FC Bayern München have parted ways with Niko Kovač as the head coach. With Hansi Flick in charge on an interim basis, many problems remain.
The context: the Bavarians are no longer the powerhouse that they were from 2012 to 2016. Squad decline, tactical stagnation and lack of regeneration from the youth ranks hurt the club. Many pieces of the puzzle are out of reach for any coach.
If you expect FC Bayern to become Champions League contenders tomorrow, hold your horses. There are many unsolved problems. Remember Jupp Heynckes’ return as a caretaker? All he did was saving the club’s face in the short term and there is a risk of history repeating itself.
I see four major problems to tackle as quickly as possible.
Flick and his eventual successor will have difficult tasks to handle on the pitch. Many stars of the golden generation have left or retired without one-for-one replacements. Some of the players, such as Jérôme Boateng and Javi Martínez, can give an honest effort but they are no longer in their prime. Injuries in central defense hurt the team.
Unfortunately, there will be no short-term help, and this is beyond a coach’s responsibility. The club’s board is not committed to major winter transfers and its youth policy has been weak for years.
What the coaches can do immediately is introducing better rotation. Important assets such as Thomas Müller and Javi Martínez have been neglected by Kovač. Are they still world beaters? No. However, they can make a fine contribution to optimise performance until the club takes another look at the squad later.
A major problem at Bayern is the inability to produce and promote young players. It is mad that almost nobody talks about it, because it makes the team vulnerable to the transfer market’s prices and volatility. Even an injury (Leroy Sané) can ruin what looks like a perfect plan.
The answer to that is a youth academy that produces stars. It also means taking a leap of faith and giving budding talent a chance when there is an opportunity.
Righting the ship will take time, but there is a way to start today. Promote Lars Lukas Mai to the first team. Give him a few starts and see how things go. Give a shot to other youngsters as substitutes.
Later on, upper management has to do its own job by putting together the conditions for the academy to thrive again.
The coaching staff has to take a hard look at the playing system and have a mandate for it. Teams have figured out all it takes to stop Bayern is to stack players in their own half, be very mobile and look for an opportunity to surge.
The Bavarians are obsessed with a possession ideal, without the expertise of two coaches (Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola) who specialised in match control and constant attacking. They play without balance. They do NOT know how to counterattack.
Can Flick and his subordinates be philosophically flexible between attacking and defending? I believe that they must. Remember how Bayern gave Ajax Amsterdam trouble in the Champions League last season by leaving them the ball and focusing on defense.
Fixing the tactics also means putting the right guys in the right places. Why in the world is Thiago Alcântara used primarily as a deep-lying midfielder? I would like to see a response in future matches.
This could be the most difficult challenge for any coach. FC Bayern players have not shown an incredible amount of motivation on the pitch in recent years, often folding and letting frustration get to them in trying times.
I call it a shared responsibility. Players have to be professional as they get enormous amounts of money. Coaches have to keep motivating them. A good sporting director provides support to the man in the dugout. Finally, upper management sounds public warnings when none of that works.
Obviously, Bayern no longer count on a strong voice such as Matthias Sammer’s in these situations. Top dogs such as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß do not weigh as much in the balance as they once did. There is a bit of a power vacuum at the top.
Yesterday, FC Bayern had 99 problems. After firing Kovač, they have to deal with 98 more. Anyone can hope for short-term improvement with a new coach, but none of the underlying questions are solved yet.
Hang in there. It could be a bumpy ride.