Suddenly interim coach of Bayern Munich after Carlo Ancelotti's dismissal, Willy Sagnol boasts all the attributes required to steer the Bavarians into calmer waters: he knows the club inside out and has himself coached at the highest level.
Almost nine years at Bayern as a player ended with the agony of a crippling Achilles injury in February, 2009, when he was just 31. But the former full-back, who contributed to five Bundesliga titles, four DFB Cups and a UEFA Champions League final triumph — the 2000/01 penalty shoot-out win against Valencia came in his first season at Bayern — has not basked in the reflected glory of his silverware since hanging up his boots.
Watch: Ancelotti's final Bundesliga game as Bayern coach ended in a 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg
Sagnol was perhaps always destined to find himself in the dug-out as he was always one of football's most considered and thoughtful of players. "Unlike the other kids, I didn't want to be a professional footballer," admitted the man whose first name is his father's tribute to the great Netherlands international Willy van der Kerkhof. "My thing was to become commissioner of police." An arresting statement from a man who had such a career in the game, but also indicative of his character.
Captain of his first club, AS Saint-Etienne, before he was 20, Sagnol was no ordinary footballer, neither in his feet nor his head. "He wasn't even 20 years old, but his play was impressive by its maturity," former team-mate Philippe Cuervo said. "More than that, he had a force of character beyond the norm: he knew where he wanted to go and how to get there."
Sagnol's new Bayern charges can certainly expect their interim coach, who is fluent in German, to speak his mind whichever language he is speaking. If they didn't know that already, they need merely talk to one of Sagnol's predecessors, Ottmar Hitzfeld.
The man under whom Sagnol won the Champions League left the defender out of a trip to face Zenit St. Petersburg for a UEFA Cup semi-final in 2008 following critical comments made by the Frenchman in the media over Hitzfeld's use of him on the pitch.
It was an outburst — for which Sagnol apologised to his boss — that cannot merely be explained by a veteran squad member fighting for his place as his powers wane. Though Sagnol perhaps regretted the medium through which he expressed himself, he has always been a man who has little problem expressing himself and standing up for what he believes in.
Sagnol only left Monaco to join Bayern and team up with fellow French full-back Bixente Lizarazu in 2000 following a pay dispute with the Ligue 1 club, whom he had just helped to the French title. "I was the lowest paid at the club and because I was young, they took me for an idiot," said Sagnol. "It was more a matter of principle than money."
That shoot-from-the-hip approach allied with insight delivered with the precision he applied to his crosses for which Bayern fans christened him Flankengott, the god of crosses, made him tailormade for the TV pundit role he took up almost immediately after retirement. He was a regular and popular feature in the Allianz Arena press room, returning to the club he had served so impressively to cast a critical, well-informed eye over Bayern's European games for French TV.
Watch: Sagnol has the luxury attacking midfield duo Thomas Müller and James Rodriguez in his Bayern squad
It was a first step in the transition to the other side of the white line, though it did not take long for Sagnol to move back towards the pitch, swapping the press stand for the oversight committee of Saint-Etienne, his hometown club, in 2010 before keeping his Bayern connection strong by joining their recruitment cell in 2011.
But Sagnol clearly had coaching in his blood. Former France coach Raymond Domenech described him as "the modern full-back, open to dialogue," and as a player, he would seek to learn from the coaches he worked under, such as Claude Puel at Monaco, Hitzfeld and Felix Magath at Bayern. Those experiences, along with that garnered from 58 caps for Les Bleus — there would have been many more but for Lilian Thuram — between 2000 and 2008, were tucked away by Sagnol, built on, and then exploited when he finally stepped into his first coaching role.
That came with France's Under-20 team in 2013, two years after he had been appointed manager of all of his country's youth teams by the French Football Federation (FFF). "I'm not pretentious enough to believe I can give back everything that French football has given to me, because I would need to give back a lot, but I'm at least going to try."
Aged just 36, third place with the U20s at the prestigious Toulon tournament with a team featuring Wolfsburg's Paul-Georges Ntep repaid some of his debt in June 2013, while after stepping up to take charge of the U21 side soon after, he made an unbeaten start to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2015 before Bordeaux stepped in to hand him his first role with a club side at any level.
With former Bayern man Diego Contento an addition to his squad, Sagnol set about attempting to return Les Girondins, once the club of Lizarazu and Zinedine Zidane, to the forefront of the French game. Sixth place and UEFA Europa League qualification in his maiden Ligue 1 campaign marked a promising start, but a second season with a squad decimated by injury and weakened by the departures of the likes of Henri Saivet and Wahbi Khazri meant Sagnol did not survive a bad run of results.
@fcbayern have relieved head coach Carlo #Ancelotti of his duties. His assistant Willy #Sagnol has been placed in charge of the first team until further notice. #FCB #FCBayern #Munich #miasanmia #Bundesliga #Football #Soccer #Germany #fussball #futbol #goals #lovefootball #thebeautifulgame #instasport #team #soccerislife #footy #skills #matchday #player #match #footballgame #ball @gettysport
The sack arrived in March 2016, but Sagnol's reputation — though blemished — remained intact. His name had since been linked to a number of vacant coaching roles, with French media reporting he was being considered for both club and national team roles around the world. Their loss is Bayern's gain.
"When I arrived in Bavaria, I finally had the feeling I belonged to a big club, of being on another planet," Sagnol, the player, said of when he swapped Monaco for Munich in 2000. His performances with his boots on proved he was no alien intruder to Bavaria. Now Sagnol the coach will be aiming to show that he is still very much at home in the Bayern universe.