One thing I forgot to mention in my rant on the podcast the other day was how much I hate having a manager being fired mid-season. It’s the second time in four seasons that Bayern Munich have done this, and I really don’t like it.
I’m of the opinion that a bad manager with a sense of direction is better than a caretaker manager with no experience. You may disagree with me, and I can appreciate that. But, aside from the fact that I liked Niko Kovac, I never took Bayern to be the club to make very rash and sudden decisions.
Cut to a few years ago when Bayern Munich fired Carlo Ancelotti following a disastrous 3-0 loss away to Paris Saint-Germain. Regardless of the result, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure how the club would do under caretaker manager Willy Sagnol. He was given one game, a 2-2 draw to Hertha Berlin before Our Lord and Savior St. Jupp Heynckes came in and helped the club win at least one piece of silverware.
But this time is different. Sagnol is out of work, Kovac was fired, and Hansi Flick is now in charge as caretaker manager.
While the various number of names floating around the club deserve whole articles in a series of their own, comparing their styles and how we think they would do, all of it is speculation.
To me, I’d rather have a struggling Niko Kovac, despite all of his flaws, than Hansi Flick in charge from now until the end of the year.
I understand the need for concern with Kovac, as I had some worries myself shortly before he departed. But, you have to admit one thing: despite the close wins and draws, before the one major slip-up against Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern was one of the best teams on the continent. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind (and neither did Derek Rae when I interviewed him) that Bayern Munich would make the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League under Niko. His tactics as a manager can be debated, but as Tom pointed out in the episode, he was always active on the touchline.
But now with Kovac gone, the players won’t have that direction, unless Flick proves to be similar in that respect.
Two of the most common complaints about Kovac that I heard were that “the players were being stifled and held back by his tactics” and that “this is a good squad that Kovac is ruining.” I agree with the squad part, but as for the tactics...that’s up for debate.
To me, I find it perfectly possible that Kovac’s tactics may have not suited the team, but, at the end of the day, it’s up to the players to produce results on the field. Kovac changed his tactics often during the season, and even before he arrived in Munich. If the board wasn’t as hands on as it was, I guarantee we would have seen a 3-5-2 (which...yikes).
I asked during the podcast when accountability would shift from the manager to the players. In my view, the answer is, “the accountability begins now” — not that it wasn’t on the players before.
I’m giving Hansi Flick the benefit of the doubt throughout this season. He used to manage Hoffenheim, but that was before they had even earned promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. I don’t know what his tactics will be and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter. He hasn’t managed a club since 2005. Hell, the last time he was on a managing staff before this was the German national team in 2014, until Kovac brought him on board this year.
In consequence, I believe we should put the onus on the players to perform from here on out this season.
If we win the Bundesliga, the Pokal or (by some miracle) win the Champions League without a new manager, it will be a thing of club lore, and I’ll swallow my words about Niko.
Conversely, if we crash out of the Champions League and the Pokal, or lose the league for the first time since 2012, I think the players will be to blame.
Here’s why: with Niko out of the way, the players will no longer be “stifled” under his tactics and formations. Flick is big on harmony in the locker room, which we’ve already seen by his guarantee that Thomas Müller will start against Olympiacos.
If this is a high-quality squad as most of us (including myself) believe, the club should be able to win most of the competitions it is are in. After all, this is Bayern we’re talking about.
If the season ends in disaster, Flick should not receive much of the blame (a little, maybe), because he had this situation forced upon him. Instead, it’s now completely up to the players to see how the season will play out.
If you wanted the man out, and you thought Kovac was holding the team back, you’re probably praying the players will prove you right. If the problem truly was Niko Kovac, this team should still be able to deliver on the promises they made at the start of the season.
If they don’t, then neither you nor Bayern Munich have Kovac to blame anymore.