Who is indispensable to Bayern Munich's success? Fans will debate the relative merits of top scorer Robert Lewandowski or goalkeeping captain Manuel Neuer. Who calls the shots? Well it’s the coach who decides who plays and who doesn't. And nothing happens at the club without CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and outgoing President Uli Hoeneß sanctioning it.
Ask anyone at the record Bundesliga champions to reel off a handful of key figures, though, and you would hear the name ‘Brazzo’ long before they ran out of fingers.
That is the nickname of Hasan Salihamidzic, the man fast setting a new benchmark for sporting directors in the German top flight.
bundesliga.com turns the spotlight on Bayern's frontline strategist, and outlines the fundamental role he plays in keeping the Bavarian giants at the summit of the game.
Watch: Salihamidzic reveals his Bayern blueprint
As his name might suggest, Salihamidzic was born in the former Yugoslavian town of Jablanica, now a bustling tourist destination in modern-day Bosnia-Herzegovina. Balkan politics were considerably more volatile when a teenage Salihamidzic was trying to forge a career in football, though, and when Bosnian-Serb troops laid siege to Sarajevo days after Salihamidzic had made his debut for Yugoslavia’s U16s in 1992, he fled to Germany, where he has spent the majority of his life since.
He speaks German then?
Ja, natürlich! Now 42, Salihamidzic has spent the last 26 years of his life in Germany but for a three-and-a-half-year sojourn with Juventus in Italy. An overlapping right-back or midfield terrier during his playing days, Salihamidzic was at Hamburg for the first six years of his football career before moving to Bayern in 1998. Six Bundesliga titles, four DFB Cups and a UEFA Champions League triumph in 2000/01 followed, but that alone didn't guarantee Salihamidzic a job at Bayern once he hung up his boots…
Watch: Salihamidzic's best five goals
The right fit
Just as being a great player does not necessarily mean you will be a great coach, the same can be said of aspiring sporting directors. But as Rummenigge explained when Salihamidzic was hired in July 2017, he had several arguments that convinced the club their former player was the right man for one of the biggest jobs in football.
“He’s serious and hard-working, but he also has good connections from his time at Bayern and in Italy. That will definitely help him in his role. Moreover, he speaks five languages, which means he can communicate with every player in our squad. He will be an important figure in our football going forward.”
For a club that had been without a sporting director since Matthias Sammer stepped down for personal reasons in 2016, Salihamidzic’s appointment was such a snug fit that he was described as “the final piece of the puzzle” by Rummenigge.
What does he do?
Clubs in continental Europe tend to differ from those in England in terms of their structure. German clubs almost exclusively employ a sporting director and a head coach. English clubs usually have a manager that encompasses both roles.
In Germany, it means duties are split: the coach is responsible for leading, training and picking the team, while the sporting director oversees the whole footballing side, including comings and goings within the squad. In terms of hierarchy within a club, the sporting director sits between the head coach and the chairman.
So for the 2018/19 season, Niko Kovac reported to Salihamidzic, who reported to Rummenigge, who oversees the club as a whole, working in collaboration with president Hoeneß and reporting to the club’s owners – the members.
“He's responsible for the football side of things. He's to be a link between the coach and the team, the coach and the club, to oversee the scouts and also the youth academy,” Rummenigge explained at Salihamidzic’s unveiling.
“He'll also be involved in all transfer and contract negotiations and squad planning, although he isn’t solely responsible there. That’s a group decision involving him, the coach, myself, Uli and [Executive Vice-Chairman in charge of finance] Jan-Christian Dreesen.”
What has he done so far?
Taking up the position just weeks before the start of the 2017/18 season, Salihamidzic’s first major action was the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti as coach in September and the subsequent hiring of Jupp Heynckes until the end of the season, which of course ended with the Bundesliga title.
That year he brought in striker Sandro Wagner from Hoffenheim and secured the signature of Leon Goretzka from Schalke for the 2018/19 campaign. Salihamidzic also looked to ensure continuity with new deals for Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha as the club entered a period of transition. Looking to the future, he handed out professional contracts to Lukas Mai and Ron-Thorben Hoffmann, as well as extensions to Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich.
Besides restructuring the medical and scouting departments, Salihamidzic was also behind the appointment of Kovac as Heynckes' successor, another key decision he took to shape the club's destiny in line with his own and his bosses' philosophy. A decision that resulted in yet another domestic double.
With the loss of the above mentioned veterans in 2019, Salihamidzic began the reconstruction project of the Bayern team. FIFA World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard were brought in to freshen up the defence, while Philippe Coutinho was signed on loan to replace the creativity of James Rodriguez. Fiete Arp and Michael Cuisance are also young signings for the future.
“He’s the best sporting director I’ve experienced here since Uli Hoeneß,” gushed Rummenigge. It is high praise: Hoeneß is credited with turning the club into the sporting and financial powerhouse that it is today. Which begs the mouth-watering question: just how high can Brazzo take Bayern?