Bayern seeks to reclaim Bundesliga title

Aug 5, 2009 - 7:47 PM By NESHA STARCEVIC AP Sports Writer

FRANKFURT(AP) -- When Bayern Munich kicks off its attempt to reclaim the Bundesliga title this weekend, its best player is likely to be watching from the stands, if at all.

Franck Ribery won't be fit for Saturday's opener at Hoffenheim after struggling with several injuries that restricted his practice time in the buildup to the season. And if the French star had his way, he'd now be in Madrid, not Munich.

Ribery sought to find more fame and fortune at Real Madrid but the Spanish side apparently lost interest when Bayern priced its most influential player at $140 million or more. Still, the transfer period extends until the end of the month.

Bayern finished 20-7-7 in the league last season, two points behind Wolfsberg (21-7-6), and was eliminated by Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals. First-year coach Juergen Klinsmann was fired with five games remaining, and now Louis van Gaal is in charge.

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

So far, he's been dealing with problems.

Club president Franz Beckenbauer sharply criticized Ribery's attitude and questioned his commitment. Bayern's other leaders, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and manager Uli Hoeness, sided with Ribery and praised 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.

Forward Lukas Podolski was allowed to leave for Cologne, defender Lucio signed with Inter Milan and midfielder Ze Roberto went to Hamburg during the offseason.

Defender Anatoly Timoshchu was brought from Zenit St. Petersburg, forward Mario Gomez from Stuttgart and Ivica Olic from Hamburg. Gomez (24 league goals) is likely to pair up with Miroslav Klose, a move that would leave Luca Toni (14 league goals) on the bench following an Achilles' tendon injury.

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

"We had 10 matches in 4 1/2 weeks, and that was too many," van Gaal said. "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."

Armin Veh took over as coach of Wolfsburg after Felix Magath led the club to its first Bundesliga title, then went to Schalke.

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

Grafite was voted the Bundesliga player of the year. After finishing second in the league with 26 goals last season, Wolfsburg prevented Dzeko from transferring to AC Milan, then gave him a two-year contract extension through the 2012-13 season.

Boosting its roster, Wolfsburg signed forward Obafemi Martins from Newcastle.

Stuttgart, third at 19-8-7, compensated for the departure of Gomez by obtaining midfielder Alexander Hleb on a loan from Barcelona and signing Pavel Pogrebnyak from Zenit.

"Bayern is really the only team that has a claim on the title," Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel said. "Our goal is to confirm what we did last season and qualify for the Champions League."

Babbel's team kicks off the season Friday when it visits Wolfsburg, with Babbel facing his former boss in Stuttgart, Veh.

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

Hamburg, fifth at 19-11-4, is another team with a new coach, Bruno Labbadia, previously at Leverkusen.

Of the three promoted teams, Nuremberg appears to have a strong enough roster to remain in the top flight, while Freiburg and Mainz seem destined to struggle. Mainz even fired coach Joern Andersen on Monday, five days before its league opener, and replaced him with junior team coach Thomas Tuchel.

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