Just four games stand between Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick and one of the most golden debut seasons in the club’s history.
Talk of legendary head coaches in the Bavarian capital tends to revolve around four names among Bayern Munich’s fan base.
The old school reference Udo Lattek’s unprecedented success, the new school highlight the dominance of Pep Guardiola, while Jupp Heynckes and Ottmar Hitzfeld have both been put on a pedestal.
Just over nine months on the hot seat and Flick’s name is already on the fringes of the debate.
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Bayern Munich players lift their head coach Hansi Flick (above) after securing the domestic double
Since taking over from Niko Kovac in November, the 55-year-old has restored pride by releasing the shackles on a side that had suffered an identity crisis on the pitch under his predecessor.
A domestic double was his reward, but now Flick is facing up to the challenge of a continental proving ground that has been the downfall of many before him.
Bayern are an elite club built for success. They have the finances, facilities and famous names that often produce the lazy argument from neutrals that anyone could claim silverware at the helm in Munich.
There’s no merit, but it does hint at years of German dominance fostering an environment where only head coaches who thrive in it can achieve longevity – just ask Kovac or Carlo Ancelotti. 32 games, 29 wins and 100 goals in and Flick’s reign has already eclipsed both of theirs.
His dynamic style was the perfect tonic to the pragmatism under Kovac which produced one of Bayern’s most humbling nights in Europe since their title win in 2013. The fact Liverpool went on to win the competition was of little relief.
No endorsement was stronger than that of CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who credited Flick with restoring a philosophy that “stood for possession, dominance on the ball, a strong positional game and lots of goals.”
November 2, 2019 — It was a historic moment for the city of Berlin as Hertha and Union clashed in their first ever top-flight derby. Sebastian Polter clinched a tight 1-0 victory for the hosts, but the match was marred by ugly scenes in the stands. Hertha ultras launched fireworks onto the pitch and Union ultras attempted to storm the field.
November 3, 2019 — Bayern Munich looked in trouble following a 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 10. Off the title pace by four points, the club decided to part ways with under-fire coach Niko Kovac. It proved to be the right choice, as replacement Hansi Flick went unbeaten for 20 matches to seal an eighth straight Bundesliga title.
January 18, 2020 — The biggest transfer of the Bundesliga proved to be Borussia Dortmund’s capture of Erling Haaland. The 19-year-old Norwegian made an immediate impact off the bench as he netted a game-winning hat trick to hand Dortmund a 5-3 comeback victory over Augsburg. Haaland went on to score 13 goals in just 15 games.
February 11, 2020 — When Hertha Berlin appointed Jürgen Klinsmann as coach, not many saw the partnership ending well. Three wins in just ten games signaled his time in charge would be short, but no one predicted the chaotic nature of his departure. Klinsmannn announced he was leaving the club via Facebook, blindsiding his bosses and making a mockery of the club in the eyes of media and rival fans.
February 29, 2020 — These protests were about much more than just billionaire Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp, who has cut a controversial figure in his bid to circumvent the Bundesliga’s 50+1 ownership rule. Several clubs voiced their opposition to the DFB, due to what they saw as a breach of trust in their relationship with fan groups. Bayern Munich’s game at Hoffenheim ended in farce.
March 13, 2020 — As COVID-19 spread across Europe and Germany, unprecedented lockdown measures were brought into society and the Bundesliga. Before the competition was suspended, however, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cologne played the first Bundesliga game in front of no fans on March 11. It was the last game until football returned on May 16.
May 16, 2020 — There were mixed feelings among fans as the Bundesliga came back, but the DFL was adamant that the financial future of several clubs depended on a return. Games behind closed doors, known as ‘Geisterspiele’ in Germany, was the only way forward and overall it has proved a successful experiment. What’s the plan for the new season though? How long can football continue without fans?
May 26, 2020 — Heading into Matchday 28, there were just four points between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Der Klassiker was therefore a final chance for Dortmund to mount a serious challenge on Bayern’s title monopoly. But a Joshua Kimmich wondergoal and a controversial penalty call steered Bayern to a 1-0 win and all but ended any title race.
June 13, 2020 — Paderborn’s Klaus Gjasula not only suffered relegation with his club Paderborn, but the 30-year-old also copped a Bundesliga record not many would be proud to hold. Gjasula, playing in midfield, collected his 17th yellow card on Matchday 31 – the most any Bundesliga player has received in one single season.
June 16, 2020 — Bayern were pushed further than they have been in the past eight years, but still they did enough to seal yet another Bundesliga title. With two games to spare, they beat Werder Bremen 1-0 on Matchday 32 through a goal from who else but Robert Lewandowski. They finished the season with 13 straight victories, an incredible achievement.
June 30, 2020 — At 17 years and 34 days, Florian Wirtz became the league’s youngest ever goalscorer when he netted for Bayer Leverkusen against Bayern Munich on Matchday 30. He took the title from previous record holder Nuri Sahin, who scored for Dortmund at the age of 17 years and 82 days in 2005. With Kai Havertz’s future up the air, could Wirtz become Leverkusen’s next superstar?
Flick has succeeded where Ancelotti and Kovac failed in striking a balance between the ruthlessness of Heynckes’ second stint and Guardiola’s possession-based structure. And he’s achieved it while keeping those with greatest influence happy.
“The last time we were this well drilled was under Pep Guardiola,” Thomas Müller told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Everyone has been allowed to add a personal touch to their position based on preferences, strengths and weaknesses.
“The role was always clear though. There were no ifs, buts or maybes. That’s why we were able to come back so well after he took charge.”
Read more: Opinion: Thomas Müller is Bayern Munich’s most important player
The question now is whether Flick can deliver what Guardiola couldn’t. After all, the lack of a Champions League title remains the pesky asterisk next to the Spaniard’s name in the Bayern annals.
Thomas Müller (left) speaks with Hansi Flick (right) during a German Cup game in February
Few Bayern head coaches have been dealt as strong a starting hand for getting their hands on the continent’s most coveted piece of silverware in their debut season.
Flick has called for reinforcements of a squad that was forced to adapt and stopgap. However, it’s a collective of players that features seven World Cup winners and wouldn’t be out of place at a major international tournament.
Bayern is in the midst of a 17-game winning streak in all competitions that dates back to February, which includes the 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Champions League last 16 in March. But there’s a treacherous road ahead for the German champions.
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Either Napoli or Barcelona will provide the opposition in the quarterfinals. Should they advance out of the last eight, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Lyon or Juventus potentially stand in their path towards a sixth European crown.
“Of course, you can state objectives, but it’s a long way to them,” Flick said in a virtual press conference on Monday. “Our next one is to beat Chelsea. We dealt with the league and cup perfectly, and now it’s about doing something special. But first, our full focus is on Chelsea.”
That statement shows Flick is well aware that, while domestic success is expected at Bayern, the Champions League pulls the strings of their deepest desires and can be the making or breaking of head coaches.