Since his title-clinching goal in last season's UEFA Champions League final, France winger Kingsley Coman has been enjoying arguably the best period of his career with Bayern Munich and is standing out ahead of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Douglas Costa.
A Hollywood script writer couldn't have planned it better. Paris born and bred, on the books with Paris Saint-Germain from the age of nine, and released by his boyhood club after just a handful of senior appearances, Coman came back to haunt PSG in Lisbon on 23 August 2020, scoring the goal that made Bayern champions of Europe for the sixth time.
"It was the biggest moment of my career so far," Coman recently confided in Le Parisien. "I'd been injured and I worked really hard to come back. It's a day I'll never forget, like being in a dream. Nobody can ever take that final away, from me or my club."
Scoring the winning goal in a major final is a rare privilege, and for 24-year-old Coman it was perhaps made even more special by the fact that he wasn't expected to start. Ivan Perisic had been deployed on the left wing in Bayern's three previous Champions League outings during the summer’s finals tournament, netting in the wins over Chelsea and Barcelona, and there was nothing to suggest he wouldn't keep his place for the final. But Hansi Flick had other ideas.
"I can't exactly say what was decisive for Kingsley in the end," the Bayern coach admitted to Sport Bild. "It was probably a gut feeling. You discuss a lot of things and in the end, as the coach, you make a decision. I like to keep my options open, because so many things can happen. The decision to start Kingsley was only made a few hours before kick-off."
And what a decision it turned out to be. Even if Flick added that starting Perisic or Philippe Coutinho could well have led to the same happy conclusion, his "gut feeling" about Coman proved to be a masterstroke, and the France star has continued to repay his boss's faith ever since.
Watch: Bayern's world-class wingers
In 2020/21, Coman has notched five goals and seven assists in 12 games across all competitions, meaning he has either scored or created one goal for every 67 minutes he's been on the pitch. He produced a standout performance in the Bundesliga clash with RB Leipzig, providing a hat-trick of assists in a spectacular 3-3 draw at the Allianz Arena.
Yes, there are Bayern players who have had a hand in more goals. Robert Lewandowski is off to another blistering start this season, having already netted 15 times, while Thomas Müller and Kimmich are also into double figures for combined goals and assists.
But Coman’s game has not always been about raw statistics; it is as much about his pace and trickery on the ball, the wicked dribbles, the feints, the fouls he wins in goalscoring positions. The hard work he does pressing the opponent high or tracking back to defend. Now, on top of all that, he is making a noticeable impact on the scoresheet as well.
"I've grown in maturity, both on and off the pitch," Coman explained. "I can feel it when I play. I'm always trying to be more varied, more efficient. Goals have become very important. So I'm really forcing my nature, I'm trying to be more selfish! It's clear that the Coman of 2020 is not the Coman of 2015."
Throughout their golden decade together on the Bayern wings, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were always reliable sources of goals, even if they were never the focal point of the Bavarians' attack. Ribery scored into double figures in six of his 12 seasons; Robben did it in seven of 10, twice going beyond 20. And that's without mentioning a joint tally of almost 300 assists.
Up until now, in a career that has often been disrupted by injuries, Coman has never gone beyond 10 goals in a single season. But he is already halfway there in 2020/21, barely a third of the way through the campaign. While nobody is expecting him to keep pace with Lewandowski, one of Robbery's natural successors is nevertheless starting to emerge as a match-winner, one of those rare players who can make the difference on the big occasions.
Consider some of his recent contributions. On Matchday 8, Bayern had their backs against the wall at home to Werder Bremen, and could probably have had few complaints if they had lost the game after Maxi Eggestein's first-half opener. But Coman dragged them level on the hour mark, with a goal reminiscent of his Champions League winner against PSG: a great cross to the back post from Leon Goretzka, and a header into the opposite corner.
It was a similar story the following week, when VfB Stuttgart forged ahead at the Mercedes-Benz Arena through Tanguy Coulibaly, another PSG youth product. The treble winners were somewhat off the pace by their usual exceptional standards, but a player in Coman’s form can always turn the tide when needed.
Defenders know the 24-year-old can go onto either foot, but Coman explained after the game that Müller had been telling him to cut inside and shoot. He did exactly that, and Bayern were soon level thanks to a low finish inside the near post. Then, on the stroke of half time, Coman drove forward from deep, stretching the Stuttgart defence and opening up the space for Lewandowski, who rifled in from outside the area after collecting a perfectly weighted pass from the Frenchman. The rest, as they say, is history, with Bayern going on to claim a 3-1 win.
Coman has now had a direct hand in seven goals in seven Bundesliga outings this term, his best return at this early stage of a season. Admittedly, his numbers are similar to those of fellow wingers Gnabry and Sane, who have been involved in five and six goals in the league respectively. But take out the three that both contributed on Matchday 1 against Schalke, when Bayern ran riot in an 8-0 thrashing, and Coman is currently the most consistent of the wide boys. And as was the case in Lisbon, Coman has Flick’s backing and confidence, with the coach starting him in six of the last seven league games.
Watch: Coman helped Bayern turn things around against Stuttgart on Matchday 9
The Frenchman has also been Bayern's go-to player in Europe this season. He bagged a brace and assist as the treble winners began their Champions League defence with a 4-0 thumping of the famously solid Atletico Madrid. After the match, Flick said he'd told his No.29 that his man-of-the-match performance was "the benchmark" against which his future outings would be judged.
Coman put in another big-game showing in the fourth match of the group stage, a 3-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg. He scored to make it 2-0 and assisted Sane for the third at a key moment, just after Marco Roca's dismissal. The result guaranteed Flick's men top spot in Group A and a place in the last 16 with two games to spare. Tellingly, Coman was one of the key players rested for the subsequent trip to Atletico - along with Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Leon Goretzka - ensuring he would be fit and firing for the visit of Leipzig in the Bundesliga.
It is that sort of game where criticism has previously been levelled at Coman for failing to deliver. While he has never lost a Bundesliga fixture against Leipzig or Borussia Dortmund, he had also failed to notch a goal or assist in 10 meetings with Bayern's biggest domestic rivals.
That changed in rather spectacular fashion on Matchday 10. The defending champions may not have won the game against Die Roten Bullen, but Coman again proved his growing importance by setting up all three of their goals, one for Jamal Musiala and two for Müller. A hard-fought 3-3 draw kept the Bavarians two points clear at the top of the table.
One man who has frequently leapt to Coman's defence is France boss Didier Deschamps. "Kingsley has always been a top player," the FIFA World Cup-winning captain and coach stated recently. “He has become more clinical. Bayern are also taking good care of him, because his style of play means he gets fouled a lot."
The latter statement is a reference to Coman’s lengthy list of injuries. The 24-year-old's left ankle has been particularly troublesome, and unfortunately kept him out of the France squad that lifted the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Further knee and thigh issues mean he has never managed more than 24 league appearances in a season. But three goals and five assists in his last four Bayern outings show just what Coman is capable of when he can string a run of games together.
On current form, and provided he stays fit, the Bayern star looks all but guaranteed to make Deschamps' squad for UEFA Euro 2020, when the tournament finally takes place next summer. As an added bonus, France’s first game in Group F is against none other than Germany at Coman’s home ground, the Allianz Arena.
"I wasn't lucky enough to win the World Cup in 2018," Coman reflected. "Euro 2016 in France was a great adventure, but it didn't end well for us. Hopefully we won't stumble at the final hurdle this time. Another title, after the World Cup, would mark our superiority in recent years."
If there’s a player who knows a thing or two about superiority right now, it is Coman. Representing the world champions and Europe’s best club team, he has to perform consistently or risk losing his place.
And that is exactly what he has done. Despite winning nine consecutive league titles at only 24, the Frenchman is clearly hungry for more, and he looks fitter and more determined than ever. Even with Gnabry and Sane, as well as the experienced Costa on loan from Juventus, Coman has usurped the lot and claimed the title of Bayern’s Wing King.
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