Erik Meijer played alongside Bayern Munich’s head coach Niko Kovac at Bayer Leverkusen — Bayern’s opponent tomorrow — for three seasons, from 1996 to 1999, and again at Hamburg from 2000 to 2001. In an interview with AZ’s Maximilian Koch, the Sky expert gave some insight into how his former teammate ticks and offered his observations on a range of subjects concerning Bayern and the Germany national team.
Kovac: a very direct, structured guy
Meijer was not surprised that his former teammate is off to such an excellent start at Bayern Munich.
I played with Niko in Hamburg and Leverkusen, know him very well. In Leverkusen, we had a group that played cards then, we used to play Ramsch together. Niko and Robert Kovac were there, too. I’m not surprised that he’s off to a good start at Bayern. He’ll need luck in the important games in the coming months. I wish him that.
Asked about Kovac’s personality, Meijer gave an example of Kovac’s uncompromising self-discipline:
Niko is a very direct, structured guy. He was already like that in Leverkusen. If we were at the hotel before a game and wanted to start eating, Niko said, “I always pray before eating.” So we waited for him. It was like that for three years. I think it’s fantastic that he walked such a clear line and still does. We respected him for it. Niko is very disciplined. That just lies deep down in someone.
Kovac also was an intelligent player, with qualities that already seem to be serving him well in his coaching vision at Bayern. According to Meijer,
He covered the others when they pushed forward. He wasn’t super fast, but he had good vision, a feeling for situations, and a good passing game.
Brandt a candidate for Bayern
Meijer also commented on Leverkusen’s disappointing start to the season (back-to-back losses to Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg) and specifically Julian Brandt:
I see parallels between him and David Alaba after Euro 2016. The Austrian had problems integrating in Bayern again. Brandt now didn’t have a summer break for the first time this summer; he was at the World Cup. That makes a massive difference.
Despite Brandt’s struggles, Meijer is very high on his quality and views him as an attractive possibility for Bayern:
He is someone who is deciding games already at a young age. He can pull people along, launch many attacks. Julian is a fixed part of Leverkusen and the national team — and he will definitely also be a candidate at FC Bayern some day, when Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery quit.
Bayern a Champions League contender
Meijer’s verdict on Bayern Munich’s Champions League is encouraging. But in his view, Kingsley Coman is the critical ingredient:
Bayern can win the Champions League this season. The roster is built outstandingly, having grown together over the years. Ribéry and Robben are still playing at a top level; age isn’t decisive. It will be important that Kingsley Coman is fit again. With his tempo, he gives Bayern that extra push.
Germany’s striker search and Robert Lewandowski
Much has been said about the German national team’s ongoing struggle to score goals, and Meijer sees the same dilemma. “Timo Werner isn’t a classic no. 9; he needs space and movement around him. It’s the same with Marco Reus,” Meijer said. Meijer’s ideal solution — since Sandro Wagner’s international career has come to a premature end — would be none other than Robert Lewandowski:
I like Wagner and also would have taken him to the World Cup rather than Gomez. Unfortunately, Robert Lewandowski can’t play for Germany. He’d be the ideal solution. He’s the total package of a striker, the embodiment of the top class. Lewy can do everything; he scores a lot of goals and actually has no weakness.
But since Lewandowski will be suiting up for Poland, that leaves Germany and Joachim Löw with few options. Meijer argues that Löw must take the drastic step of changing his system:
Löw has to change his system. Away from the handball-style around the penalty area and have them play more like RB Leipzig, more vertically. For that, players like Werner, Reus, Brandt, and Julian Draxler then have to make deep runs and not always only out wide.