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Barcelona or Premier League? Flick to return a changed man

Barcelona or Premier League? Flick to return a changed man

Guillem Balague's BBC Sport column

From one of Europe’s most-wanted managers to the first coach sacked by Germany – Hansi Flick’s career has been a rollercoaster over the past few years.

Following a spectacularly successful spell with Bayern Munich, on 10 September he made history when he was dismissed by his country after a 4-1 friendly defeat by Japan made it three losses in a row.

For the German federation it was the last straw of Flick’s two-year reign, coming after their elimination from the 2022 World Cup group stage, where they lost their opening game against Japan.

When he left Bayern to take over as national team coach, he did so having achieved one of the greatest runs in the club’s history, winning two Bundesliga titles, the Champions League, the German Cup, the German Super Cup, the Uefa Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

When Flick’s Bayern won the Champions League in 2020 they were the first team to do so with a 100% record.

He coached Bayern to the Treble, the second in the club’s history, and won 83% of his matches in charge, managing an average of three goals per game.

The 59-year-old is now looking to get his managerial career back on track with a number of top clubs from around Europe interested – including Barcelona and from the Premier League.

He will return a changed man. A hip replacement has left him pain-free following years of discomfort and lack of sleep.

His renewed fitness has allowed him to touch base again with his oldest friends including Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and his former colleague Danny Rohl, currently looking to turn things around at Sheffield Wednesday, plus Roberto de Zerbi at Brighton.

Bayern Munich throw Hansi Flick in the air after winning the Champions League
Hansi Flick was Bayern Munich manager from 2019 to 2021

Would Barcelona be a good fit for him?

One place many are saying could be his next port of call is Barcelona – and he is very much on the shortlist to replace Xavi who will be leaving at the end of the season.

It wouldn’t be a problem for him to settle in Spain because he has, for the past 15 or so years, enjoyed holidaying on the small Spanish island Formentera. While he is not currently fluent in Spanish, it would not take him too long to master the language.

What he will be looking for wherever he goes is a place to start a new project, where he can enjoy the support of everyone at the club or at the very least the top man, which at Barcelona would be Joan Laporta.

At Bayern he enjoyed a wonderful relationship as a friend and colleague with former player and board member Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Bearing in mind that Barcelona is a football club replete with politics which seems to be permanently living through a messy civil war, it is not an ideal scenario for him, although not necessarily a deal breaker.

The reason for that is he is no stranger to internal conflict and, despite his successes with Bayern, it wasn’t all plain sailing at the German club.

He decided to not renew his contract with them and opted instead for the post of Germany head coach because of his differences with then sporting director at the club, Hasan Salihamidzic, who was sacked in May 2023.

In a perfect world Flick would love to join a club where peace and harmony reign.

What he would find if he joined Barcelona is a club where just about everyone – from supporters to directors, to a totally demanding media – expects the new person at the helm will finally be the new ‘Pep’ they have been looking for since Guardiola left the club in 2012.

They will then proceed to analyse and scrutinize every single comment he ever makes, and the style he plays. Flick offers modern, high-tempo, offensive, pressure-high football, and collective quality. But he will never be Pep Guardiola. Nobody will.

If he does end up in the Barcelona hot seat, he will look to reassure everyone at the club that it is a family, but as we all know, families fight.

This one more than most, and Flick would be most concerned to ensure that when the inevitable arguments ensue, he enjoys the confidence and backing of those that make up the winning side.

How would Flick settle in Premier League?

Flick is a big admirer of the Premier League and has huge respect for the level of coaching, which he believes is astonishingly good.

The Premier League would be a great fit for him and the media would love his transparency and honesty.

Wherever he has worked as a coach he has been respected by the media, not just because of the respect he shows everyone, but because in addition to being seen as a good coach, he is generally seen as a good, fair interviewee.

Unlike many other managers, including present incumbent at Bayern, Thomas Tuchel, Flick will always look to boost his players, not talk them down. Flick can be tough but will always present a united front to reinforce his players.

He can do all that in perfect English.

What kind of coach is Flick?

Flick is very much a product of the school of footballing obsessives.

While Guardiola and De Zerbi are fixated with possession of the ball and controlling the game, his ideas are more concerned with mixing a direct approach with possession.

Despite the importance of organisation and working to set plans, he is also keen to ensure his players can play to their full potential and not be hamstrung by too many rules and regulations. He understands how important it is that all players should be allowed to express themselves on the pitch.

In that philosophy he probably allies himself more closely to the ideologies of someone like Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

He is as comfortable dealing with the top personalities in the game as he is bringing in youngsters, and believes in a philosophy that demands honesty from all parties.

Flick believes every player needs to know what they have to work on if they want to improve. It was him and his team that spotted the raw talent of Jamal Musiala, who looks on his way to becoming one of the top world talents and who Flick drafted into his Bayern squad when just 17 years old.

And while his work with Germany was far from an unqualified success, he can be proud of some of the young players he brought into his squad, including Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz, AC Milan defender Malick Thiaw and Brentford forward Kevin Schade.

But as much as Flick loves to work with young players, he is also very aware that a mix of ages is important. He knows that not everyone can play like Musiala and that some players need guidance and parameters to be able to be the best they can be.

He likes to play a pressing game, with and without the ball, and is happiest when having possession in the opponent’s half.

As a coach, despite living through an era that is becoming more and more driven by data, Flick strongly believes in trusting his instincts, something that shone when his Bayern Munich side won the Champions League in 2020.

It was a brave decision for him to drop Ivan Perisic from his starting line-up before the final against Paris St-Germain and bring in Kingsley Coman, especially after the Croatian had performed so well for him in previous rounds.

But Flick felt Coman’s desire against his former club would make the difference and, as much as his decision hurt Perisic, even the Croatian said after the game that it was the right one.

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