Bayern Munich are some way off the pace in the Bundesliga and the long-awaited overhaul is far from complete for the league's commercial leaders, says DW's Tobias Oelmaier. Hope for the future lies in an ex-star.
Four defeats, 33 points and third place. You'd have to turn back a fair way in the Bundesliga history books to find such a poor first half of the season for Bayern Munich. Though he only oversaw two of those defeats, coach Niko Kovac was asked to pack his bags after a 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt — the Bavarians' highest league defeat for a decade — along with his brother and assistant Robert.
Kovac was regarded as an Uli Hoeness man. The former Bayern president is said to have pushed for his favored candidate despite significant misgivings from CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Kovac won the double while playing for Bayern, beat them in the German Cup final with Frankfurt as a coach and, above all, was available 18 months ago, unlike the sort of big names Bayern had employed before him. But it just didn't work out.
The Croatian coach wasn't able to become the figurehead for the signposted change. He had no recognizable game plan of his own or, as today's terminology has it, philosophy. He was also unable to connect with his players with the warmth of Jupp Heynckes or the authority of Pep Guardiola. A World Cup winner indoctrinated in Bayern's Mia San Mia doesn't just take instructions from anyone.
So now Hansi Flick is allowed to try sitting on the coach's bench and using the tactics board. He is, after all, a World Cup winning assistant coach and was assigned to the Kovac brothers' staff at the beginning of the season. Now he has the trust of Bayern's bosses, at least until the end of 2019-20.
Few treble winners remain
But does he really fit with the notion of an overhaul? The euphoria that came with the treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League in 2013 is long gone. Back then, the team still seemed hungry, fiery and young enough to shape German football for years to come. And it did. Seven titles in a row speaks to that. But on the European stage, the gap to the best from England and Spain was widening.
Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, among those who won the World Cup in 2014, have retired, Mats Hummels is back in Dortmund and Arjen Robben and Frack Ribery, the difference makers on the wings for a decade, left the club in the summer as a result of their age. Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Müller remain from the top players of days gone by.
James and Coutinho fail to ignite
They haven't been able to find adequate replacements in Munich for some time and in the summer of 2018, the purse strings remained firmly drawn. James Rodriguez, who joined on loan form Real Madrid, didn't hit the heights all too often and Coutinho, on loan from Barcelona, also hasn't fully found his feet. A few nice moments, nothing more. Instead, under Flick, Müller has regained his confidence and strength. Whether he'll stick around after this season is unclear though, he wants to wait and see how the situation develops after he was almost written off by Kovac.
Those purse strings were loosened this preseason though. In addition to Coutinho's loan fee, the champions invested in several other players. Benjamin Pavard has quickly established himself as a dependable and versatile defensive presence while injury has denied Lucas Hernandez the chance to prove himself. Another loanee, Ivan Perisic, is there when you need him. But that won't be for much longer, should the arrival of Manchester City's Leroy Sane finally materialize. That potential transfer also has an effect on Coutinho. Not even the prosperous Bavarians could afford two fees north of 100 million euros.
Sane could be a vital piece in the new Bayern puzzle. Joshua Kimmich's increasing importance on the pitch is another, as is the improvement in Serge Gnabry and the currently-injured defensive leader Niklas Süle. But these players have yet to prove whether they can really cut it at the top level in Europe and win the really big titles. Especially when the Bundesliga is not even enough.
The long arm of Hoeness
It'll also be interesting to see how things develop among the club's top brass. In mid-November, Hoeness stood down from his position as president after 40 years at the club, interrupted only by his prison term. Many say it came too late. His successor in office and also as chairman of the supervisory board is Herbert Hainer, ex-boss of Adidas. Hainer is only slightly younger than Hoeness and is considered close to his predecessor. It's hard to imagine that the two of them won't regularly exchange views on club matters.
The same applies to Hasan Salihamidzic. Until the end of 2019, he served as sporting director but he was promoted to Chief Sports Officer at the start of 2020. Salihamidzic, who rarely cuts a very happy figure from the outside, is also said to be a Hoeness apprentice. As a result, not much is likely to change at Säbener Straße at first. Especially since Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will remain chairman of the board of directors for another two years.
Hope comes in the shape of Kahn
The real excitement will come when Oliver Kahn is given his chance. The club's goalkeeping icon will be appointed to the board of directors in the new year and eased in to his role as Rummenigge's successor at the end of 2021. The time frame is partly a result of Kahn's existing commitments but he is a figure whose words should carry weight at Bayern.
Anyone who knows him from his playing days or as a TV pundit knows he's the kind of personality who could replace Hoeness. In this respect, it will be good for him that the transformation process is taking place within the club. Kahn won't have to constantly be compared to his overpowering predecessor, to Uli Hoeneß.