Bayern Munich love an unlikely managerial hero. In 2013, Jupp Heynckes was a veteran holding the fort for Pep Guardiola and ended up winning the Treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League.
Now it’s the turn of Hansi Flick. Appointed in November after Niko Kovac was sacked for losing 5-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt, the interim boss has won 14 of his 17 games so far to put pressure on the Bayern board to appoint him on a permanent basis.
Tuesday night’s superlative 3-0 Champions League win at Chelsea, the day after his 55th birthday, was a culmination of all his good work over the last four months. Emerging talents Alphonso Davies and Serge Gnabry looked world class, senior figures Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski back to their peak.
Bayern were positive with 16 efforts on goal and 63 per cent possession. They were together, highlighted by the brilliant no-look assist by Lewandowski for Gnabry. It seems a long time ago that Kovac, in his final team talk, criticised Gnabry for losing the ball too cheaply and Jerome Boateng for not being clever enough.
Lewandowski, who has 11 goals in six Champions League games this season, has especially praised the new coach’s openness at a club often chastised as FC Hollywood because of its internal disagreements and office politics.
‘He is honest and direct. The players noticed that immediately and he also works very well tactically,’ says the Pole, who has 39 goals this season.
It’s a remarkable run for Flick whose last job in German club football was 15 years ago with Hoffenheim before he became Joachim Low’s assistant with the national team and later joining the backroom team at Bayern.
If he can lead Bayern to the Champions League or even an eighth Bundesliga title in a row – they were in fourth place when he took over but are now top ahead of RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund – it would be a brave man to overlook Flick for a bigger name like Mauricio Pochettino.
Flick has modernised Bayern. He demands the team press higher up the pitch, has pushed the defence further forward to be closer to the rest of the team and pin back opponents, and placed the emphasis on attack. They have scored 26 goals in eight games since returning from the winter break in January.
It’s worked because of the respect the squad have for Flick, particularly those who worked with him at the 2014 World Cup. More individual stars like Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic know they have to buy into the team ethic or be left behind.
Flick has been rewarded for giving youth a go. Davies, a 19-year-old Canadian international, has been a revelation at left back. He set up Lewandowski’s goal at Stamford Bridge and showed eye-catching speed to twice overtake Mason Mount when the Chelsea player was breaking for goal.
Davies’ form has allowed David Alaba to form a new partnership in the centre of defence with Boateng who has appreciated the Austrian’s mobility.
Perhaps the most remarkable turnaround has been made by 30-year-old Muller who looked on his way out of Bayern at one stage after struggling for form.
Flick has helped him recover his mojo. At Stamford Bridge, it was the Muller of old, a bright and clever forward, finding space between the lines or timing those late runs into the penalty area.
‘We know what the players are around us are doing,’ says Muller. Flick also views him as an on-pitch lieutenant and the player has responded to the responsibility. He’s running as much now as he ever did in his career.
The Bayern squad has always been deep with quality. Right back Benjamin Pavard is a French World Cup winner. Midfield playmaker Thiago Alcantara was once courted by Manchester United and Manchester City. Gnabry continues to amaze how he couldn’t get a game for West Brom under Tony Pulis. Manuel Neuer’s role is crucial. If Bayern play a high line, there is no better sweeper-keeper to snuff out the danger of a long ball in behind.
The fact they failed to sign Leroy Sane or Callum Hudson-Odoi last summer is no longer the issue it once was.
From being in crisis under Kovac, Bayern are now genuine contenders for the Champions League, last won in 2013. They face a fight at home with Erling Haaland-inspired Dortmund but they are top by a point.
Lewandowski’s decision to pass to Gnabry rather than shoot himself at Stamford Bridge summed up the united mood in the Bayern camp at the moment. FC Hollywood is selfish-free.