As recently as five years 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 hugely decorated club legend and now Germany head coach.
And as much as that sounds like a rags-to-riches fairy tale, 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.
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.
He stepped down from his role following that triumph and accepted a position as sporting director at the German Football Association (DFB), and expanded his coaching knowledge by sitting in on training sessions at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.
Flick resigned in January 2017, but became managing director at Hoffenheim later that year, although he only remained in the post for eight months. He returned to Bammental, his wife's hometown, to spend time with his family and continue overseeing the running of his sports shop.
It was certainly an unorthodox trajectory prior to being given one of the most demanding coaching jobs in the world, but there is no doubting that Flick had broad experience of a lifetime in the game before arriving at Bayern.
And the key point here anyway is that many former players 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 fit 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 would 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.
Watch: Bayern's sextuple
"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: How Flick improved Bayern's defence
He found a receptive audience at the Allianz Arena, where numerous Bayern players hailed his man-management skills as being integral to the team’s improvement.
Jerome Boateng was just one of many to praise the 56-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 told Bild, having been largely on the fringes prior to his appointment.
"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 86 competitive games at the helm, Flick won seven trophies. He oversaw 70 wins, eight draws and only eight defeats in total, and lifted his first Bundesliga title roughly seven months after succeeding Kovac in the Bayern hotseat. That was followed by successes in the DFB Cup, Champions League, the Supercup and the UEFA Super Cup - completing an historic sextuple no less - as well as the 2020/21 Bundesliga title.
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."
Flick himself took over from Löw at the helm of the Germany national team after UEFA Euro 2020. It was always going to be difficult following in the footsteps of a World Cup winner and the longest-serving coach in the country’s history, but Flick made a mockery of the record books.
He won his first eight matches in charge by an aggregate score of 33-2, smashing the previous best start by a Germany boss (five wins by Löw), and went unbeaten in his opening 13 fixtures at the helm.
Flick takes Germany into the 2022 World Cup with a record of 10 victories, five draws and only one defeat from his 16 matches. He looks to be working his magic on a team once more and takes the four-time world champions to Qatar with that familiar feeling of German expectation again.
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