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Ex-asst. coach Hermann defends Niko Kovac and discusses Bayern’s will to win and youth

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Unimpressed by Rafinha’s criticism of his former coach, Peter Hermann gave a glimpse into Bayern’s locker room and shared some amusing anecdotes in a fascinating in-depth interview with Sport1.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Peter Hermann left Bayern Munich last season to enjoy his retirement at long last, but Bayern remains on his mind. In exclusive interview with Sport1’s Florian Plettenberg, Hermann spoke in detail about his last season with the Rekordmeister and gave a fascinating look behind the scenes in Bayern’s locker room during the up-and-down season.

In defense of Niko Kovac

Recently, veteran outside-back Rafinha publicly criticized Bayern’s coach Niko Kovac for “taking away his farewell game” and claimed that Kovac had a strained relationship with the locker room. Hermann was not amused by Rafinha’s parting shot from across the Atlantic:

Retaliating isn’t done. I like Rafinha. He’s a good player, who filled his role well and was reliable. You know what you had in him. But I did not like his retaliation.

The image Hermann chose is illuminating: Nachtreten, “retaliation,” is when a fouled player lashes out by kicking. Hermann painted a different, more nuanced picture Kovac’s relationship with the team as he experienced it:

It was Niko Kovac’s first year at Bayern, and as coach there you have the hardest job in the Bundesliga. You have to survive that before anything. You have an incredible amount on your plate with the media and have to deal with different player types. They’re simple players, who all have fun playing soccer, but they are different than in Leverkusen, Frankfurt, or Düsseldorf. James is a star in South America. With Arjen Robben, it also wasn’t easy when he didn’t play. All 18 players always want to play. Players have to get used to the coach and vice versa.

[Earning the locker room’s respect] is the hardest thing about this job. In the end, what’s important is what comes out, not whether everyone gets along with you. Better to finish in first and have a problem with this or that player than be fifth. I personally also felt that the relationship between the team and Kovac got better and better over the course of the season. The players also don’t win every game completely by themselves. The relationship was by no means as negative as it sometimes was depicted.

For the coming season, Hermann feels Kovac enjoys a good starting position as Double-winner with back-to-back DFB-Pokal titles. While it would not be easy for Bayern, “because other clubs have stocked up,” he believed “Bayern will still do something in terms of personnel; I’m confident of that.”

The will to win

In Hindsight, Hermann felt that the team’s will to win made the difference last season. He described the mood just before Bayern’s stunning 5-1 victory over Mönchengladbach:

I still remember exactly when we played Gladbach in early March. Dortmund had lost in Augsburg the day before. The mood in the locker room from players like Robert Lewandowski was “Today we have to deliver.” They deliver. I find that extraordinary at Bayern.

Hermann added that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s controversial remark that “everyone must deliver” at Bayern Munich is true:

It’s like this: Bayern was also so successful in the past few years because something is always happening there. No one can sit back and rest there. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is right when he says that everyone must deliver. That’s really true there for everyone.

The professionalism of the team — Robben himself was “professional cubed” in Hermann’s words — set them apart.

Those are all top professionals. You saw it last season, too, because things are not easy down nine points. You’re actually finished then. When the boys saw that there was still a chance, it was crazy what went down in training then. I enjoyed every training session those last few weeks. The way they trained and can play in tight spaces, that was extraordinary quality. Sure, this one is sometimes more punctual than that one. But on the pitch and in training, they always delivered. Even someone like James.

Playing referee

One of the tasks that Hermann regularly performed as assistant coach performs was playing referee in training! “That was not always easy...” Was Hermann ever bad-mouthed? His answer:

What do you think [lauging]? I told Philip Lahm back then — who I always though was super as a person by the way — “Know what? Next year it’ll be different, because Pep Guardiola is bringing a professional referee with him from Spain.” “What?! How? Is that true?” Lahm asked, and I said: “Yes, of course. Do you think he’ll let you swear at him like that too?” Offsides was always a big deal.

It wasn’t always easy when I had to ref, but my offsides decisions were almost always right. Thomas Müller often checked my decisions on the screen in the locker room, because the training sessions are recorded after all [laughing]. Sometimes it was really close, but I almost always got it right. But Thomas and also Joshua Kimmich always stood out because they couldn’t stand losing a game in training.

Young talent for the first team

Plettenberg directly asked Hermann “why no youth player has managed to make the professional team” in the last several years. The answer, in Hermann’s view, is simply a significant gap in quality between recent players and Thomas Müller’s generation. His remarks are worth some reflection in light of the mixed performances witnessed at yesterday’s friendly match against Arsenal:

Because there is top quality at Bayern. I have seen many youth players who have trained up with us. Then we got Alphonso Davies during the winter break, who has a totally different quality from the players we had in our own ranks. He was a few euros more expensive, of course. It’s not not easy even for Davies, but I anticipate a few more chances for him. I think that it’s a great success when you produce players who make it in the Bundesliga at all.

Hermann insists that players like Toni Kroos, Müller, and Holger Badstuber were already top players as youths and duly received their chance:

It is not the head coach’s fault at any rate that so few make it. Because when a player is good, he gets a chance from every coach.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Haverz is one outstanding young player that Hermann believes could succeed at Bayern. Hermann said,

The young man can play soccer. It all looks so easy with him. Not like work or drudgery. That’s soccer. He’s one of the biggest talents there is now. He’s extraordinary. If he should leave Leverkusen some day, it’d be nice if he went to FC Bayern. He has the stuff to do it at any rate.