The ‘Flick’ behind Bayern’s resurgence and record eighth

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Few football clubs have an array of former stars as bosses and influencers as Bayern Munich. There’s Uli Hoeness, who stepped down as president last November but continues his 50-year association with the Bavarian giants as board member. Karl Heinz Rummenigge is CEO (he will be replaced by Oliver Kahn in 2022) and Franz Beckenbauer, who has been coach and president, is always a 90-minute drive away in Salzburg.

At Bayern’s headquarters in Munich’s Saebener Strasse, it isn’t unusual to have Paul Breitner or Gerd Mueller holding forth on matters football. In 2011, journalists from India found that even their stationery supplier is a Bayern legend and former World Cup and European champion — Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck.

Also known as FC Hollywood, Bayern’s current squad isn’t short on star dust. Thomas Mueller, Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have won World Cups; Robert Lewandowski is the fastest foreigner to 100 Bundesliga goals — the 2019-20 Bundesliga top-scorer (31 goals) has 319 including the goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 win away to Werder Bremen —- and Ivan Perisic has played a World Cup final. So deep are Bayern’s resources that former coach Carlo Ancelotti once said they could win the Bundesliga with hands in their pockets. On Tuesday, when Bayern got a record eighth successive Bundesliga title and 29th overall staying unbeaten in their last 23 games (22 wins, one draw), it had a lot to with a man who wasn’t supposed to be in the forefront at all — Hans-Dieter ‘Hansi’ Flick.

Despite a league and cup double in 2018-19 under coach Niko Kovac, Bayern began the season with 66% of those polled by the German football magazine ‘Kicker’ saying an eighth wouldn’t be possible. Roster rebuilding meant Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Mats Hummels and Rafinha were off-loaded. Hernandez and Pavard were bought but during the pre-season tour of USA, Lewandowski asked the board “to strengthen us as a team.”

Before his departure, Rafinha said many players weren’t happy with Kovac, a point later borne out by Hoeness. “The greatest pressure came from the team,” Hoeness told ‘Kicker’ last November after Bayern sacked Kovac. This was after a 1-5 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.

His stress on counter-attacks and blaming players for poor performances showed that Kovac wasn’t in sync with the locker room. If Kovac, a former Croatia captain and coach, was out of step in a team which had had Pep Guardiola, Jupp Heynckes, Louis van Gaal and Ottmar Hitzfeld as coaches, imagine what it would be like for Flick to step up from assistant-coach to caretaker manager? Flick had no experience of coaching a Bundesliga team and Bayern were seventh in the standings when he took charge.

Flick wasn’t a flake as a player — he had 104 games for Bayern as a hard-working midfielder. He was someone Eric Cantona would call a ‘water carrier’ but there must be something about their industry which makes them good coaches. Didier Deschamps, anyone?

Flick, 55, hadn’t managed a top team before but was Bundestrainer Joachim Loew’s assistant from 2006 to 2014. That meant he oversaw much of Germany’s project restart which began under Juergen Klinsmann before the 2006 World Cup and had them win the 2014 edition. In his first two games in charge, Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 and Olympiakos 2-0. Used to being caught on the break, Bayern looked defensively solid in both. Soon after, they stopped looking for a famous name to replace Kovac and Flick was given a contract till 2023.

From offering an arm and a shoulder to midfielder Javi Martinez to brainstorming with players about how Bayern should play, Flick was everything Kovac was not. The players told Flick that Bayern were too defensive under Kovac. Bayern’s resurgence has a lot to do with a return to front-third pressing, defensive high line and better organisation at the back. Just as it has in restoring Mueller and Boateng to their position of eminence.

Mueller has been a handful in attack, providing 20 assists — the most in Bundesliga this term — in 24 starts. “I see myself in a position of responsibility,” Mueller has said. Central defender Boateng had 21 starts with 91.8% successful passes from open play. One of them, a measured chip in the rain in Bremen, Lewandowski chested and volleyed to take 10-man Bayern to an invincible 76 points from 32 games.

“Hansi has really done well in promoting the team’s strengths of playing attacking football and keeping a well-balanced defence at the same time,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic — another former Bayern player — was quoted as saying by the sports website ‘The Athletic’. “Hansi is hungry for success, and, so are the players. It’s a great fit.”

“It is sensational the kind of football we have played in the past few months,” Flick said on Tuesday. “You could feel the passion the joy for the game and the team spirit.”