Niko Kovac pays for jittery autumn as Bayern Munich weigh up options - but top target Jurgen Klopp is out of bounds
German champions suffered their worst defeat in a decade and are four points off top spot in the Bundesliga
At the end of August, Bayern Munich thrashed Mainz 6-1. They began October with a 7-2 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur.
On the last day of the previous Bundesliga season, celebrating one part of their domestic double, they hammered Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1. Scoring goals had never really been the problem under Niko Kovac.
Kovac lost his job within hours of Saturday’s 5-1 defeat at Eintracht and now has time to reflect on the unhappy symmetry of it all. Eintracht sealed his fate, six months after Eintracht were there at his big title-winning party as Bayern manager; the same Eintracht where Kovac worked until June 2018, building the reputation that first persuaded Bayern to take him.
There had been an element of risk in appointing an up-and-coming manager, and Kovac made a shaky start, but he oversaw a stirring comeback in the title race in 2018-19 to skirt past pacesetters Borussia Dortmund.
A second jittery autumn, peppered with those high scorelines but scarred with defensive lapses left no lifeline. “I am not naive, I know how this business works,” said Kovac as he left Bayern's training ground for the last time on Sunday.
The fixture list had some bearing on the decision of Uli Hoeness, who will step down as Bayern president in 10 days time, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the long-serving CEO, and director of football Hasan Salihamidzic to cut short the Kovac tenure. Bayern, fourth in the table, host Dortmund on Saturday.
Preparations for Der Klassiker, and Wednesday’s Champions League match against Olympiakos will be led by Hansi Flick, who was on Kovac’s staff and worked as an assistant with Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
Flick may well still be in command after this month's international break. Bayern are mindful that a hurried appointment of a new manager from outside the club would be complicated, and although there are two or three giants of the profession currently out of work - Massimiliano Allegri, Jose Mourinho, and even Arsene Wenger - all of those would have reservations about parachuting in mid-season.
Allegri left Juventus in the summer, insistent on a year’s sabbatical. Bayern have very strong doubts about Mourinho - too combative; a patchy record at his last club, Manchester United - and if they are to approach, in the short-term, a more experienced coach, Ralf Rangnick, the 61-year-old architect of RB Leipzig’s rise, is the leading candidate.
Erik ten Hag, of Ajax, has strong backing among Bayern’s executives. The Dutchman coached Bayern's reserves for two seasons and guided a young Ajax team to an improbable Champions League semi-final in May, with an exhilarating 3-3 draw with Bayern and knockout wins over Real Madrid and Juventus en route. Ten Hag intends to complete the current campaign with Ajax but is open to moving on in June.
Five leading contenders for the Bayern Munich vacancy
Bayern's usual procedure after a mid-season managerial sacking is for Hoeness to dial up his friend Jupp Heynckes and ask him to step in, as he did post-Jurgen Klinsmann in 2009, after Louis Van Gaal in 2011 and and after Carlo Ancelotti in 2017.
Heynckes is a de luxe firefighter. But he is now 74, and was adamant that the 2017-18 title-winning season would be his last. With Hoeness stepping towards retirement, the Heynckes manoeuvre is unlikely to be resumed.
As for the manager Bayern desire most, he is out of bounds. Jurgen Klopp, for many years the club’s nemesis at Dortmund, and the victor over Kovac when Liverpool eased past Bayern in the last-16 of the Champions League, is at Anfield for the long-term, enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League.
Another German, Thomas Tuchel, has Paris Saint-Germain on top of the French league, but Bayern believe Tuchel might become available should PSG again fail to reach at least the last four of the Champions League.
Joachim Low, the Germany maager, could become a target once Hoeness is no longer shaping strategy.
For Flick, the immediate priority is to restore balance to a team that have not kept a clean sheet in eight matches, and whom Eintracht ambushed, with Bayern down to 10 men after less than 10 minutes when Jerome Boateng, left vulnerable as the last defender in Kovac’s hyper-attacking line-up, was sent off.
Naturally, Robert Lewandowski scored for Bayern, as he has in every match he has started this season - he’s on 20 goals already - but by then his side were two down. Not even Bayern’s supreme centre-forward could save his manager’s job.
Updated: November 4, 2019 04:27 PM