But it was not designed to be a long-term solution. Flick was 54 when he returned to Bayern, and he had not managed a team in 14 years. Even then, his experience was in Germany’s lower tiers: He had left Hoffenheim in 2005 after failing to win promotion to the second division.
When Flick was appointed as Löw’s assistant, Mertesacker admitted that there was some skepticism among the players. “Hesitancy, I’d say,” he said. “Of course he was a player, but you wait to see what he can bring.” To Bayern, which shared some of the same reservations, Flick was there to keep the seat warm, not to occupy it.
Within weeks, though, it was obvious that Bayern did not need to worry about Mauricio Pochettino’s wage demands or whether Julian Nagelsmann could be coaxed away from RB Leipzig. Flick would end the season with a revitalized team, a win record that dwarfs that even of Pep Guardiola — 33 games played, 30 won, plus a Bundesliga title and a German Cup.
Flick took over when it seemed Bayern was finished as a force in Europe. This week, his team landed in Lisbon, where it will play Barcelona on Friday in a Champions League quarterfinal, as bettors’ second favorite, behind Manchester City, to win the trophy.
Those who know Flick well — those who, like Thon, played alongside him and those who, like Mertesacker, worked under him — do not struggle to explain how he has done it. There is, as far as they are concerned, no great mystery, no secret spell, no head-scratching tactical wizardry at work.
Flick’s great strength is what made Löw turn to him in that room in Brazil and ask him to help Mertesacker understand his decision. “He is very humble, he has a very human sense, a real social competence,” Mertesacker said. “He has a genuine interest in you as a person. He is not afraid to show his own vulnerability. And that is contagious.”