Hans-Dieter Flick up next – but what then?

Justin Separator November 4, 2019

The Kovač brothers are gone, Hans-Dieter Flick is their successor. So far, so simple. It has become common practice to promote the assistant coach after the former head coach is history. In this case, the assistant is one who joined Bayern just last summer and is therefore relatively unencumbered by the past.

But Flick will not be Bayern’s long-term solution. And the question of who will follow is a complicated one. There are still seven months to go this season. A long time, which Bayern might try to cover with an interim solution other than Hans-Dieter Flick.

Potential scenarios

1. The preferred choice is not immediately available.

As we have already noted in our earlier piece on the release of Kovač, there seems to be mutual interest between Erik ten Hag and FC Bayern. According to two independent sources, several agents already sought contact with ten Haag. Another Club from the Bundesliga allegedly wanted to hire him as well but got the impression that ten Haag was set on the idea of returning to Bayern and could not be swayed. This leaves the question of how convinced Bayern are of him. Are they convinced enough to wait for him for another seven months (as ten Haag will not leave his job at Ajax before the end of the season)?

Irrespective of how reliable these information are, ten Haag will certainly occupy one of the first places in Bayern’s ranking. He speaks German, knows the club well and has been cultivating a style of football at Ajax that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and a lot of Bayern players like Kimmich and Neuer have been missing at Bayern. Ten Haag’s teams’ passes have always a message.

But we should not hope for Ajax doing Bayern a special favor now. The club did not want to put obstacles in ten Haag’s way, or so it could be heard. But a move in the ongoing first half of the season seems very unlikely as it would put Ajax’s reaching their season’s targets at risk. Even a move in the winter could become complicated although the time for all parties to prepare makes this a little bit more likely. The biggest factor in this will be how quickly Ajax is able to find a replacement for ten Haag. A move in the winter would considerably shorten the time of Flick as interim coach. Should it come to pass, it might already be the best case scenario for Bayern. But what if it does not?

1.1 new coach in the summer – is Flick ready to be the boss?

As much as Flick is a good coach, as much are doubts warranted if he is able and willing to serve as head coach for seven months until the end of the season. The World champion assistant coach never sought a spot in the limelight. He did his important work in the background. He got a lot of experience working in the shadow of his head coaches from where he was able to add important impulses for the coaching team.

However, he already had a spell as head coach at TSG Hoffenheim from 2000 to 2005 in Germany’s third and fourth division. At 1.59 points per game, he did not gain a particularly outstanding record.

So there are two major questions to consider with respect to “Hansi” Flick: how long is he intended to be head coach? And: does he want to be one at all? One reading of the current events is that Flick was hired with a view to promoting him to head coach in case Kovač should be fired. This would add a whole new layer of meaning to Rummenigge’s statement in the summer that Flick was a very important signing. Any ideal solution, however – irrespective of ten Haag – would be to keep the duration of Flick’s employment as head coach as short as possible. Because he could still be valuable for Bayern as an assistant coach in the future, whereas his time might be prematurely cut short if he turned out to be unsuccessful as head coach. Perhaps the opposite happens and Flick turns into a success story now and remains in the job longer than most people expect. Yet, this does not seem to be particularly likely and there is also the open question as to who will complement the coaching team until the summer.

1.2 Another interim solution than Flick hardly possible

Considering this, one might conclude that other interim solutions than Flick are also possible. But most of the rumors that quickly popped up after Kovač’s sacking must be regarded as impossible. José Mourinho, Arsène Wenger and Ralf Rangnick are much too established and proud coaches to make themselves available as temporary makeshift arrangements for seven months. All of them would be wanting to stay on permanently if they were to join Bayern. So for all intents and purposes we can rule out that any of these three is going to join Bayern on a temporary basis.

Wenger, arguably the most hotly debated of the three, had problems establishing a compelling possession game in his later stages at Arsenal, while Mourinho raises doubts as to whether his acerbic personality will go down well with Bayern’s alpha males in management. According to our information, “the special one” is not in the running anyway. A hasty and rushed decision in the coaching question just for the sake of hiring a big name could set Bayern back for months and years. They will have learnt from Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment.

Another option for the remainder of the season is Miroslav Klose. He knows many of the players well, is still young enough himself to be able to relate to the needs of the players from his own experience and could collect crucial experience for his future career in his seven months as head coach. But the same as Flick, for him too there is a risk that this assignment might impede his future career rather than help it. Moreover, he had already rejected his promotion to U19 head coach earlier this year. It seems doubtful that he is going to accept such a disproportionately bigger promotion now. He also does not yet have the required DFB coaching certificate to become a Bundesliga head coach.

2. Instant long-term solution?

As we have already said, it will be quite a challenge for Bayern to find an ideal long-term successor to Kovač right now. Even though there will be an international break in a week from now, it is difficult to imagine that there is a realistic candidate who is both suitable for Bayern as well as available and willing to take over now. Erik ten Haag is still tied to Ajax, and there are the aforementioned doubts about Wenger and Mourinho.

This leaves Ralf Rangnick, who many journalists have singled out as their favorite next to ten Haag. What speaks for the 61 year old Rangnick is that he has been quite successful in almost all his employments during his career and has proven that he is strategically and tactically versatile and adaptable. Bayern could benefit from a strong-minded outside-the-box thinker like his. On the other hand, Rangnick represents a different kind of football than Bayern is used to. If they were to hire Rangnick, they would first have to make the the deliberate decision to buy into his aggressive RB style: strong focus on gegenpressing, attacking at high pace, high work rate, a lot of sprints. This would also necessitate changes to the composition of the squad. If Bayern were to go for Rangnick, they would have to go lock, stock, and barrel. Rangnick does not do half cocked.

Then there is Massimiliano Allegri, who has extraordinary capabilities, is very experienced, and would be a good fit for Bayern. But his appointment can be ruled out straightaway because he only speaks Italian. Insufficient language skills are a complete no-go at Bayern and rightly so. The ability to make oneself understood linguistically is a crucial prerequisite for a successful coach. A possible appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, who has come under fire at Tottenham recently, suffers from the same drawback, but he speaks English and Spanish at least. 

Pochettino instead of ten Hag?
(Image:  Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Pochettino prefers a very offensive brand of football, but just as Rangnick’s, his game too is based on a very high (gegen-)pressing. It is at least questionable if he were the right man to remedy Bayern’s shortcomings in positional play. Nevertheless, his style should be a better match for Bayern than Kovač’s. Another name in contention is that of Mark van Bommel, who is enjoying quite some success with PSV Eindhoven at present. However, his style of football appears to be too similar to Kovač’s to fit Bayern’s profile. 

One really far stretched idea would be the signing of Lucien Favre. The Swiss coach is struggling at Dortmund. However, the troubles the BVB has in offense despite the quality of their squad, should rightfully be a concern for Bayern. The inactivity of his team and his total lack of emotions make him a long shot. Even though the current assessment of Favre is worse than it should be.

Conclusion

After going through the list of candidates, one eventually ends up with ten Hag and Rangnick. There is no surefire pick. But the package of ten Haag seems a perfect match. Even the Hoeneß camp should be satisfied with his history at and identification with the club.

At Ajax ten Hag didn’t only gain experience, but led an individually inferior squad to the Champions League semifinal. The Dutch is the perfect example agat a coach doesn’t always need the best talent to succeed.

His signing could be a small step on the way back to the mid-2010s. His philosophy is inspired by Guardiola’s juego de posicion, while also incorporating aspects of the classic Dutch totalvoetbal. Looking for the fly in the ointment, one might say that a coach from Ajax is somewhat a step down from the European elite teams. However, with this as the benchmark the possible alternatives would fall back to the likes of Ancelotti and Heynckes: name, experience and titles would be given greater weight than possible development and a clear strategy.

In signing Rangnick the club would have to restructure. The current squad is not built for his style of play and would need some turnover. On a positive note, Rangnick is an experienced coach, who has a preferred modus operandi but is is tactically flexible and could start a new era at Bayern as an outside-the-box thinker, just like van Gaal did in 2009.

Ten Hag seems to be the better fit for the club’s ways. Following the quick sacking of Kovač, the club now faces a huge decision. If ten Hag is only available in the summer, Flick would need to bridge the gap for seven months. Something that might make Rangnick, who is available now, the more likely choice. But even if ten Hag were to make himself available earlier, he wouldn’t get the chance to spend a whole preseason working with the team. However, signing him would once again align the coach with the clubs style of play. A tough call. Another talking point is the appointment of a new coach as a potentially last big conflict between Rummenigge and Hoeneß.

Our view: It all depends on whether the club wants to wait on ten Hag becoming available.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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