Bayern Munich's Coman Conundrum: What to Do with Kingsley?

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2016

Kingsley Coman's season has not gone according to plan
Kingsley Coman's season has not gone according to planMatthias Schrader/Associated Press

You have to wonder what was going through Kingsley Coman's mind when Renato Sanches, his Bayern Munich team-mate, was this week named 2016's Golden Boy—the award given to Europe's outstanding under-21 player.

Given his performances for Benfica last season and notably Portugal during UEFA Euro 2016, few would argue with the choice of Sanches. But Coman can certainly be forgiven for wondering not quite "where did it all go wrong?" but rather "what might have been?"

Coman, who was runner-up to Manchester United's Anthony Martial in last year's Golden Boy, was also bested by Sanches in the vote for the Euros' best young player. The latter also seems to have more of the favours—albeit only slightly—of Carlo Ancelotti this season, with nine competitive appearances to Coman's six.

But while Sanches' star is definitively on the rise, Coman's is seemingly fading from the constellation at the Allianz Arena.

It was not supposed to be like this for the France international, who arrived in Munich on a two-season-long loan from Juventus in summer 2015 exhibiting Zlatan Ibrahimovic-esque confidence, boldly declaring himself "capable of making the difference at any time during a match" at his official unveiling, per L'Equipe.

It could have been written off as a brash, rash moment of youthful exuberance, but his performances last season—particularly welcome given the injury problems of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben—meant he was as good as his word.

Four goals and six assists in 23 Bundesliga appearances—and two and six in eight UEFA Champions League outings, including scoring one and setting up another in the Hollywood-esque Last 16 comeback against Juventus—was a spectacularly good return for one so young in his maiden season at a European football superpower. Coman only turned 20 in June.

However, the arrival of Ancelotti has changed everything for Coman. It is ironic, because the Italian was the man to give the jet-heeled winger his professional debut, making him Paris Saint-Germain's youngest Ligue 1 debutant in February 2013 when he handed Coman, then just 16, a four-minute cameo in a 3-2 defeat to Sochaux.

"I'll never forget that and will always be grateful to him. When I came off the bench for the first time, it was a really cool feeling, incredible," the Paris-born youngster told media of his baptism with the big boys following Ancelotti's appointment at Bayern, per Spox. "I was still just a kid. I had enormous respect for the coach, I was really well taken care of by him."

It does not take much of a leap of imagination to think Coman may have revised his opinion now. It was perhaps an indication of things to come for Coman that he made just that one appearance at PSG in Ligue 1 under Ancelotti.

Tried-and-tested experience rather than youthful exuberance appears to be the basis for Ancelotti's selection of his wingers. Of his French wide men, Ancelotti has a clear preference for Ribery, and even though "Kaiser Franck" is currently sidelined, Douglas Costa and Robben were the Bayern boss' wide men of choice against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Coman did get a game in the DFB Pokal win over FC Augsburg on Wednesday, but the contrast with last season was striking. And not for the better. "The tactical setup was why I chose Bayern," Coman had told French radio station RMC in April 2016, but Carlo's 4-3-3 is not the 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 of Pep Guardiola.

With Ribery (left) in favour, Coman (right) risks being left out in the cold
With Ribery (left) in favour, Coman (right) risks being left out in the coldMatthias Schrader/Associated Press

Under Ancelotti, the wide pair of the front three are encouraged to move across the line to provide space for the full-backs; under Guardiola, given there were already two men central behind the lone striker, the wide players were more like traditional wingers. That system suited the pacy Coman brilliantly: with play in front of him and his ability to beat his man on the outside, he was in his element.

Ancelotti's system calls for different skills, ones that Coman has not yet acquired and perhaps never will as they are simply not part of his game. Against Augsburg, having drifted into the right-hand channel, he received a ball from Philipp Lahm on the edge of the box with his back to goal. For Robert Lewandowski, holding it and giving it would have been child's play.

The only thing childlike about Coman at that moment was him giving off the impression of being out of his depth as he was easily robbed. At another moment, he dragged the ball back in the centre circle in an attempt to turn upfield. He looked sluggish as he did so and was tackled, and his desperate lunge to win it back, which brought him a yellow card, told its own story.

It is one of a player frustrated with himself and the situation. After his first major international tournament, universally accepted by all as a major drain on body and mind, and a truncated pre-season, it is no surprise he is struggling to find that explosive burst that made him so dangerous last season.

That fatigue also perhaps led to the ankle injury that has hampered him still further. Also, let us not forget he is just 20 years old—all young players have dips in form, and Coman's at least has those two explanations behind it.

So what next?

Listening to the young man himself, it is clear. "I hope I can settle, because it's good to have been at a lot of big clubs, but I think the greatest players stay at a club and establish themselves long term," he told RMC in April when things were going swimmingly. "My aim is to belong to this club."

Coman's tune had not changed just before the season started. "Bayern is one of the best teams in the world, and I want to play here for many, many more years," he said, per Spox.

The latter press conference also saw him employ the stock football phrase, "I see myself here for many more years, but you never know how things are going to go." It seems Coman himself could never have guessed, either.

Could Coman return to Turin next summer?
Could Coman return to Turin next summer?Marco Vasini/Associated Press

After paying €7 million to borrow him from Juve for two years, Bayern have until the end of April to take up the €21 million option on Coman. That seemed certain as late as last month.

"It's imminent," Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was reported as saying by L'Equipe. "We're more than happy with Kingsley's contribution." France's main sports daily, a highly reliable source, stated confidently a five-year contract awaits Coman.

And yet still he waits. Whether that is due to the inevitable bartering between club and agent over wages and bonuses or whether it is a sign of a fundamental shift in Bayern's view on the player remains to be seen.

Given the likely two-year contract extension of Ribery and Robben and the fact Ancelotti will probably see out his own three-year deal, perhaps Coman's days in Bavaria are numbered.

However, whether they buy him for the future or to sell him on immediately for a profit, or simply send him back to Turin, surely Coman will have no problem adding another illustrious line to his CV. Come the end of last season, it contained four league titles from three countries, three domestic cup wins and a UEFA Champions League runners-up medal, significantly more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age.

"I don't really realise that I have played for these three clubs," he told RMC last season. "I think that at the end of my career, I'll say to myself, 'Yeah! Wow! I was at some big clubs'."

Don't worry, Kingsley, some people will have already noticed.


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