At around this time a little over a year ago, Hansi Flick was still running the sports shop he owns in the small German town of Bammental. Since then he has gone from Bayern Munich assistant to head coach to treble-winning mastermind in the space of a few short months.
And as much as that sounds like a rags-to-riches fairytale, to call it such would be to do Flick a disservice. Instead, his story is a rather less glamorous one of hard work, experience and learning – but is no less interesting for it.
A former professional footballer himself, Flick made 104 appearances in Bayern’s midfield between 1985 and 1990, winning the Bundesliga four times. After hanging up his boots he cut his teeth as a coach at local lower-league club Viktoria Bammental between 1996 and 2000, before taking charge of Hoffenheim later that year and eventually steering them into the third division before departing in 2005.
Watch: Hansi Flick's treble winners
It would be more than 14 years before his next role as head coach. But that is not to say Bayern parachuted in an untried novice as a replacement for the departed Niko Kovac in November 2019.
Far from it, in fact. Flick had spent the majority of the intervening years as assistant to Joachim Löw, alongside whom he won the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany, before taking on a role as sporting director at the German Football Association (DFB), and expanding his coaching knowledge by sitting in on training sessions at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.
Clearly, then, Flick had broad experience of a lifetime in the game prior to arriving at Bayern. But the key point here is that many former pros have trodden a similar path and failed in the dugout. So what’s so special about Flick?
For starters, he has a clear playing philosophy – and one that fits in with Bayern's. "When I was a player, it was all about success," he told the club's official website. "You'd win 1-0 any way possible. Today, winning alone isn't enough. I think that's spot on. Of course, it's about trophies in the end. But I can fully identify with the fact that Bayern now has the ambition to delight its fans with more than a 1-0 win."
In concrete terms, that involves employing an aggressive pressing game, with the front quartet in a 4-2-3-1 formation pushing high up the pitch to close down the opposing goalkeeper and defenders. The midfielders and Bayern's own defence also squeeze forward, limiting the room and forcing mistakes – which are then immediately pounced upon at speed.
"Playing with a high back line has been a feature of our game because by doing that we don't allow the opposition any space," Flick said ahead of the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League final.
"Obviously that means the gap between our defence and our goal is pretty big, but the important thing is that we put pressure on the ball. It's important that we cover the ground when a ball is played in […] and it's important that we close down the passing channels. Over the last 10 months we've implemented our philosophy in our games and have pressed the opposition. That's been our guarantee for success."
As true as that may be, having a philosophy is one thing; transmitting it to the players and implementing it effectively is quite another. This is where another of Flick's key strengths comes to the fore: communication.
"Appreciation and respect are the basis, and with this basis you can then speak your mind openly," he said. "You don't always have to agree with me, but exchanging points of view and then implementing them in the sense of the big picture is the only way to succeed in the end."
Watch: Bayern's much-improved defence under Flick
He has found a receptive audience at the Allianz Arena, where numerous Bayern players have hailed his man-management skills as being integral to the team’s improvement.
Jerome Boateng is the latest name to praise the 55-year-old’s personal touch. "I knew I'd get a fair chance under Hansi if I could show that I was fit and could get back into my rhythm," the centre-back recently told Bild.
"That's all I ever wanted and I'm happy I was ultimately able to repay his faith in me. As a person he's very straight with you and doesn’t beat around the bush – but he also demands a lot in return."
That last line is equally telling: as warm and personable as Flick is, he is no push-over either. His is very much an iron fist inside a velvet, Bayern-embossed glove.
"Hansi gives us clear guidelines - not options, but specifics," said Thomas Müller towards the end of 2019/20. "That's why we were able to come back so well after he took charge."
Löw offered a similar assessment of his former No.2: "When it comes down to it, Hansi is hard and disciplined. He stays true to his convictions."
All of which leads to every player knowing where they stand and pulling in the same direction. "I've rarely seen such a close-knit bunch of players as this group," praised Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after the team sealed the treble with victory over PSG in the Champions League final.
"The team is united and even the players who don't play accept the situation because Hansi talks to them," said Löw.
It clearly works. In his 36 competitive games at the helm, Flick has overseen 33 wins, one draw and two defeats. The 1-0 triumph over PSG extended Bayern's unbeaten run to 30 matches and took their winning streak to 21. He lifted the Bundesliga title on 16 June, roughly seven months after succeeding Kovac. The DFB Cup followed on 4 July and the Champions League on 23 August.
After selling sporting goods for 20 years, now he was making sporting greats.
"It's this combination of expertise about the game and a great deal of empathy in terms of sensitive relationships within a team that make him such a good coach," concluded Löw. "[Titles are] the logical consequence of this."
After winning the treble in just nine months, just imagine what Flick can do before his existing contract expires in June 2023…