Ger­many

World Soccer - - Contents - Nick Bid­well

“Bay­ern is a place where you have to be suc­cess­ful. I think it’s an ad­van­tage that I once played for this club and know how they think” New Bay­ern boss Niko Ko­vac

Newly ap­pointed Bay­ern Mu­nich coach Niko Ko­vac could not stop smil­ing in pre-sea­son. And why wouldn’t he be grin­ning from ear to ear? The for­mer Croa­tia and Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt boss now has the keys to a foot­balling jug­ger­naut, a club which has com­fort­ably claimed the last six Bun­desliga ti­tles and should, if logic is re­spected, make it seven.

In a cham­pi­onship where ex­treme com­pet­i­tive im­bal­ance has be­come the norm, Bay­ern sim­ply have too many weapons. Their squad is a medi­ocrityfree zone, stuffed to the gills with world­class tal­ent. They have the knowhow, con­sis­tency and win­ning men­tal­ity. And un­der­pin­ning all that they are the fourth rich­est club in the world, over­flow­ing with TV, spon­sor­ship and mer­chan­dis­ing cash. While do­mes­tic

op­po­nents stut­ter and slip, Bay­ern just press on, rarely mak­ing bad boardroom calls and never los­ing their trade­mark on-field hunger.

Not that the Bavar­i­ans can af­ford to be com­pla­cent this sea­son. In­deed, in cer­tain ar­eas the alarm bells are ring­ing. Golden oldie wingers Franck Ribery and Ar­jen Robben, so cru­cial in the past, are now in last-cur­tain-call ter­ri­tory. They also have far too many mid­field­ers un­der con­tract and then there may be the risk of a World Cup hangover.

Of the 11 Bay­ern men who took part in Rus­sia 2018, not one per­formed con­vinc­ingly for their re­spec­tive na­tions, and Mats Hum­mels, Joshua Kim­mich, Thomas Muller and Robert Le­wandowski will not find it easy to promptly ban­ish those un­der­achiev­ing blues. In­cred­i­bly, not one Bay­ern rep­re­sen­ta­tive scored in the first phase of the tour­na­ment. Com­pare that big fat zero with the 18 strikes Bay­ern play­ers ac­cu­mu­lated at the same stage of Brazil 2014.

Le­wandowski’s state of mind will be of par­tic­u­lar con­cern. Only a few months ago his agent, Pini Za­havi, was mak­ing it plain that the Pole was keen to leave. But with Bay­ern re­fus­ing to coun­te­nance a sale, the pro­lific marks­man has had to row back. How will he re­act to the “golden hand­cuffs” treat­ment?

An­other big Bay­ern ques­tion mark re­lates to Ko­vac him­self. He has not pre­vi­ously worked at a high-rank­ing club and, as ev­ery­one is aware, he was not first choice for the job, with the Al­lianz-Arena hi­er­ar­chy only turn­ing to him af­ter Jupp Heynckes re­fused a sec­ond year as in­terim boss and Thomas

Tuchel opted to set up home at Paris Saint-Ger­main.

The ar­chi­tect of Ein­tra­cht’s shock vic­tory over Bay­ern in last sea­son’s Ger­man Cup Fi­nal, the 46-year-old Ko­vac is by no means a slouch. He knows his tac­ti­cal and or­gan­i­sa­tional onions, is smart and charis­matic, clearly has a flair for pro­duc­ing com­bat­ive teams, and as a for­mer Bay­ern mid­fielder is fa­mil­iar with the pres­sure-cooker at­mos­phere at the club. But will that be enough? The egos at Bay­ern take some han­dling and, on the face of it, Ko­vac and his new team look like a mis­match, with the new coach’s counter-at­tack­ing strat­egy in marked con­trast to the cham­pi­ons’ pos­ses­sion-based ap­proach.

In­ter­est­ing that Ko­vac sees him­self as lat­est gun­slinger in Dodge/Mu­nich. “I’ve just put the first notch on my pis­tol,” he re­cently de­clared, re­fer­ring to Ein­tra­cht’s cup tri­umph, which was his first sil­ver­ware as a coach. “And I hope there will be more notches to come.

“Ob­vi­ously, I’m aware that Bay­ern is a place where you have to be suc­cess­ful.

“I think it’s an ad­van­tage that I once played for this club and know how they think here. Grow­ing up in Ber­lin I learnt how to bat­tle and came to re­alise that tal­ent alone is not enough. The play­ers should fol­low that ex­am­ple.”

Dazed and con­fused in the wake of the coun­try’s World Cup night­mare, fans in Ger­many are in need of a tonic – and noth­ing would work bet­ter than a gen­uine fight for the Bun­desliga crown. Not since Borus­sia Dort­mund won the ti­tle in 2012 has any­one come close to punc­tur­ing Bay­ern’s bub­ble, and even they would prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate a tougher stress test and an end to the fore­gone con­clu­sions of the last six sea­sons – com­plete with an av­er­age win­ning mar­gin of 16.6 points.

The likes of Dort­mund, RB Leipzig, Schalke, Hof­fen­heim, Bayer Lev­erkusen and Stuttgart can­not merely cross their fin­gers and pray for act of god to strike Bay­ern down. The chas­ing pack have to be­come stronger and, whis­per it gen­tly, they do have the po­ten­tial to move on­wards and up­wards.

Schalke and Hof­fen­heim – sec­ond and third last time out – have two bril­liant young coaches in Domenico Tedesco and Ju­lian Nagels­mann. A team with un­mis­tak­able mo­men­tum, Stuttgart en­joyed an ex­cep­tional run of spring­time form un­der coach Tay­fun Korkut, only los­ing once in 14 games. Lev­erkusen have re­cruited with shrewd­ness and vi­sion, bring­ing in teenage Brazil­ian winger Paulinho from Vasco da Gama, Hertha Ber­lin wing-back Mitchell Weiser and Ein­tra­cht keeper Lukas Hradecky.

Af­ter only fin­ish­ing fourth last sea­son, Dort­mund have been busy putting the foundations in place for dou­ble-quick re­newal. New boss Lu­cien Favre – for­merly at the helm of Hertha, Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach and Nice of France – is one of those rare breed of lead­ers who pro­motes both the solid and the swash­buck­ling, es­pe­cially adept at set­ting up light­ning counter-thrusts.

Dort­mund per­son­nel supremo Michael Zorc very much de­serves an A grade for his ef­forts this sum­mer, the fruits of his labours in­clud­ing a tri­umvi­rate of bright young things in French cen­tral de­fender Ab­dou Diallo from Mainz, ver­sa­tile Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt mid­fielder Mar­ius Wolf and Moroc­can right-back Achraf Hakimi on loan from Real Madrid. Diallo, for one, cer­tainly looks a con­fi­dent type, ask­ing: “Why can’t we aim for first-place ?”

As am­bi­tious as ever, RB Leipzig also look in good shape, with Ralf Rang­nick as­sum­ing the dual-role of di­rec­tor of sport and “Trainer”.

Due to hold the fort un­til the ar­rival in the 2019 close sea­son of Nagels­mann, Rang­nick was RB’s coach when they won pro­mo­tion to the top flight in 2016 and re­mains one of the sharpest thinkers in the Ger­man game.

“grow­ing up in ber­lin i learnt how to bat­tle and came to re­alise that tal­ent alone is not enough. The play­ers should fol­low that ex­am­ple” Niko Ko­vac

All smiles...Niko Ko­vac

Shrewd...Lev­erkusen buy Mitchell Weiser

Con­fi­dent.. ab­dou Diallo of borus­sia Dort­mund

Cur­tain call... Franck ribery (left) and ar­jen robben

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