Bayern Munich Deny Arsene Wenger Talks Amid Niko Kovac Rumours

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2018

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger celebrates his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium in London, Sunday, May 6, 2018. The match is Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's last home game in charge after announcing in April he will stand down as Arsenal coach at the end of the season after nearly 22 years at the helm. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Bayern Munich haven't been talking to Arsene Wenger about the possibility of replacing Niko Kovac as manager, according to the Bundesliga giants' sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.

Speaking to Sky Sports News after Die Roten beat Benfica 5-1 in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, Salihamidzic said: "There was 100 per cent no contact with Arsene Wenger. We will travel to Bremen with Niko Kovac as our manager and we will win."

Salihamidzic's reference to Saturday's domestic fixture against Werder Bremen suggested Kovac's job is safe for now. There had been reports the Croat was about to be replaced, with former Arsenal chief Wenger mooted as a prime candidate.

Salihamidzic hasn't spoken to Wenger.
Salihamidzic hasn't spoken to Wenger.TF-Images/Getty Images

A report from Bild (h/t Sport Witness) recently named the Frenchman as a serious contender with Bayern languishing in fifth in the German top flight, nine points behind rivals Borussia Dortmund.

The idea quickly gathered steam, and Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph reported Wenger is keen on the idea of taking over at the Allianz Arena, where the 69-year-old would be afforded an opportunity "to end his career with silverware and compete at the top level."

Wenger's agent was also spotted in attendance recently:

Christian Falk @cfbayern

Exclusive: the agent of Arsene Wenger was sitting in the VIP-stand of Allianz Arena in Munich on saturday @SPORTBILD

The links are strong, but it's not entirely clear what role Wenger would have his eye on if he moved to Munich. Another report from Sky Sports News quoted unnamed sources in Germany who revealed Wenger wants a boardroom room job rather than a return to the dugout.

Whatever role he would take on, there's little doubt Wenger would be an asset for Bayern despite the tumultuous end to his tenure with the Gunners. He stepped down in May after nearly 22 years in charge of the north London club.

Wenger won three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups during his tenure. His honours included league-and-cup doubles in 1998 and 2002, as well as winning the title without losing a match during the 2003/04 season.

There were also difficult times, though, specifically a nine-year spell without a trophy between 2005-14 which took in Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

Wenger's Arsenal tenure featured many memorable achievements and a host of trophies.
Wenger's Arsenal tenure featured many memorable achievements and a host of trophies.Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Wenger's final season ended with the Gunners sixth, his lowest finish, and trophyless after a run of three FA Cup victories in four seasons. A growing mood of discontent among supporters also helped hasten Wenger's exit even though he had a year left on his contract.

Yet for all the criticism levelled at Wenger in recent years, his achievements at Arsenal can't be overlooked. Even his last season took in an appearance in the Carabao Cup final, as well as the club reaching the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League, where the Gunners lost to eventual winners Atletico Madrid.

Before last season, Wenger had always either finished inside the top five or with a trophy. The record took in 18 seasons in a row qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, with Arsenal becoming the first London club to reach the final of the tournament in 2006.

Kovac has struggled to get to grips with the Bayern job.
Kovac has struggled to get to grips with the Bayern job.TF-Images/Getty Images

Bayern should be well aware of Wenger's talents having pursued him previously when he was in charge of Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. Recent meetings may have taken the lustre off Wenger's reputation in Bundesliga circles, though.

Die Roten knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage three times in five seasons earlier this decade. The last defeat came in 2017 when the Gunners were humbled 10-2 on aggregate.

Kovac has already helped Bayern earn a place in the knockout phase of Europe's premier club competition, but domestic form continues to cast doubt on his position. Bayern have lost three times and shipped 17 goals through 12 matches.

In fairness, injuries have been an issue:

DW Sports @dw_sports

Bayern are without: ❌ Corentin Tolisso (cruciate ligament) ❌ Kingsley Coman (recovery post ligament tear) ❌ James Rodriguez (knee ligament) ❌ Thiago (ankle ligament) ❌ Serge Gnabry (recovery post adductor problems) ❌ Mats Hummels (stomach bug) #FCBSLB https://t.co/Sg6YXUwTmq

There has also been some criticism of his defensive tactics and clashes with players, including Real Madrid loanee James Rodriguez. Earlier this month, the wife of forward Thomas Muller apologised after criticising Kovac in an Instagram post.

Wenger would be suited to refreshing what has become an ageing squad. Wingers Arjen Robben, 34, and 35-year-old Franck Ribery are still involved, while Muller is 29 and striker Robert Lewandowski is 30.

Wenger's reputation for developing young talent would be key should he move to Munich. He'd surely relish working with the contingent of young stars already on the books, including 22-year-old winger Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, the 23-year-old who got his breakthrough into the first team at Arsenal on Wenger's watch.

The Bayern squad needs a refresh sooner rather than later. Wenger's eye for talent, as well as his ability to balance costs, would be fundamental to the process, either as a manager or an executive.