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Vincent Kompany set for Bayern Munich: Style and substance? Surprise move shows

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Vincent Kompany’s likely move to Bayern Munich was initially greeted with ridicule and disbelief. A more balanced view has since emerged but there is no escaping the incredulity when a coach relegated with Burnley is set to walk into one of Europe’s biggest jobs.

The German giants did not come calling for Sean Dyche when he finished seventh in the Premier League. Their views on Stan Ternent and Steve Cotterill are unconfirmed. But Kompany is regarded as a gamble worth taking, a coach of vast potential.

There are many factors involved, not least Bayern’s own fraught recruitment process. But choosing Kompany also highlights the changing view of what makes an elite coach, a growing willingness to look beyond results and towards a style that could transfer.

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Florian Plettenberg on the deal to take Kompany to Bayern Munich

Kompany, it should be acknowledged, has plenty else going for him. As a player, he captained club and country, winning the Premier League with Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. That brings instant respect and a relationship that imbues a certain shine.

The trend in modern management is towards those disciples of Guardiola. Mikel Arteta has emerged as his biggest challenger in the Premier League, Xabi Alonso has just triumphed in the Bundesliga. Enzo Maresca has followed Kompany in winning the Championship.

The connection with Guardiola, widely regarded as the outstanding coach of his generation, is particularly significant at Bayern. Some frame his work there as unfinished without a Champions League win but he wowed with his ideas. There is a legacy there.

For Kompany, other intangibles include his own playing spell at Hamburg – he is a fluent German speaker – and his reputation for being articulate, intelligent and measured. But the top line in all this can hardly be avoided. There is the matter of that relegation.

Kompany came into the Premier League wedded to the approach that had helped garner 101 points in the Championship, winning Burnley praise for their enterprising play. They boasted the best attack and the best defence as they stormed to the title.

The swiftness with which he transformed the style, after a decade of doing things so differently under Dyche, caught the eye. It was a testament to his ability to manage change that their possession stats were the highest since Championship records began.

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Florian explains what has attracted Bayern Munich to Kompany

But despite significant investment in the summer, his team were unable to adapt to the Premier League. The passing game that had been too good for the Championship was undone by the speed and skill of those sides at the higher level, soon undermining confidence.

The inequality within the Premier League was viewed by some as a mitigating circumstance. But, in the aftermath of a 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace that would be followed up with a 2-0 home reverse to Bournemouth, Roy Keane had less sympathy for Kompany’s side.

“Do you know what, they have been dreadful. They have been dreadful,” Keane told Sky Sports. “We talk about teams having a style of play in the Championship and trying to compare it to the Premiership, it is chalk and cheese. It is impossible.

“They look weak physically. The goals they are giving away, it is schoolboy stuff. I admire managers who have a philosophy and a style of play, but you have got to adapt. You have got to give yourself a chance of winning football matches.”

Only two teams in the Premier League made more errors leading to shots than Burnley and the contrast with the risk-free football of the Dyche era became a stick with which to beat him. Thousands more passes brought little reward, only encouraging more mistakes.

It is worth noting that even in his first managerial role at Anderlecht, Kompany’s methods had been questioned. The attempt to mimic Guardiola had been a concern for some in Belgium, one expressed in strong terms by the former Anderlecht manager Aad de Mos.

“In football, you do not have to copy another coach,” said De Mos. “Kompany wants to do the same thing as Guardiola at City and that makes me sick. City have players like Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne. Anderlecht needs to get by with more modest players.”

Bayern bosses might feasibly agree with that assessment while coming to the opposite conclusion. Perhaps they take the view that they do possess the quality of player capable of delivering this football – they just need someone who is willing and able to coach it.

With one of the weakest squads in the Premier League, Kompany floundered. But with one of the best squads in the Championship, he flourished. Bayern’s status within the Bundesliga, relative to the rest, is much more akin to the latter than the former.

If Kompany struggles then Bayern will be criticised. If he thrives their imagination will be lauded. Whatever happens, Kompany has been vindicated in sticking to his principles. It raises intriguing questions about how coaches should approach their work.

Dyche is an obvious contrast but for him it feels more like ideology than compromise. Other examples are more pertinent. Julen Lopetegui and Thomas Frank are two that come to mind – coaches who opted to adapt but now find that could be a mark against them.

Lopetegui’s appointment at West Ham was met with a lukewarm response. In part, that was because his rescue job with Wolves – lifting them from rock bottom to 13th in the table – was not achieved with the necessary swagger to excite, even if it did save them.

Frank played a progressive game to help Brentford win promotion but, unlike Kompany, successfully switched to a more direct style to keep them there. Now, he finds some questioning whether those long throws make him suitable for a role at an elite club.

For Kompany, the stain of relegation is more easily erased than a stain on his style. This move shows that coaches, like players, can be upwardly mobile regardless of results. And that a man questioned at Burnley can somehow be seen as the answer for Bayern.