The inquest began before Niko Kovac had time to assess the damage. What does this mean for your future, asked an interviewer from German broacaster ZDF.
“My feeling is not important. You’d have to ask those who make the decisions,” he said, in understandably testy fashion.
Bayern’s power brokers certainly have a decision to make. Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Kovac’s former employers Eintracht Frankfurt was a new low in a season that started slowly and is yet to pick up any real momentum. With Uli Hoeness, Kovac’s biggest ally among Bayern’s top brass, set to retire on the same day as the club’s AGM — November 15 — there may be another trough around the corner, for Kovac at least.
There were caveats for the defeat, Jerome Boateng’s early sending off the most obvious, but not for the manner with which the serial Bundesliga champions folded. For most of their seven-year run of titles there’s been an inevitablity about Bayern wins, a clinical ability to dominate and to always find a way. That’s gone, replaced by a sense of vulnerability. Bochum, Olympiacos and Paderborn are among those that Kovac’s men have struggled to put away in recent weeks and the chickens have finally come home to roost.
Though he may not make the decisions about his own future, Kovac is paid to make decisions about his team and he’s consistently getting them wrong. In Frankfurt, the balance of Bayern’s midfield was way off the mark. Thiago, Coutinho, Kimmich, Müller and Gnabry have many qualities but none of them are ball winners. Javi Martinez, who has done that job in some notable Bayern performances over the years, sat watching from the bench, a position that’s becoming increasingly familiar to him.
The bench was also becoming a home from home for Thomas Müller until recently when Kovac bowed to pressure from Müller, others within the club and plenty outside it, and shoehorned the former Germany international in to the same side as Coutinho. Neither player is comfortable wide and both want to take up similar spaces. Furthermore it robs Bayern of the pace on the flanks that Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry have offered so effectively at times this term.
It’s evidence of a flaw that’s dogged Kovac’s time with the Bavarians, the job — and the politics that come with it — often appear too big for him.
As well as the expectations that come with such a big job, the power games at the club are endless. Winning the double would, in most cases, solidify a coach’s position. But Kovac’s tenure still has an unmistakable air of impermanency.
It may not be fair, he’s had to replace some greats and has had some bad luck with injuries this season, but the reality is that he’s not been able to impose an identity on the side and not been able to demonstrate the required courage of his convictions.
He might get away with it domestically — the Bundesliga doesn’t have a truly outstanding side — but it’s difficult to see how Bayern can compete with the best sides in Europe, a major part of Kovac’s remit.
The visit of Borussia Dortmund next week would presumably not be the fixture Kovac would choose to fall before the AGM and international break. Failure to win that one could force action from “those who make the decisions”. Kovac must take control of his own future.
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