It’s not easy being the coach of Bayern Munich.
On paper, one might say it’s one of the easier jobs in the world, considering the Bavarian giants have been champions of Germany for eight consecutive seasons now. However, it is because of that success that the expectation is higher than ever. Hans-Dieter Flick has managed to embrace the expectation and take the club to the next level. At the age of 55, top-level management might seemingly have come late in his career, but he has always been around.
Bayern are the very definition of a well-oiled, modern football club. Combining shrewd recruitment with a controlled environment for youth development, they are well set for the future. However, as we saw under Niko Kovac’s tenure at the club, you may have a world-class ship, but it’s important that you have a captain who has world-class vision as well.
Flick is that captain.
Following spells in the lower leagues of German football with Victoria Bammental and Hoffenheim, Flick went to Red Bull Salzburg to work as the assistant of both Giovanni Trappatoni and legendary midfielder, Lothar Matthaus. Trappatoni was the director of football at the time and shared Matthaus’ managerial duties in his capacity.
The German tactician is also a former Bayern player, having played for the club during the late ’80, enjoying domestic success, though not so much in Europe. Flick played under Udo Lattek, one of the greatest managers of all time. Lattek wasn’t a revolutionary tactician, but was a great man-manager, which is a very important skill for anyone hoping to make it to the very top. In an interview with RUND magazine about his career, Flick said, “(Lattek) always made his players feel a little bigger than they actually were.”
The rest of the interview itself is an insightful read into why Flick has been a manager in the making for years now. After working with the likes of Trappatoni and also being assistant to Joachim Low for Germany, there is a lot of knowledge within him. Also interesting is that he has had directorial positions with Salzburg as well as the German national side, becoming the sporting director after the 2014 World Cup and stayed in role until January 2017.
The dream reunion of Flick and Bayern would come in 2019 when he returned to his former club as an assistant to Kovac for the start of the 2019-20 season. After winning just five of ten games last season, Kovac was shown the door by Bayern. After winning a league and cup double in his first season, Kovac just couldn’t elevate the team to the required standard.
Flick’s first game was Der Klassiker against Borussia Dortmund, a nervous prospect for any manager, let alone Flick. However, he made an emphatic statement in his very first game and Bayern won the match 4-0. At the time, Bayern were fourth in the league standings. Taking the club from there to a treble success including the UEFA Champions League is quite an astounding feat.
Under Kovac, the squad did not look sharp enough and were always there for the taking, as several teams found out early on in the season. In stark contrast, Flick’s Bayern are a side to be feared. What has changed? Well, to answer in one word, everything.
Some of the best teams in football history are known to be proactive and hungry for the ball. There have been sides who have found success with less of the ball as well. However, Flick’s formula for success demands that his team keep the ball and regain possession as soon as they lose it.
The initiative to win the ball back starts at the very top, with the duo of Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski wreaking havoc against opposition defences. Leon Goretzka and Thiago are two fantastic ball-carriers as well and are just as adept at winning the ball back. Fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and Alphonso Davies also press quite high and give their opponents very little time to breathe on the ball. Tactically, this Bayern side is a treat to watch.
They win the ball back high up the pitch and hurt opponents to devastating effect. According to data from StatsPerform, Bayern had the highest amount of goal- and shot-ending turnovers in the Bundesliga last season. A high turnover is defined as a sequence of play that starts from within 40 meters of the opponent’s goal. Bayern’s pressing is also underlined by the fact that they had the second-lowest PPDA (opposition passes allowed per defensive action) with 9.9, only bettered by Bayer Leverkusen who had 9.5.
More than anything, this is down to Flick’s meticulous preparation before matches and his closeness with the players. In modern football, it is important to be innovative, but is just as important to be able to communicate your ideas with the players who need to execute them. Flick has mastered this delicate balance and therefore managed to get the best out of his players during a historic season for them.
In Lewandowski, he has the best finisher in world football. In the likes of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, and now Leroy Sane, he has three very intelligent and tactically flexible wingers. In Goretzka and Kimmich, there are two midfielders who are set to dominate central midfield for a long time. At the back, Flick has players who are comfortable in various tactical setups. With the likes of David Alaba, Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Pavard, he has three players who are comfortable both at full-back, as well as center back. Alphonso Davies has made the left side his own; he is not only an energetic presser of the ball, but works tremendously hard up and down the flank as well.
The most-significant piece of the Bayern puzzle, though, is Müller. A player unlike any other across Europe, he is key to Bayern’s attack as well as a proactive defence. The German possesses an elite understanding of space around the penalty area and has a telepathic understanding with the players around him. He managed to assist a record-breaking 21 goals this season, a testament to his own ability, as well as his that of his teams.
This is not to say that Bayern are the perfect product. There are still gaps in this team that need to be bridged. As they found against PSG in the Champions League final, they are there for the taking against the very best teams. The high press works well on most occasions, but it can lead to their own downfall against sides of real quality. Whilst this would be an area of serious concern any other time, with Flick at the helm, the Bayern hierarchy are relaxed and trust in the German’s vision of the game.
It is rare when both the administration of the club and the players so unanimously blend with a new man as the boss. With Flick, things are looking good and appear set to be that way for years to come. We may yet see another era of Bayern dominating both on the home front as well as in Europe, as Flick looks to bring home the silverware once again this year.