At the beginning of September, all was running smoothly for FC Bayern München and new coach Niko Kovač. As we approach the end of November, the mood cannot be any more different. The Bavarian boat is rocking, and every man and his dog are having a nibble.
It is not just about the football. FC Bayern would make all the wrong headlines on the pitch in throwing away a two-goal lead over lowly Fortuna Düsseldorf, but all of the big stories are being made off it and behind the scenes. Everybody has their two Pfennigs to throw in, stirring up the pot with gossip and and big dollops of Schadenfreude.
Kovač on the brink
The last couple of months have not been good for Niko Kovač. The Bayern coach has clearly struggled in making the right calls, and has often been guilty of tactical miscalculation. To deny this would be foolish. On the other hand, there are number of problems that run far deeper.
So-called fans, with no real consideration for what might follow, have continually lambasted Kovač on social media. Gossip-raking tabloids such as Bild have simply added fuel to the fire with often unsubstantiated stories of infighting and training ground disputes. The infamous dressing room “mole” has resurfaced.
There is a clear divide in the fan base, with the “Kovač raus” brigade on one side and those who see themselves as more rational and realistic on the other.
There is no obvious recipe for success should the club decide to release the Croatian, and there is no standout candidate to replace him. Unless we are to believe the rumours about former Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger.
The blame game
Fans will always have opinions, and in situations like this the conversation will often get heated. This is natural. Not everybody has the ability or the willingness to step back and see the big picture, and short-term results will often take precedence over long-term plans.
The harsh reality is that this Bayern team is not as good it was. Players are resting on their reputations. Bloated egos are being billed as “player power”. For some fans, the board’s unwillingness to invest in new players is to blame. The squad has been shredded by injuries.
There are so many problems, yet somehow the coach is to blame.
Critics of Niko Kovač have made much of his lack of experience, and his unsuitability for a big club like FC Bayern. But there are plenty of counterarguments to this.
The club has tried bringing in experienced coaches, with mixed results. Let us look no further than Carlo Ancelotti. Even Pep Guardiola, for all his greatness, failed when it really mattered. The other strategy was to look at up and coming coaches like Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann, but we could have ended up in the exact same situation as we are now.
After a couple of bad results, we would have been hearing the same things. “No trophies”. “No pedigree”. “Inexperienced”. “Too opinionated”. “Too young”. “Not respected by the senior professionals”. “Not big enough for FC Bayern”.
I could go on.
The decision to employ Kovač made a lot of sense. He was a former player. He had the Bayern DNA. It was the perfect plan, to blood a relatively experienced coach and turn him into an experienced one. Looking in the long term, it was a wonderful opportunity to build a new legacy. The problem is that implementing this sort of project requires a degree of patience.
When Udo Lattek first arrived in Munich in 1970, he had no big club experience. Having served as Helmut Schön’s assistant with the German national team, he did not even have any leadership credentials. In Lattek’s first season in charge, Die Roten finished in second place.
Had Lattek arrived in Munich today, it is likely that he would have been hounded out within a year.
I will be completely blunt. Kovač has never been given a fair crack of the whip. He has been tied down with a limited squad, and the almost constant trail of injuries has made his task even harder. On top of that, he had to deal with a dressing room that has a well-established and rather grubby record in exercising “player power”.
Return of the mole
In times like this, the subterfuge is taken to absurd levels. Stories find their way out to the gossip-mongering press, kicking off the inevitable Chinese whispers. Right in the middle of this unnecessary drama is the dressing room intriguer, the mysterious “mole”. When the business of managing a football club turns into something akin to a hackneyed plot from a bad spy movie.
Whenever there is the slightest whiff of a crisis, the “mole” rears its ugly head. Not long after that, the likes of Bild spins out the click bait. Dressing room secrets are laid bare, and scabs are picked in public before being turned into festering wounds. The whiff quickly becomes a pervasive stench.
On the eve of the crucial Champions League match against Benfica, we got the latest shitscoop.
New insider story from Bild claims that Niko Kovac made a speech to his players in the preparation for Benfica game, told them that he might be gone soon but that he wanted to do something before. Kovac said he's not to blame and that it was the players who were on the pitch. pic.twitter.com/drRbPwzLHc
— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) November 26, 2018
I have no time for this skullduggery, and would happily bash the “mole” squarely on the head. If a player has a problem with the coach, it has to stay in the dressing room. If there is any dissent from within the ranks, we should have no problem with that player being named, shamed and benched.
The Gelbepresse are already treating tonight’s meeting with Benfica as Kovač’s last game in charge, and far too many people are sucking this nonsense up. Now, more than ever, it is time to get behind the coach and the team.
Weil wir in guten wie in schlechten Zeiten, zu einander stehen.