Niko Kovac proving the wrong man for Bayern Munich
Background image: JasonParis, CC BY 2.0
An uncharacteristic poor start to the season left many wondering if Niko Kovac was the right manager for Bayern Munich. The reigning Bundesliga champions have dominated German football for a long time now. Having become used to relatively easy success, it came as a surprise back in November to see the side placed fifth on the league table, 11 games into the campaign.
But that is what can happen when a change at the dugout is effected. It sometimes brings with it uncertainty as the team struggles to grasp the new manager's concepts.
But that did not reflect in the team's performance on the continent. No loss was suffered in the group stage as two draws against Ajax stained a perfect run. In hindsight, Ajax's 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the last round shows the Bavarians didn't do too badly. Yet, doomsday was just postponed. A sterner test waited in the round of 16.
Liverpool needed a narrow 1-0 win against Napoli at Anfield to seal passage to the next stage. But having reached the final of the competition last term, the Reds were automatic favourites this time around. A stalemate at home against the German side in the first leg of their knockout fixture raised hopes at the Allianz Arena. The German champions were expected to finish the job back home. It turned out to be exposure of the manager's tactical naivety and poor attitude.
Bayern looked disjointed and bereft of ideas on the night as the manager stood motionless on the touchline. Although the team forced an own goal from Joel Matip to draw level after the away side had taken the lead through Sadio Mane's brilliance, what followed was an embarrassment. The English side went ahead as Jurgen Klopp set up his team to press high up the pitch.
At a time when the home manager would have responded by taking the brakes off his team and taking the game to the opponents, he retreated to his seat. The players mirrored their manager's disposition by spending more time in their own half than in the opponent's. By the time Virgil van Dijk headed in Liverpool's third goal towards the end of the match, it was clear there was no coming back.
What is worth noting here is that Liverpool was not extraordinary on the night. The Reds beat a team that simply didn't turn up. The players simply weren't up for the fight. And for the opposition manager this was one. Kovac cut the picture of a man was just wasn't ready for the occasion. And it's not surprising.
Coming from Eintracht Frankfurt where his only trophy as a manager came in last season's DFB-Pokal, he is the exact opposite of the ideal Bayern manager. Obviously the club hierarchy took a chance at the Croat’s appointment, it may be time to weigh their options moving forward.
Yes, the former Croatian international has redeemed himself in the league so far by leading FC Hollywood to wrestle back top spot from the fading Borussia Dortmund, but after winning the Bundesliga title for six seasons straight, the Champions League is now Bayern's priority. Unfortunately, the former Frankfurt gaffer has not shown the character required to bring home the coveted prize.
His inability to exert control over the dressing room is a major concern. Comments by some of his players like Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Nueur who both blamed the defensive posture of the team for the loss reveal as much. He just doesn't carry the clout and charisma necessary to motivate top players that have been serial winners for several years.
That makes the 47-year-old the wrong man to take the club forward. Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will need to look elsewhere in the summer for salvation. Fortunately some top names are available. Antonio Conte will be a good fit.
The Italian has demonstrated at both Juventus and Chelsea that he can win trophies. Bayern will provide the perfect opportunity to take it a step further by winning on the continental level. The club hierarchy can also make Kovac a stop gap and go for Klopp once he becomes available.