go wrong?
It is likely that many issues had been silently brushed under the carpet, but to many club insiders it had become increasingly apparent that coach Pep Guardiola had been slowly losing patience with the medical regime at Bayern. Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt’s insistence on having players visit his practice on the other side of town rather than on-site clearly rankled with the coach, and a difference of opinion that had seen Guardiola call in a Spanish specialist to treat the injured midfielder Thiago Alcântara couldn’t have helped matters.
In studying recent events things appeared to come a head during the DFB-Pokal quarter-final against Bayer 04 Leverkusen, where Guardiola was seen – apparently – sarcastically clapping the bench staff when Medhi Benatia – having only recently recovered from one injury – was forced off early in the first half with a torn muscle. As the injury crisis deepened tensions had no doubt started to simmer, with players dropping like flies and others unable to reach satisfactory match fitness. The final stroke – the fateful accusation – was seemingly delivered by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, long seen as one of Pep’s biggest supporters at Bayern.
FC Bayern had seemingly left the dark days of FC Hollywood behind them, but the story of Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt’s departure has thrust the club back onto the front pages for reasons other than football. Just like that, the story of Jürgen Klopp’s decision to leave Borussia Dortmund is old news.
One can only hope this this story is not a part of what might be a bigger schism developing in Munich. While Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt – long seen by many Bayern fans as one of the “family” – is part of the old guard and the era of former President Uli Hoeneß, Guardiola has for a long time been firmly backed by club chairman Rummenigge – often in the face of fierce criticism by both the local media and sections of the fan base. It is also likely that many of the squad may well choose to see the now former club doctor in a private capacity; they know him well, and he knows them better. Potentially, it is a whole new can of worms.
It is of course easy to cast Guardiola in the role of the pantomime villain, but it should also be noted that “Mull” had previous form for walking out. The appointment of Jürgen Klinsmann in 2009 led to the first rift, with the doctor unable or unwilling to remain on site and work with the imported army of technical gurus, psychologists and fitness specialists. Within a year however Klinsmann’s experiment had failed miserably, and Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt made his way back into the FC Bayern fold with nary a blink.
Then there is the matter of timing. While it is more than reasonable to believe that Dr. Müller-Wohlfahrt’s position at Bayern had become untenable, his decision to extract his entire team right in the middle of the club’s biggest injury crisis in years – not to forget hot on the back of a horrible Champions’ League defeat – could not have come at a worse moment.
Fans are divided, and I too am torn. Perhaps the best thing to do now is hope that the players can themselves draw a line under the whole affair and concentrate on playing football. After all, we still have a treble to win.
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