FC Bayern are German champions. For the ninth time in a row. A surprise? Of course not, but somehow yes. The fact that the Munich team have once again prevailed says a lot about the relationship between team and coach.
Jérôme Boateng has to leave Bayern this summer. The bosses decided that. David Alaba is also leaving the club. His advisor is responsible for that. And Javi Martínez also has no future in Munich. After nine years of hard physical work, his long assignment with the record champions ends in July. The fact that the 32-year-old Basque has won the only two triples in club history to date, the first even as a stop sign protagonist, is sometimes forgotten. Just like Javi Martínez is now often forgotten. Three identifying figures, gone.
And then there is Hansi Flick. The successful trainer. He goes too. Worn down in the power struggle with sports director Hasan Salihamidžić, but with a seventh title. Nobody before him in Munich has won such a density of triumphs in such a short time. It was a year and a half for head coach Flick, who only replaced the completely exhausted Niko Kovac in autumn 2019 (he was his assistant coach before).
The Croatian had repeatedly worked on Salihamidžić and the power structures when planning the squad. However, it was more of a sporting reason that was responsible for its end. He had lost the culture war between handicrafts (that’s what he wanted) and art (that’s what the club wanted). As well as parts of the team. Among other things, Thomas Müller, who was only an emergency nail for the coach, and Boateng, who was heading towards final insignificance in terms of football.
Flick had taken over this disoriented and completely insecure ensemble. He made a team that had lost its horror into a team that came back all the more terrifying. The longer the past season lasted, the more relentless, invulnerable and defeatable it became. With a sensational Robert Lewandowski, with an outstanding miller, with an outstanding Boateng, with a flick that did everything right, who after the arduous rise to the boss (also because no other, convincing solution was available), over several phases of the interim, too strived for more and more power.
Namely when planning the squad. That this wish is denied him is the great story of his time in Munich. In addition to the successes, of course. It is the power struggle decided to his disadvantage that makes him give up. Even if he has not yet publicly explained the reasons for saying goodbye.
Well, on this Saturday evening, when he had successfully completed his last mission in Munich thanks to a crazy championship gala against Borussia Mönchengladbach (the championship was already decided in the afternoon by BVB’s victory against RB Leipzig), he took a lot of time for its players. He hugged everyone who could be there. Some a little longer, some a little shorter. One who was pressed longer was Lewandowski, who scored three of the six goals against Borussia (currently 39 goals) and continued his relentless hunt for Gerd Müller’s all-time record (40 goals). Flick laughed, as did the players. No surprise in terms of success. And somehow.
Because despite all the fires that were ignited around the team, many of them from Flick, who complained about personnel decisions, the players and coaches proved to be a robust, unpenetrable unit against any unrest and attacks. The coach had repeatedly praised the special spirit of his footballers, emphasized how “awesome” this team is, how much fun this work is. Even if the squad, he said, was not as good as it was last season. Even if this season wasn’t nearly as successful.
But what should the people of Munich reproach themselves for? Sure, to be eliminated against second division Holstein Kiel in the 2nd round of the DFB Cup, that’s an embarrassment. The Munich team suffered the defeat in a phase of the season when they had to do with enormous defensive problems. Most of the time, thanks to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, thanks to Robert Lewandowski and also thanks to their outstanding mentality, they were able to ward off the damage somehow.
Only not this evening. FC Bayern was no longer the crushed and grueling power this season. During longer phases this season, FC Bayern was one who had to suffer for its success. Physically and mentally. With hard-fought victories, with a few (few) bitter bankruptcies.
So also in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Paris St. Germain. A classic if-would-be-bike chain game. If Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry had been operational, yes, then this unbearable usury of opportunities might not have existed. Then maybe you would actually have made it to the semi-finals. But that’s not how it was. And so the usury of defensive Parisians around the astonishing Kylian Mbappé and the also very astonishing Neymar (despite ludicrous aluminum bad luck) was punished narrowly.
The “Boateng case” decided the power struggle
The fact that Boateng made a mad game, especially in the second leg, is one of the bitterest irony moments of the season, the power struggle between the coach and the sports director. Flick would have liked to keep his center-back for another year. Just as he would have loved to work with David Alaba for a longer period of time. His poker with the club went badly and so it was clear early on: Alaba was going (probably to Real Madrid).
But there was a furious and wild daisy game about Boateng: he stays, he goes, he stays, he goes. That’s what Salihamidžić decided in the end. This decision was probably the ultimate broken neck for the coach, who had already reluctantly lost Thiago and Ivan Perišić last season.
At Boateng, however, the situation had finally and unbearably worsened. Flick’s sentence about “acting” as a coach was one that destroyed everything that would have made further collaboration with the sports director possible. Because Flick complained and Salihamidžić was silent, the roles in this play, which was consistently performed from the beginning to the end of the collaboration, became more and more manifest. Hansi Flick, the good guy. Hasan Salihamidžić, the not so good one. The well-tended and institutionalized success model of the Munich-based company with outstandingly strong functionaries and significantly less powerful coaches in creative power was also put up for public discussion. Because of Flick.
This power struggle, which was apparently never open to results, only just culminated in a petition against the 44-year-old. The anger at the sports director, who drove the popular coach into retreat (so the widespread reading), resulted in hatred and agitation. Afterwards, Flick took the offensive on the side of the Bosnian for the first time and made a flaming and emotional plea. “Boundaries were exceeded. That’s one thing that I absolutely disapprove of, that doesn’t work at all! With all the things that Brazzo and I had, we never went into the personal, I was always concerned with the path.”
Only Nübel is responsible for internal attacks
And this path had a lot of stumbling blocks (in brief): new right-back suitable for competitions, Thiago, Perišić, Alaba, Boateng and Alexander Nübel. The substitute goalkeeper who came from FC Schalke 04 in the summer came as a trainee, but is also said to have been lured with the prospect of missions. But that almost always refused in the Flick. A personality with astonishing impact, which has also been causing unrest since the start of office. Nübel and his advisors were the only ones who caused internal attacks.
The situation was repeatedly complained and the pressure increased that something had to change for the top talent. Otherwise the mood in the squad was remarkably calm, despite the losers. Players like Niklas Süle (keyword fitness posse) or Lucas Hernández, who still do not have the regular role they claim for themselves, accepted without complaint if they did not play more often. Even national player Leroy Sané sparked no argument after his “maximum penalty” shortly before Christmas – he was first replaced and then replaced.
The fact that the barely considered last-minute purchases by the sports directorate around Marc Roca, Bouna Sarr and Doulgas Costa never publicly complained, says a lot about how Flick led this team. How he brought the key players around Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Lewandowski, Alaba, Boateng and Neuer behind him. He developed a strong cadre hierarchy that had subordinated everything to success. And seven out of nine possible titles are the remarkable result of this special team, which is now falling apart in the most relevant parts.
“It was a pleasure to be able to work with this team,” said Flick at the end of his last mission.