There were many reasons why observers could pinpoint current VfL Wolfsburg manager Niko Kovač’s inability to achieve long-term success as head coach of Bayern Munich.
One thing that always stood out, however, was the front office’s reluctance to equip the coach with the tools he needed to do things his way – allowing him to win or lose on his own terms.
In a strange way, the club’s reluctance to work consistently with the coach was an eye opener – and one that has led to a much more collaborative, communicative and inclusive relationship between the coaching staff and front office executives. (although another rough stretch while working with Hansi Flick was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back).
Bayern Munich’s inability to make it work with Kovač helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the 2022/23 club list – which looks pretty incredible at the moment.
Even recently, Kovač told his close friends that he was basically set to fail during his coaching tenure at the club (per Sport Bild, as captured by @iMiaSanMia):
Niko Kovač has told friends in his inner circle that under the current circumstances at Bayern (big investments, coach fulfilling his transfer wishes + his own coaching staff) he would have stayed in charge for more than just 16 months.
Let’s take a look at some of the problems Kovač faced and how they developed for Bayern Munich:
Lack of front office support
After needing Jupp Heynckes to save Carlo Ancelotti’s lackluster run as manager, Bayern Munich signed Kovač – one of the hottest names in coaching at the time – but didn’t managed to provide him with the tools he needed to run the system he wanted. Course.
Bayern Munich didn’t even really allow him to stray from the club’s standard 4-2-3-1 either. When it came to transfers, Kovač had no influence and no say. He was on his own, coaching players he didn’t necessarily want, in a formation he didn’t necessarily believe in at the time.
His eventual dismissal was foreseeable very early on.
More than not receiving support from the front office, this was Kovač’s first big red flag. As a new coach, he was looking to establish a new culture, inculcate some discipline after Ancelotti’s laissez-faire attitude to training, and try to implement a “new working methods” (which included lukewarm water for practice sessions).
This plan broke dramatically.
On the US tour, players rioted, ignored instructions to rest in their hotel rooms and went out to party. Fearing that any type of punishment would cause him to lose the team so early in his tenure (only a few weeks), Kovač was advised to let it go…which caused him to lose the team’s respect anyway. Kovač had neither fear nor respect from the veterans of his team.
At the time, the 2018 World Cup players were all resting at home and not on the circuit, while Rafinha, David Alaba, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Javi Martinez, Sven Ulreich and a host of children represented Bayern Munich in the United States.
Specifically, Rafinha, Ribéry and Alaba – allegedly – organized the mini-
revolutiont late night party. All three wielded power and influence over the younger players on the tour and seized the moment to strip the new manager of his control (unwittingly or not).
Kovač’s inability to relate to these veterans ended up setting the tone for Bayern Munich to take a closer look at communication and player management skills for future signings like Flick and Julian Nagelsmann.
While it might seem hard to believe that anything positive came of it, it let the club know that no manager was going to be able to come in and overpower the veteran squad without major ramifications.
Benching Thomas Müller caused him to lose the support of many fans…and that was the real death knell for Kovač’s tenure. In a strange way, however, Hansi Flick’s trust in Müller ultimately showed why the veteran was so important to everything the team did. It was a tough time for the #MüllerMafia and Müller’s wife Lisa in particular, but this reality check eventually paved the way for the Germany international to reclaim his spot and secure a contract extension.
The absence of the starting XI made Bayern Munich’s hearts latch onto Müller.
The purpose of this post is not to absolve Kovač of blame or fanboy his cause…it’s to show that his tenure has helped put the club on a path to forcing change to move towards his state current.
Kovač won a double at Bayern Munich in his debut season, was fired, then went to AS Monaco where he was successful – only to run into a front office dispute again. Now at Wolfsburg, Kovač has a chance to show that he can still coach, but also that he has changed his ways to be more player-friendly.
If anything, Kovač’s could be announced in Bavaria, but it had an impact in many ways.