Vocal Bayern fans want heads to roll, starting with head coach Niko Kovač’s, because the team has suffered four defeats this season. They are all blind to a transition and rebuilding phase.
There are no scientific polls to gauge what percentage of the Bayern fan base is complaining about the team’s results. However, those who see Kovač as personally responsible for a decline in performance are impossible to ignore, whether at a fan club or online.
I will not drop names, but a particular Twitter account published a tweet to compare the current squad’s results with past seasons, starting in 2012-13. After 20 matchdays, the Reds have tallied 42 points and suffered four defeats. It is the worst result in the whole period.
There is only one snag: this a manipulative statistical fallacy.
From 2012 to 2016, FC Bayern had a “golden generation” of superstars at their peak. In that period, a shared backbone powered Bayern’s treble win (2013) and Germany’s World Cup win (2014).
The current edition is nowhere near that level. Two leaders from the golden era are gone. Many active players have faded, going from excellent to inconsistent. Talented youngsters are in the squad, but they need playing time to acquire experience and eventually hit their prime.
Let us deal honestly with statistics. How did FC Bayern fare before they reached the status of world beaters? I will let this tweet do the talking:
2011/12: 41 Points, 5 defeats— Tim Richards (@timothymr) February 4, 2019
2010/11: 36 points, 4 defeats (3rd in the league, 14 points off Dortmund)
2009/10: 42 points, 2 defeats, 6 draws
Comparing Kovac to Bayern’s most successful period is always going to come up short but compared to before that, he’s clearly doing fine
As you can see above, results were somewhat similar to the current standings.
A different phase
Curiously, the man in charge from 2009 to 2011 was Louis van Gaal. For those who have only joined the fan base in 2013, the Dutchman is widely credited for giving the team a new identity. Were you to judge his tenure selectively, only in comparison with better seasons from the past; you would call his work a failure.
Was it a failure? Obviously not. At the time, much work was needed to put the team on solid foundations. Van Gaal did his part by implementing a tactical scheme and promoting youngsters such as Thomas Müller. His successor, Jupp Heynckes, had a tough first season. In the second season, he added dynamism to the playing style. The board provided him with the players needed to win everything.
The current edition of Bayern shares some of those challenges. The “hold the ball until the counter kills you” scheme is broken. Beyond the ageing Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, stars such as Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels have declined severely, especially this season. James Rodríguez appears to be a headcase. Change is crucial to make the team at Kovač’s fingertips more potent.
Critics of the coach forget, avoid or ignore several other realities.
The first is that football keeps changing. If you watched World Cup 2018, you know that defence has played a dominant role in the elimination of excellent attacking-minded teams. If you have watched Real Madrid win their three consecutive Champions League titles, you know that balance between attacking and defending is the current ideal in football. Purely attacking football is out of fashion. Kovač is working on rebalancing, but you do not reach that ideal in six months.
The second ignored reality is that competition at the top of the Bundesliga got more intense. Borussia Dortmund benefit from the arrival of a helluva coach in Lucien Favre. He brought in a wave of hungry, skilled players. Borussia Mönchengladbach have had an injection of new blood as well.
Should FC Bayern have bought a collection of new players last summer? It is not as clear-cut as some may believe. The top brass had a reasonable case on their hands when they decided not to go for wholesale changes. The current squad comprises several stars in their late twenties and early thirties, the prime age during which a focused player can get back to the top. Unfortunately, some of the guys are underperforming and earning themselves one-way tickets to other cities in the next transfer window. Blaming the board for asking these guys to perform under a new coach is not reasonable.
The third reality does not apply to every critic, but it exists. Some Bayern fans lack perspective. People who started watching the team in 2013 or shortly after that do not know what it feels like to not be a Bundesliga winner and European contender. They do not know that you have to sweat and grunt to turn a struggling squad into a world-beating team. Even more importantly, they fail to understand that after a golden era, a decline is inevitable. When you reach the summit, going downhill is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. The next question is “how long will it last.” After that: “how to get back to the top.”
FC Bayern have declined in the past seasons. Managers and coaches have to accept the concept of rebuilding to do it as skillfully as possible. Give the coach the mandate to mold the team. Let him use the young players as much as he likes. Replace declining individuals with fresh legs this summer. Allow a renovated squad to grow, a process that includes losing some matches. That is how you build champions.
Giving the green light to proper reconstruction requires courage. It requires accepting weaker short-term results to play the long game. It means not firing your coach every season, for the sake of stability. It means thinking ahead instead of looking at the past. I do not want my club to become the next Hamburger SV.
We, FC Bayern fans, have been spoiled by tremendous success in the 2010s decade. From a surprising Champions League final showing in 2010 to a treble, to six Bundesliga titles in a row, we had it all. Blips are inevitable. A long-term decline is what the club needs to avoid.
Not acknowledging such sporting realities makes football fans as realistic as the coyote who chases the Roadrunner over a canyon without thinking about the effects of gravity. Hint: falling down a canyon is not a good thing.
Die Bayern are unlikely to win a trophy this season. Niko Kovač has inherited a squad in a more advanced transition stage than he could have expected. Firing him would not change the underlying problems, as firing Carlo Ancelotti did not. In such situations, coaches have to be a part of the solution, and that solution is rebuilding.
Instead of complaining about short-term results, Bayern fans could face the facts. I am ready to see 2018-19 as a relatively lacklustre season in comparison with the golden era. I want my favorite club to build for the next age of success instead of sulking.
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