In the coming weeks, Europe’s managerial merry-go-round will start to spin once again, as several of the game’s top coaches find themselves with troubling levels of job security.
In Germany, the first major managerial casualty of the season has been taken at Bayern Munich.
Niko Kovac’s career with Bayern was bookended with Eintracht Frankfurt. The Croatian moved to Bavaria after his Frankfurt side dispatched Bayern from the DFB-Pokal final in 2018. After a disastrous 5-1 defeat this past weekend, Kovac finds himself without gainful employment once again.
With less pedigree than previous incumbents, Kovac’s reign as Bayern manager never really convinced. A 2018-19 league and cup double was only achieved by rapid recovery from a poor first half of the season. In Kovac’s final defeat, the problems with the team were clear: They are defensively weak, a lack of movement stifles passing opportunities, and their tendency to pump wide balls into the box is not befitting of an expansive top-tier team.
Now, the frontrunner appears to be a former Premier League behemoth: Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho has been filling his hours with TV punditry and gambling commercials since his departure from Manchester United last December. The Portuguese has the kind of resume that would suit the 29-time German champions. He has won three of Europe’s top five leagues, he boasts Champions League titles and has delivered major silverware at every club since he emerged with Porto in 2002.
“Mourinho would bring a certain glamour to the club and the Bundesliga,” said former Bayern star Michael Ballack back in the summer, when Mou was first linked to Bavaria. “It's probably easier for a club to get top stars [with Mourinho].”
Club legend Bastian Schweinsteiger has also talked up Mourinho’s credentials. “I can imagine Mourinho in Germany,” he told German tabloid Bild. “I remember he was always asking me about Bayern and the Bundesliga. During our away games, there was always Bundesliga on TV. He really knew every single player, even from the smaller teams. He was also learning German.”
In many ways, Mourinho’s tactical pragmatism, ability to organize a defense and tendency to get the best out of big-name players would be a breath of fresh air post-Kovac.
The self-anointed “Special One” savors the opportunity to take on jobs in different leagues and would undoubtedly jump at the chance of achieving something his former enemy Pep Guardiola never could: Champions League success with the Bundesliga giants.
In April, Mourinho refused to put himself directly in contention for the job, but he didn’t exactly rule himself out. “I can only say that Bayern is a giant club,” he teased. “I can only say I want to win my ninth league title and third Champions League title.”
With Bayern only four points off the pace in the Bundesliga, and fully in contention in Europe, Mourinho would be able to make an immediate impact if the club chose to act quickly.
There are, of course, several reasons why the Bayern board are not stumbling over themselves to bring him in.
For starters, Mourinho is a manager who requires significant financial backing to achieve his goals. He is the highest-spending manager of all time, having dropped over $500 million on transfer fees in his unsuccessful Manchester United tenure alone.
He is also a cantankerous personality, who isn’t afraid to disagree with his superiors, nor publicly criticize his players.
He has also been critical of the Bundesliga in the past. “I could choose another club in another country where to be champion is easier,” he said in 2015. “Maybe I will go to a country where a kitman can be coach and win the title.” The “kitman” in this thinly veiled dig being Guardiola.
Mou’s failure at Old Trafford — and the manner in which form deteriorated rapidly in his time at Real Madrid and second Chelsea spell — may also concern the Bayern bigwigs. As will the perception that his brand of soccer is outdated in the modern era.
Most soccer fans regard Mou’s style of play to be inherently negative. His blueprint is to close down space, force errors and attack on the counter. The term “parking the bus” has been launched in his direction on more than one occasion.
Successful sides in recent years have adopted a high-intensity, high-pressing style. Guardiola evolved his aesthetically pleasing Barcelona tiki-taka to a pressing game when he moved to Germany — and the mantra of Jurgen Klopp’s “heavy metal football” still resonates within the league.
Mourinho’s side’s, meanwhile, tend to lack intensity. There is a concern, therefore, that his style may not be suited to the Bundesliga.
Accusations that we live in a post-Mourinho soccer society may also concern the other club he’s being linked with: Arsenal.
Speculation of a return to the Premier League has intensified after reports that he met with the Gunners’ head of football Raul Sanllehi. With a midweek Europa League draw against lowly Vitoria Guimaraes extending Arsenal’s winless run to four matches, Emery’s departure looms.
But if fans are frustrated by Emery’s dispiriting style of play, Mourinho may not offer much of an improvement.
On all this evidence, Mourinho appears to be an unsuitable candidate for Bayern and Arsenal. But this may be doing him a disservice. Right now, he could potentially boost both teams.
The accusations of negativity are not entirely fair; His first Chelsea team were thrilling going forward as they scored 72 league goals in each of his first two seasons. His ability to create overloads and blitz the opposition with a burst of goals in quick succession has been a joy to watch on some famous European nights.
In September, his former Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon backed his return: “He isn’t outdated. I just think he needs the right club. I’m sure that you’ll see Mourinho be a part of a great club again.”
Mou could certainly do a good job at Arsenal, but the great club at which he may thrive is probably Bayern. Not only will Germany provide him with a fresh challenge, away from the scrutiny of the British press he apparently despises, but they will give him the best platform to attempt to claim a third Champions League title.
His style may have its critics, but his pragmatism may actually be welcome to settle down a side like Bayern, who could utilize target man Robert Lewandowski in the same manner Chelsea did Didier Drogba.
Mourinho would know how to settle a defense that has conceded at least twice in every match since Oct. 1. His style can make the most of Bayern’s excellent wide players, in the mold of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff in his first Chelsea side. And Mourinho can bring the star power that may attract bigger names to the club.
The appointment of a man who started his career in the game as a translator at Barcelona would be a gamble. But there are plenty of reasons to suggest Bayern should roll the dice.
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