The day earlier than the largest sport of his lifestyles, In line with Mertesacker used to be referred to as right into a room at Germany’s non violent, beachside coaching facility a few hours out of doors the Brazilian the town of Porto Seguro and used to be informed he would now not be enjoying.
Joachim Löw, the nationwide crew supervisor, coolly defined that he used to be going to make some adjustments for Germany’s quarterfinal fit towards France. Despite the fact that Mertesacker used to be a number of the maximum skilled contributors of his squad, and even though he had performed each and every minute of the 2014 Global Cup, he used to be going to be one in every of them. Jérôme Boateng would shift into the middle, with Philipp Lahm restored to his function at proper again.
At that time, Mertesacker — regarded as and amiable and working out, as clever a participant as Löw will have was hoping to have in his squad — admits that his “ego got here out a little bit bit.”
“I used to be in surprise. I used to be considering: I believed those guys depended on me’ I used to be asking, ‘What about this? What about that.’”
That used to be the purpose at which Löw stopped speaking, became to his assistant, and allowed Hansi Flick to take over. Flick at all times knew simply what to mention.
From the out of doors, the have an effect on Flick has had since taking fee at Bayern Munich in November after the firing of Niko Kovac verges at the miraculous; for sure, the Eight-2 destruction of Barcelona on Friday evening that represents its (present) zenith appeared to include a slightly of the divine.
Below Kovac, Bayern used to be checklist. A fin de siècle air had settled at the membership. The squad simmered with unrest, and its executives fretted over whether or not the time had come to ease waning stars, iconic figures like Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller, out of the crew.
Flick used to be, as they noticed it, a placeholder. He had performed for the membership within the 1980s — as an “competitive, difficult and truthful” midfielder, in line with his former teammate, Olaf Thon — and so he understood the “tradition” of Bayern, because the crew’s approaching leader government, Oliver Kahn, put it.
Since his retirement, he had constructed an outstanding training résumé and a quietly lofty recognition, in particular over his 8 years as an assistant to Löw with Germany. Certainly, Bayern had appointed him in the summertime of 2019 partly for the reason that membership felt he could possibly step in if it had to push aside Kovac.
But it surely used to be now not designed to be a long-term answer. Flick used to be 54 when he returned to Bayern, and he had now not controlled a crew in 14 years. Even then, his revel in used to be in Germany’s decrease tiers: He had left Hoffenheim in 2005 after failing to win promotion to the second one department.
When Flick used to be appointed as Löw’s assistant, Mertesacker admitted that there used to be some skepticism a number of the avid gamers. “Hesitancy, I’d say,” he mentioned. “After all he used to be a participant, however you wait to peer what he can carry.” To Bayern, which shared one of the most similar reservations, Flick used to be there to stay the seat heat, to not occupy it.
Inside weeks, even though, it used to be obtrusive that Bayern didn’t wish to fear about Mauricio Pochettino’s salary calls for or whether or not Julian Nagelsmann may well be coaxed clear of RB Leipzig. Flick would finish the season with a revitalized crew, a win document that dwarfs that even of Pep Guardiola — 33 video games performed, 30 gained, plus a Bundesliga identify and a German Cup.
Flick took over when it appeared Bayern used to be completed as a power in Europe. On Friday, it produced what’s for sure probably the most jaw-dropping results of the season, and a efficiency so devastating that it is going to have introduced Barcelona to the tip of an generation. The transformation, between then and now, between that crew and this, is outstanding.
Despite the fact that those that know Flick smartly — those that, like Thon, performed along him and those that, like Mertesacker, labored underneath him — don’t appear fairly as shocked as they could be. So far as they’re involved, there’s no nice thriller right here, no secret spell, no innovative tactical twist he has unearthed.
As a substitute, they are saying Flick’s nice energy is what made Löw flip to him in that room in Brazil and ask him to assist Mertesacker perceive his resolution. “He’s very humble, he has an excessively human sense, an actual social competence,” Mertesacker mentioned. “He has a real pastime in you as an individual. He isn’t afraid to turn his personal vulnerability. And that’s contagious.”
That day in 2014, as Mertesacker wrestled together with his unhappiness, Flick reassured him, assuaged his doubts, informed him that issues would possibly exchange once more for the semifinal. He emphasised that what used to be maximum necessary used to be what used to be excellent for the crew. “He’s an unbelievable communicator,” Mertesacker mentioned.
That’s the similar revel in Arne Friedrich — a member of Germany’s squads on the 2008 Ecu Championships and the 2010 Global Cup — recalls. “He’s very open, very fair, even with regards to vital evaluations,” mentioned Friedrich, now the carrying director at Hertha Berlin. “He’s taking time with avid gamers. It’s not simply ‘paintings, paintings, paintings.’ He’s very original. And that’s the maximum necessary energy a trainer may have.”
Kahn — a board member at Bayern — places it extra succinctly. “He at all times is aware of simply what he has to mention to avid gamers, particularly in tough moments,” he mentioned. “He is aware of find out how to deal with avid gamers.”
That can be probably the most vital talent any trainer at a membership like Bayern may have. Bayern’s squad is stuffed with high-profile, high-earning stars. Despite the fact that the membership’s recognition as “F.C. Hollywood,” a spot by no means greater than an afternoon or two from some form of public fallout or simmering mutiny, has waned, a considerable portion of a Bayern trainer’s activity remains to be managing the delicate politics of the dressing room.
This is a function wherein Flick excels. Mertesacker credit him now not handiest with setting up traces of verbal exchange between the avid gamers, the training workforce and the remainder of the back-room workforce — “so everyone who wanted the guidelines had the guidelines” — however with serving to to foster the crew spirit that carried Germany to its Global Cup victory in 2014.
“He used to be the only, I believe, who informed Jogi Löw at all times to reward the substitutes,” he mentioned. “You don’t reward the primary crew. You reward the fellows who didn’t play, those who labored arduous all week and create the surroundings.”
Friedrich sees a similarity in Flick’s method to that of Jupp Heynckes, the one trainer in Bayern’s historical past to win a league, cup and Ecu treble. “Taking a look from afar, Heynckes had that skill to construct a excellent crew chemistry,” he mentioned. “You by no means used to listen to about one participant at the bench complaining. It kind of feels to me that Hansi is identical.”
Partially, that can be right down to the relationships Flick has with a lot of his avid gamers. “He is aware of Neuer and Müller from the nationwide crew,” Kahn mentioned. Others, like Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry, are acquainted from his time because the German Soccer Affiliation’s technical director. He had a head get started on development bridges.
That’s not to mention that Flick has now not modified anything else about Bayern’s taste. Kovac’s way used to be reactive: He spent coaching periods drilling his squad of extremely proficient folks of their defensive tasks, making a local weather of frustration.
Flick’s emphasis, as a substitute, is on what they may be able to do with the ball, encouraging avid gamers to assume extra about find out how to use their skills. If anything else, it has advanced Bayern’s work-rate — handiest Liverpool presses extra in Europe’s best 5 leagues — and it has served to revive the sheen to avid gamers like Müller.
There’s a authentic trust, in Munich, that Lisbon might but give you the high-water mark. For such an enthusiastic talker, Flick’s profession has been a quiet one. He has spent a lot of it clear of the limelight, an affiliate and an assistant. Mertesacker, for one, by no means were given the affect he used to be particularly fascinated about being “the primary guy.”
Now, even though, he’s two video games from the brightest glare football can be offering, two video games from any such success that brooks no debate. Thon, for sure, is in certainly that his time has come.
“Bayern has the standard,” he mentioned. “They’ll win the Champions League, in public, and he’s going to be observed as an excellent trainer.”