Why it's time for Bayern Munich to end Niko Kovac experiment
Photo: Man77, CC BY-SA 3.0
Niko Kovac’s Bayern Munch appointment was a clear experiment. The Bavarians buried their ancient managerial ritual for the Croat. Prior, intermediate knowledge of the game and a playboy physique with kinky hair was grossly insufficient. Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the top men at Bayern took a chance that his minor success at Eintracht Frankfurt held promise. After a topsy-turvy start, however, the reigning champions must consider rolling the dice again.
Kovac represented a shift in Bayern's habitual modus operandi. First, his resume was too short by Die Roten's tall standards. The Croat's predecessors were Louis van Gaal, Jupp Henkeyes, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola. Each is a multiple Champions League winner. That makes Kovac's solitary DFB Pokal triumph seem like amateur hour.
He at least emulated Pep Guardiola as a clothes horse. Their styles are different. Pep is a hipster god. Kovac went for elegant, channelling 007. In a time when young, charismatic managers mount an onslaught on Bundesliga dugouts, he was the fashionable choice. The problem is Bayern are meant to lead, not follow the crowd.
Kovac showed genuine managerial chops during his two years at Frankfurt. Together with sharp tactical intellect, his calm leadership worked wonders. Die Adler were grappling for survival when he arrived. His work transformed them into serious campaigners. Having lost the domestic cup to Borussia Dortmund in 2017, the 47-year-old took it away from his current employers this past spring. Snapping up talent that hurts them is classic Bayern at least.
Still, uncertainty hovered over the lofty expectations at the Allianz Arena. The domestic double is par for the course at the Allianz Arena. Every move is scrutinised. A virtual prima donna parade from the board to the dressing room and even the stands have a say. Everyone expects to be heard. Ask Guardiola. For all that, the task of forging a middle-to-long-term renewal programme at Bayern was primary.
After 11 Bundesliga matches, the Croat is overwhelmed. Die Roten are fifth on 20 points, an unfamiliar place for everyone in the south-east. They've picked up six wins but dropped three defeats. Mix in a pair of listless stalemates in which they'd usually walk away with maximum points. They're seven points off the pace already.
Kovac’s reign began strongly with five victories on the trot. That included tough away trips to Stuttgart, Schalke 04 and Benfica in the Champions League. A nightmarish run followed. In between draws with Augsburg and Ajax, came the shocking 2-0 loss at Hertha. The capitulation at home to Borussia Monchengladbach drew supporters' ire. There were injuries but Bayern has a sufficiently deep squad to deny that as an excuse.
Der Klassiker was a perfect shot at redemption. Borussia Dortmund were the early pacesetters, unbeaten in the league but the champions were victorious in the last three derbies. Not only would another triumph halt BVB’s deadly momentum, the gap would narrow to a single point. Kovac spurned the chance.
While critics have lashed out at the team's style of play, the rot goes deeper. The 47-year-old is grappling with his own squad. Sabotage is worse than fighting the opposition. The Croat has so far failed to make the most of his squad’s depth. They struggle for form amid reported dissent in the dressing room. That was the recipe for Ancelotti, Van Gaal and, going further back, Jurgen Klinsmann's dismissal. Kovac acknowledged the internal crisis.
"We must stick together, that's the point. Everyone is under the duty to do all we can so we can be successful with the club. I don't believe it helps when internal affairs are made public. It should not happen. It's much easier when you stick together."
Kovac has clearly lost control of his dressing room. The senior squad members aren't too pleased with his methods, particularly his rotation policy. Kovac is yet to name the same team for consecutive league matches. In the last five, there have been five different line-ups and tweaks to the formation.
Bayern's hierarchy has strongly ruled out sacking the Croat but the veteran players have power, too. Can Hoeness and Rummenigge afford to write off the season then overhaul the squad? Bayern won't be too hasty if they revert to their traditional preferences by choosing a strong figure with multiple Champions League wins to his credit. A certain Frenchman is available.