What is the road ahead for Bayern Munich under Niko Kovac?
Written by: Srinivasan
The former Croatian international has a tough job to lead them to European glory.
A superclub is a name that is usually handed out to clubs that have a rich history in the game, financial might, a huge fanbase, a plethora of footballing greats who have played for the team and a case of ordering new trophy cabinets each year.
The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester and Liverpool etc are contenders to be termed as super clubs. They command a certain fear and respect in the minds of the opponents. It takes a special type of manager to combine a winning style of play, shrewd tactics, managing expectations and keeping personnel happy.
Names such as Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Max Allegri, Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Rafa Benitez are A-grade coaches who have been there and done that in the European game. They have also been victims of failing to live up to extremely high expectations. Carlo Ancelotti's dismissal from the Bayern hot seat gave a glimpse into how a three-time Champions League winner was unable to keep the Bayern machine running post the Pep Guardiola era.
It needed the intervention of old hand Jupp Heynckes to steady the ship and bring smiles back to Bavaria. Now that Heynckes has settled back into a well-deserved retirement, Niko Kovac has been trusted with the task of leading Bayern into arguably a period of transition. The new gaffer saw his side ruthlessly pick apart his former team Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 in the DFB Supercup. As he gears up for the Bundesliga season opener against Hoffenheim, here are a few things that Kovac will look to do
Threat from the wide areas and a central role for Muller
4 out of the 5 goals that Bayern scored in the Supercup had a common denominator, wing play. In Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Bayern have been blessed with pace, guile and power for nearly a decade. The additions of Kingsley Coman and David Alaba's love for the final third of the pitch have ensured that Bayern do have plenty of width on offer, something that the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller need to exploit spaces.
Joshua Kimmich, Alaba and Coman all provided assists from the flanks for Bayern's goals and this may be a key factor in how die Roten function as a team. The threat from wide areas gives space for Thiago and James Rodriguez to find the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, both of whom are experts in finding open spaces.
The system would also see Muller being given a greater role behind Lewandowski and thus ensuring that the Interpreter of Space is allowed to live up to his talents rather than being shunted out wide like he was used with disastrous consequences in Germany's first round exit in the World Cup.
Phasing out the last of the old guard
One of the key issues that Carlo Ancelotti faced as he took over from Pep Guardiola was a squad that was ageing. Bayern did try to refresh the squad with young talent but the reliance on old heads like Phillip Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer was evident. Young talent like Joshua Kimmich was often ignored in favor of experience. Players from the famed Bayern academy did not make the cut to the first team, something which was a far cry from the days when Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Toni Kroos made their way into the first team. The experienced duo of Ribery and Robben have been given extensions to their tenures at Sabenerstrasse. In addition, the likes of Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Javi Martinez, Rafinha, Manuel Neuer are nearing or crossed the 30-year mark, it is important that the team is refreshed.
Watch: First days with Niko Kovac
Despite signing young talents like Leon Goretzka, Niklas Sule, and Sebastian Rudy, Kovac has to promote talent from the ranks such as Lars Mai and Merita Shabani to complement the first team.
It is also important from a financial aspect when the club produces from within given the inflated nature of the transfer market. Given Kovac had overseen the integration of young Croatian talent into the national side during his time as manager, Bayern can expect something similar from the 46-year old.
Greater focus on Europe and not on the Bundesliga
The dominance that Bayern has on the domestic league borders on near obscene and despite each manager claiming that their focus is on the league, it is Europe that remains elusive since that title-winning campaign of 2012-13. Despite Pep leading the team to three consecutive semi-final appearances post that, Bayern's performance in Europe has wilted over the years, from a combination of bad luck to sheer wastefulness. It is up to Kovac to fix at least the latter aspect to lead to the Germans making their presence felt in a competition that has been dominated by the Spaniards over the last three years.
Driving home the message that the team comes first
FC Hollywood was a term that dogged the Bavarians before Louis van Gaal turned up in Munich. The team's off-field antics had taken over the performances on the pitch and it led to a culture of player power had taken over the ranks at Bayern. LVG's systematic fixing of this problem led to Jupp Heynckes adding his touch to the squad that brought them the treble in 2012-13. Guardiola's evolution of the team during his three-year tenure led to scintillating football, but not without treading on a few toes. But Guardiola's philosophy required a total buy-in for the team's cause and those who were not willing to fall in line were kept away from the team.
Watch: The Bavarians beat PSG in a preseason match
Ancelotti's dismissal was a clear case of players not agreeing with the manager's way of working and leading to sub-par performances on the pitch. Kovac is no multiple Champions League winner nor has he won a domestic league title. The case of the senior statesmen in the Bayern ranks questioning the manager's credentials can always crop up. But Kovac, having forged a reputation of being a reliable player for Bayern, needs to stand by his way of working and ensure that the players put the team's cause ahead of their own.
With Germany suffering from a tricky period where they were eliminated in the group stages of the World Cup and the Mesut Ozil saga that followed, the whole of Germany will be looking to Bayern to make a positive impact on the European stage and Kovac will be at the forefront of this change.
Published: Mon Sep 10, 2018 05:42 PM IST