Writing in his column on t-online (via AZ), former Bayern Munich legend Stefan Effenberg criticized Niko Kovac for his rotation policy against Augsburg. As most people are well aware, it was the first time in the Kovac era that none of Robert Lewandowski, James Rodriguez, or Thiago Alcantara started the game, and the problems showed. Eventually, Bayern succumbed to a 1-1 “defeat” due to a late equalizer by Felix Gotze.
Like many other commentators and pundits after the game, Effenberg blamed the draw on Kovac’s excessive rotation:
Of course, the 1-1 against Augsburg wasn’t a crippling defeat. It was perhaps a warning shot. It was clear to see: Niko Kovac has to drop the rotation somewhat in the coming weeks — despite the potential fatigue of his players.
With five changes in comparison to the previous game at Schalke, he simply made too many — and showed that they need a striker in the present situation.
The focus has to be on building the lead in the league and deciding the Champions League group in their favor. The teams chasing them are only one victory away. Now they simply have to grit their teeth until the international break — you can always rotate afterward.
Why Effenberg is missing the point
Niko Kovac does not have the luxury to rotate when it is safe to do so. Maybe it was different when Effenberg was a player — I wouldn’t know. However, the reality of modern football is that most players cannot play a full 90 minutes every three days, especially for a top club like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or Real Madrid — all of whom are competing and expected to win on all three fronts.
When selecting the lineup for a game, Kovac does not have the luxury of simply putting the best XI players on the pitch. There is so much more to consider. Some players have different fitness levels — Joshua Kimmich for example can play every game for ages, but Serge Gnabry shouldn’t be tasked with two full 90’s in quick succession. To keep everyone healthy, compromise has to be made.
Every time a lineup is selected, Kovac is juggling the following responsibilities:
- He must win the game, or be criticized.
- He must rest players, or else he risks injuries.
- He must give a little time to everyone, or else there will be discontent in the squad.
- He must find minutes for young players like Leon Goretzka and Renato Sanches to develop.
While winning is always the priority at Bayern Munich, in this early stage of the season, the other factors are almost as important. Carlo Ancelotti’s failure to set up a proper system for rotation was one out of the several factors in his downfall, whereas Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes always chose to rotate even if it wasn’t in the team’s best interest tactically.
Bayern Munich’s spectacular victory against Paris Saint-Germain last season is a case in point. Heynckes Jupp opted to start Corentin Tolisso and Sebastian Rudy in midfield over Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez. He chose to rotate, irrespective of the fact that Bayern was facing one of the top clubs in Europe, and that a spot at the top of the group was on the line. He understood what many managers fail to grasp — that rotation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
A Bayern Munich coach must be brave
The worst thing to happen to the squad now would be for Niko Kovac to lose his nerve and start playing his best XI in every match. Sure, it would be great for a while, but the lack of rest would make itself felt at the business end of the season.
I feel for the man — enforcing rotation is a thankless task. The players (usually) don’t like it, the fans don’t like it, and the sporting media is always on hand to roast the manager if there’s a slip-up. The benefits of rotation are great, but they are invisible.
No one is going to pat Kovac on the back for resting Robert Lewandowski on Wednesday, even if the rest means that he’ll perform better against Hertha Berlin and Ajax Amsterdam. Resting James Rodriguez is a perilous endeavor. Despite the fact that he has been plagued by injuries in the past, fans and the media will accuse Kovac of sidelining the poor man for no reason.
It is not an easy position to be in. But no one said that managing Bayern Munich was ever easy. For Kovac to succeed, he must continue to show the courage that a successful manager of Bayern Munich must have. As for those who criticize him for his efforts — cut him some slack. He’s doing the right thing.