When a young Frenchman arrived on loan from Juventus three years ago, no one could have foreseen the star that he would become. Kingsley Coman, who was virtually unknown at the time, made a big leap of faith. Already unwanted by both Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, he made the trip to Munich to play under then-coach Pep Guardiola. It may have been the best decision of his career.
Coman’s first season at Bayern Munich cannot be categorized as anything but a success. Deployed mostly on the right side of Bayern’s flank, his partnership with Douglas Costa was virtually unstoppable. Things seemed bright for the Frenchman, as Pep Guardiola bowed out and Bayern entered into a new era with a new coach.
It seemingly wasn’t to be. Under Carlo Ancelotti, Coman — along with his squadmates Joshua Kimmich and Renato Sanches — was perennially snubbed for his more experienced colleagues, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Minutes on the bench accumulated, and there was a huge dip in his form. The player who had once seemed like a mercurial winger looked out of his depth whenever he took to the pitch.
A problem of mind, not body
It’s not as if Coman’s skills disappeared overnight. He was still the super-agile winger with the pace of a cheetah that he had been under Pep. The raw talent was all there, but that was the main problem. Kingsley Coman was very (VERY) raw.
It was always an issue of decision making for the Frenchman. Far too often, he would beat his man and dribble into space, only to deliver a lackluster final ball that found no one. The accuracy of his crosses declined sharply — he was no longer finding the heads of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller with the same ferocity that he had been.
In such circumstances a coach like Pep Guardiola could’ve helped the youngster — given him some tips on how to improve his game, or simply more chances to get used to the side. But Carlo Ancelotti was no Pep Guardiola. He preferred his experienced players, and Kingsley Coman’s career stalled. He spent the vast majority of the 2016-17 season warming the bench — behind Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, and Douglas Costa.
Despite this coaching indifference, however, Bayern’s bosses knew what they had. In April of 2017, they made his loan permanent for a fee of €21m.
The Lord of the Wings: The Return of the King
When the 2017-18 season began, nothing seemed to have changed for Kingsley Coman. Personal issues off the pitch were coupled by indifferent performances on it. On the rare occasions he was given the license to start a game, the Frenchman’s decision making dogged him at every turn. He constantly made the wrong choices, made poor runs, and crossed the ball to nowhere. It seemed like a Shaqiri situation — Coman looked like a wasted talent.
Enter Jupp Heynckes.
Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking was a virtual godsend for Coman. Jupp Heynckes had no problem trusting the youngster to start in his lineups, and the effect was profound. Coman was terrorizing defenses once again, his blistering pace on display for the world to see. Playing on the left — often in place of his compatriot Ribery. And, as the world marveled at this super-quick youngster that made defenders look like traffic cones, a change was taking place. Kingsley Coman was maturing.
His crosses were sharper. His runs were neater. His passing was crisper. No longer content to just beat his man and send the ball in the general direction of a forward, Coman began to assume a mini-playmaker’s role. He began to look for the key pass, the key run, the little bit of extra that would allow him to unlock a tight defense. Meanwhile, he increased his work rate, dropping back to help the defense in a difficult spot. It was a radical change. The young man was growing up.
In the wake of another devastating performance, Coman credited his manager for the resurgence:
It was about the moment before I cross into the box, when I’m at pace. The coach told me to slow down a little. And it’s worked quite well so far. I’ll keep working on it.
A small, simple suggestion. He took the advice well. Now, with a winter break behind him and injury problems (hopefully) sorted, Kingsley Coman is playing like a true Bayern Munich winger. His performance against Besiktas was a very grown up one. Matched up against former Barcelona fullback Adriano, Coman played a waiting game. He refused to make careless runs at his defender, preferring to stay back or cut inside and pass.
It was clearly a tactic from the player to keep possession and avoid silly dispossessions. With Talisca behind him, he could not afford easy giveaways. Then, when the chance presented itself, he took it. Besiktas, down to ten men, were under pressure in their own box. Adriano was exposed, without a midfielder to help him. Coman took his chance. He ran at the the defender, turned him the wrong way, and then beat him to cross. The ball ricocheted off the feet of David Alaba and into Thomas Muller — who promptly put it into goal.
It was a bit of brilliance from the young Frenchman, and it got Bayern the breakthrough. Coman got another golden chance to put his name on the scoresheet, and he didn’t miss. On a cutback from Robert Lewandowski, the king slotted home a simple tap-in to give Bayern an insurmountable lead in the tie. He was in-sync and alert. It all paid off. Adriano had this to say after the game:
It’s so annoying. You get tired with time but he doesn’t. He is always there. They were leading 4-0 and he is still after you. I was happy when he was subbed off.
As we slowly head into the business end of the season, it is clear that Kingsley Coman is no longer the player he was even a few months ago. He is coming of age, and it’s just the perfect time for Bayern Munich.