Barcelona v Bayern Munich: 'A power seeker who is full of empathy' - who is Hansi Flick?

By Constantin EcknerGerman football expert
Hansi Flick (second from left)
Hansi Flick (second from left) has led Bayern to the league title, the domestic cup and the quarter-finals of the Champions League in his first few months in charge

A year ago, Hansi Flick was a nobody in international football. Now he is three games away from winning the Champions League with Bayern Munich.

Flick's Bundesliga champions face Barcelona in Friday's quarter-final, looking to take a big step towards their first Champions League triumph since 2013.

He stepped up from the assistant coach's role last November, replacing Niko Kovac in the wake of a 5-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt - Bayern's heaviest Bundesliga loss in 10 years. At the time, Bayern were fourth in the table. The following month, they slipped as low as seventh. But Flick led a recovery that has delivered another league and cup double and now has his eyes on the biggest prize of all.

How did he land Germany's dream job?

Being Bayern Munich's head coach is the dream job in German football, given the vast resources, a reliable board, and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

But Bayern have made a few unsuccessful decisions when hiring head coaches over the past decade. First, a man with an almost unparalleled international reputation in Carlo Ancelotti left after a bit more than a season. Then Kovac was ousted after 16 months.

When the club looked for Kovac's replacement, Bayern's board could not quite find a 'big solution', so instead they opted for Flick. Seen as merely a stand-in at first, the 55-year-old surprised many by going on to secure the job permanently.

At first glance, Flick's low-key public persona and unimpressive CV might have made him appear a charming outsider who could never do more than fulfil caretaker duties. However, looking at Flick closely, you see someone with fierce ambition, a savvy networker and power seeker. "He is down to earth, but certainly not a naive Mr Nice Guy," says a source that worked with Flick at the German football association.

Flick is driven by his competitive nature and hates losing more than anything else.

In the shadow of Joachim Low

Hansi Flick (left) and Joachim Low
Hansi Flick (left) and Joachim Low helped guide Germany to World Cup success in 2014

Flick's quest for greatness could have ended very early. Between 2000-2005, he managed TSG Hoffenheim in Germany's third division. After failing to get promoted with the team, he was fired.

At that point, Flick, with little head coach experience, could have disappeared into amateur football obscurity.

But, instead, he benefited from his network in southern German football and, after a brief stint at Red Bull Salzburg under Giovanni Trapattoni, took a job as Germany's national team assistant to Joachim Low in 2006.

Flick willingly stepped into the shadow of Low and stayed there until 2014 - winning the World Cup at the end of his spell - before being promoted to sporting director of the German FA and later working briefly as chief executive at Hoffenheim.

A reason for his decision to sign with Bayern last summer and become an assistant coach to Kovac was possibly that he didn't want to be a boardroom official. It's very likely that Flick's instinct told him Kovac's days at Bayern were already numbered.

Flick had been involved at the highest levels in German football for more than a decade, yet even informed Bundesliga fans didn't know much about him when he was announced as interim coach.

He has been smart about not overexposing himself. He takes actions strategically, when he believes they have the most impact. The most striking example of that came after a match last autumn when he offered Javi Martinez, who was going through a difficult spell, a hug and a sympathetic ear - for all camera lenses to capture.

Being the one that could watch from the shadows for years, he knew that he could have walked away, portraying the merciless coach that dismisses feelings and demands performance. He didn't.

Players have a say

Hansi Flick (left) and Niko Kovac
Hansi Flick (left) was named assistant to Niko Kovac (right) in July 2019

Flick worked with Low for eight years and learned how to manage a high-level group of players by talking to their hearts, manipulating their minds, and improving the team spirit.

He has seemingly adopted these techniques at Bayern. Despite receiving the chance of a lifetime, Flick has not been an aloof leader. He realised that Bayern's squad was falling apart in the light of that crushing defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt.

After taking over, he assembled key members of the team and wanted to know what they thought about the failures of the previous weeks and months.

They were all unhappy with the low-intensity tactics Kovac had implemented. Flick reacted immediately, ordering his team to go back to a high press and high defensive line.

He and his players wanted to recapture the magic of the successful 2012-13 Champions League campaign, when Bayern overpowered their opposition, squeezing the life out of them with relentless counter pressing.

The real test comes now

Flick is often compared to Jupp Heynckes, Bayern's head coach in 2013; both are empathetic in the dressing room; neither chase the spotlight unnecessarily.

What separates the two is that Heynckes had plenty of success as a manager before arriving at Bayern - winning the Champions League with Real Madrid in 1998.

Flick can put the 2014 World Cup on his business card, but he wasn't the man in charge. He has to prove that he can sustain the pressure of these next few days and complete his story as the man that came out of the shadow to surprise the football world.

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