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Win out or go... away for Bayern Munich’s Niko Kovac

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Statements by Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic suggest that Kovac’s future may depend on winning out the season.

11 May 2019, Saxony, Leipzig: Soccer: Bundesliga, 33rd matchday, RB Leipzig - FC Bayern Munich in the Red Bull Arena. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (middle row from left), Chairman of the Board of FC Bayern, and Uli Hoeneß, President of FC Bayern, watch the match on the grandstand together with Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz (top row 2nd from left).
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß watch the match between RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich.
Photo by Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s head coach Niko Kovac seems to be on thin ice as the season draws to a close. After Bayern Munich’s frustrating 0-0 draw against RB Leipzig — the only goal of the game disallowed for offsides on a controversial VAR review — both chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic danced around the question of whether Kovac would still be their coach next season.

Rummenigge: “at the end of the day,” no guarantees

In a post-game interview with Sky (reported by Sport1, Bild), Rummenigge reiterated yet again that Kovac must deliver successes. He told Sky,

I don’t have any problem with Niko Kovac at all. I’m always hearing the word “job guarantee, job guarantee.” At Bayern Munich, players, management, and coaches must deliver successfully deliver; that’s true for everyone.

On the contrary, we have a good relationship. I only think that at the end of the day it’s our task to steer the team, the coach, and everyone a bit in the right direction, so that we’ll hopefully have the Meisterschale in our hands next Saturday.

Pressed about his refusal to guarantee Kovac’s status for next season, despite the fact that Bayern remains in first place in the Bundesliga and will play in the DFB Pokal final, Rummenigge reiterated his unwillingness to give any guarantee, however late in the season:

I’m not friend of these guarantees, nor of only praising the players and coach. I’ve found that sometimes that is paid back with complacency, and at Bayern Munich that is not the right way.

Rummenigge was asked whether Kovac was definitely the “coach for the next few years,” but answered merely that, “The duration of [his] contract is well-known.” Kovac is signed until June 30, 2021.

No excuses

Many have emphasized the obstacles that Niko Kovac has faced in his debut season at Bayern Munich: he was effectively saddled with the responsibility of seeing out Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery’s final season, while the club added no other offensive reinforcements. Key forward Kingsley Coman missed almost the entire Hinrunde on account of an injury on the first matchday, and midfielder Corentin Tolisso likewise was soon felled by an ACL tear.

But Rummenigge showed little sympathy:

I don’t see it that way with the “squad renewal” (Umbruch). We have integrated young players, but I think the mix in the team is very good. Every one of the Bayern players knows that you have to have success at Bayern Munich. At the end of the day, we all have to deliver. That’s true of the team, the players, the management, and at the end of the day also of the coach.

Rummenigge claimed, “I’m not worried that we won’t clear up the championship in Munich next week. With a performance like today we’re also capable of beating Frankfurt.”

Salihamidzic: Kovac has “my support,” but anyone else’s?

Also after the game in Leipzig, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic appeared on ZDF in discussion with moderator and Sportbuzzer columnist Jochen Breyer. His answers to Breyer’s direct questions about Kovac’s future suggest the club has not yet decided whether to retain him beyond his first season.

Salihamidzic attempted to back Kovac as best he could, but he soon was cornered by the host. Here you can read for yourself how Brazzo attempts to parry Breyer’s incisive questions, leaving it clear that Kovac can count on the support of only one third of Bayern’s front office trinity:

Breyer: Will he or won’t he say — Niko Kovac?

Salihamidzic: In these times where we can achieve a lot and can win titles for our club and our fans, we’d all be well-advised, I think, to do something totally different. That means, not wasting all our energy on random considerations, including personnel considerations, but rather...

Breyer: That means the decision has not yet been made?

Salihamidzic: ...to give the players the energy to deliver good performances on the pitch and to be there with two titles after these next two weeks and to show that we’re the beast team in Germany and win the two titles.

Breyer: So the decision has not yet been made?

Salihamidzic: The coach has complete support.

Breyer: But that means the decision whether he’s coach next year has not yet been made?

Salihamidzic: The facts speak in favor of Niko Kovac.

Breyer: So he’ll stay coach?

Salihamidzic: He has complete support from me.

Breyer: So yes?

Salihamidzic: We’ll see.

Breyer: Does he have the support from the other two [i.e. Uli Hoeness and Rummenigge]?

Salihamidzic: I can only speak for myself.

Hence, it is as Rummenigge’s careful wording suggests: Kovac has Salihamidzic’s full support, but not necessarily that of Hoeness and probably not that of Rummenigge. If Kovac fails to win the Bundesliga decisively next weekend, that could be the end of him.