Carlo’s new assistant

On Friday FC Bayern announced via press release what the German media was speculating about for quite some time: Former FC Bayern player Willy Sagnol becomes the new assistant coach of Carlo Ancelotti in the upcoming season. The fan favourite is now part of the coaching staff together with Ancelotti’s son Davide. We will take a closer look on the new situation. Author: Maurice • Translator: Luca

After the knockout in the DFB-Pokal semi final against Borussia Dortmund we published five tasks for FC Bayern to take on during the summer break. One of them was to find replacements for Paul Clement and Hermann Gerland. With Willy Sagnol joining the team this can be considered as done. The vacancy initially came up after the departure of Clement to Swansea City, last winter. In addition to that, Hermann Gerland will leave his first team coaching duties this summer as well, working as the head of the newly build youth academy.

The task of getting an assistant coach is not an easy one. Usually there are two options: The long-time companion of the head coach, or the specialist helping the head coach in a certain area for example tactics. Most of the former FC Bayern coaches had a companion by their side. For example: Hitzfeld had Henke, Magath had Eichkorn or Gurdiola, who worked with Torrent. Ancelotti lost his companion in Clement when he left in January.

The concept of specialization however is widely spread in US-sports such as American football. There are, for example, coaches for offence and defence, who are reporting to the head coach. In European football this concept was practised at FC Sevilla with Jorge Sampaoli as the head coach and Juanma Lillo as his tactical assistant. Lillo had been a head coach himself for several years in Spain and Mexico. Even Pep Guardiola once called him a mentor and spend his final season as a player in Mexico where he had the opportunity to work with him.

Willy Sagnol is not the usual option. He can be seen as an assistant, who is familiar with the club, but also has some experience as a coach in general. Let us have a look at Sagnol and what skill-set he brings with him to Munich.

Who is Willy Sagnol?

That is quite an easy question for every FC Bayern fan. Many will remember the “Willy” chants at the Olympiastadion, or later at Allianz Arena when the former French international crossed the ball from the half-spaces into the box.

He came to Munich as a 23-year-old in the summer of 2000. At the time FC Bayern paid a record fee of 15 million Mark to acquire him from AS Monaco. Such as his compatriot Bixente Lizarazu he played as a fullback in FC Bayern’s back four for many years. In his first season he won the league title as a starter and also played one half in the Champions League final victory.

Had the honour to be FC Bayern’s captain from time to time: Willy Sagnol
(Photo: Sandra Behne/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Altogether he had 184 Bundesliga appearances, which are the second most of a French player for FC Bayern, only overcome by a certain Franck Ribery. In eight seasons he won five league titles and four cup-trophies, with seven goals scored and 38 assist.

His career as a player for the French national team was not quite as successful. His teams came second in the World Cup of 2006, but managed to win the Confederations-Cup with him in the line-up in 2003. Overall he took part in 59 games for the Équipe Tricolore and played all of the possible 660 minutes of the World Cup 2006 in Germany.

From spring of 2008 onwards the “Willy” chants slowly became more silent. With 31 years he was forced to end his career in January 2009 despite a running contract until 2010. Due to permanent pain in his Achilles tendon he made his final appearance at Allianz Arena on matchday 30 of the 2007/08 season with a 4:1 victory over Stuttgart.

After his career as a professional he became a board member of his home-club AS Saint-Étienne. In addition to that he worked as a scout for FC Bayern and also gained some experience at the French football federation where he coached the under 21 team for eight games.

With the possibility of coaching in the first division in France he left and became the head coach of Girondins Bordeaux in 2014. His first season with the team can be described as a success, reaching the Europa League qualification. However, in the following term and after a total of 88 games he was fired due to missing success.

Why Sagnol?

The press release states that it was the explicit request of Carlo Ancelotti to have a former Bayern player as an assistant, who has experience in coaching as well. The Frenchman checks both these boxes. But how can Sagnol effectively assist Ancelotti?

One main advantage is, that Sagnol knows the Bundesliga and FC Bayern, at least from 2000 to 2009. Certainly both institutions have developed a lot since he left, especially in terms of internationalization. However, he fits the role of guiding Ancelotti through an unknown territory and speaks German fluently as well.

In addition to that he has always shown some interest in FC Bayern, especially after he got fired in Bordeaux. In the recent past he even has talked two times about his former club in the German media. First he told reporters the team seemed to be too old after the knockout against Borussia Dortmund. He also stated that the club misses a philosophy. Now he has the chance to discuss these matters with Ancelotti directly. As long as the Italian is open-minded regarding those topics.

In a second interview he talked about the right back situation at FC Bayern. For him Joshua Kimmich is not the ideal option, because “he has more potential to play in midfield” and also lacks of experience in one-on-one duels. It will be interesting to see, if Sagnol sticks to his words and speaks freely about his concerns, even when chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge has named Kimmich as Lahm’s legitimate successor. So far Ancelotti has played the German international very few times in this position.

What does Sagnol bring to the table?

He has quite some experience due to his jobs as a board member, scout or coach. However he never had a job more than three years in a row. An assistant coach job might be too less of a challenge for him in the long run. But how can he leave his mark at FC Bayern?
From our point of view, one of the main issues regarding Ancelotti’s work at FC Bayern is tactics. Is it possible that a former Europa League coach can improve the team in this matter? To answer that question let us take a closer look at his time in Bordeaux.

Sagnol in action, at the side-line in the Europa League game against Liverpool.
(Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The first season in Bordeaux started very well. After three games, Sagnol’s team lead the table in Ligue 1. He was the first coach of Bordeaux, who started with three victories in his first three games. One game that stands out was a 4:1 win against AS Monaco. At halftime the team was down 0:1 with no control of the game whatsoever. After changing from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1, with more focus on the wings, Bordeaux played incredibly well and scored four times in just 25 minutes.

He was praised for his tactical approaches in combination with young talents. At the end of the season Bordeaux came in sixth place and had the chance to compete in the Europa League qualification, which they finished successfully.

The following season was not quite as successful. Due to some injuries and several suspended players the team fell into the lower third of the table. His tactical changes as well as his in-game coaching suddenly became a sign of weakness for the media. Every change was seen a mistake prior to the game.

In search of a fitting line-up and suitable tactics he tried a lot. In February 2016, one month before he was fired, Bordeaux played in five different formations – without any success.

He also lost the loyalty of his team at the time. At least the French press interpreted it in that way and saw big interpersonal problems in public brawls by some players. Even Sagnol himself was suspended for three games after criticizing the referee publicly.

So, what does Sagnol bring to the table? He definitely has the guts to try new things tactically. He likes an offensive and attractive play-style, which is something his team at Bordeaux was not able to implement at the end. With steady surroundings and better players he might be able to have suitable tactical advices for Carlo Ancelotti. But, will the Italian listen? This remains to be seen.



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