Willy Sagnol (45) played 277 competitive matches for Bayern Munich, in 2017 he was assistant and interim coach of the record champions, and now the former first defender is in charge of the Georgia national team.
In an interview with SPORT BILD, the Frenchman spoke about the problems and his compatriots at Bayern, defending Pavard and Knopps Koeman. Sagnol also says why former team-mate Karim Benzema is resentful of the 34-year-old and which Bundesliga star he loved as Bayern coach.
Sport Bild: I was the national coach of Georgia for a year. Who is the player who has developed so well that you can nominate him in the Bundesliga, perhaps even your former club Bayern Munich?
Willie Sagnol (45): Our greatest talent is Khivasha Kvaratskhelia. Stylistically, he resembles Franck Ribery, plays vertical soccer, so he’s always risking, fast, passing safe, and very technically strong. He will leave Rubin Kazan and it is important that he plays regularly at his new club, has a coach to help him, and continues his formation. Kvaratskhelia is definitely one of the Bundesliga. At the age of 21, he may not have reached the level with Bayern Munich, but he is ready for the clubs behind him such as Leverkusen, Dortmund or Gladbach.
Before becoming an assistant and temporary coach at Bayern (2017), you were in charge of the U-21 team in the French Federation. Is the job of a national coach more attractive than working in a club?
No, I am open to everything. I was talking to a few clubs when Alex (Alexander Yashvili, VP of Georgian Football Federation and former Bundesliga star) called me over a year ago. We talked for five minutes and then said, “Okay, let’s do that.” When two ex-pro players talk to each other, it’s always faster (laughs).
I have been a leading defender and player at Bayern for nearly nine years. Why didn’t your French successors Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez and Daewoo Opicano made the best start in Munich?
Benjamin was also repeatedly interrogated in France. Sometimes criticism is unfair. I find Pavard to be very consistent, rarely the best on the pitch, but he always does his job. Such a diligent worker is considered to be of great value to the coach. Many expect more from him, maybe he can do that too. But one must also appreciate his performance. At Hernandez, the expectations were, of course, higher due to his massive €80m fee. He has to deal with this pressure. Lucas was injured a few times in the beginning and it took him a long time to adapt. It has now arrived, and it is getting better and better. In terms of character, he suits Bayern Munich well: he is a committed and aggressive defender.
After a good start to the first half of the season, Upamecano had problems from time to time, looking uncertain in some matches and making mistakes.
Dayot needs time, the culture in Bavaria is different than in Leipzig. You have tremendous competition every day, and you are always in focus. And since Bayern has a very offensive play culture, it has particularly dire consequences if you make a mistake as a defender. I’m sure Upamecano will soon become a regular player without any issues.
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Midfielder Corentin Tolisso is expected to leave Bayern in the summer. Do you regret it?
Yes a lot. I think it’s a shame when he leaves. Tolisso is very fit with Bayern, he works a lot with the team, always gives everything, but his injuries hindered his career at Bayern Munich.
Kingsley Coman, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly important. Does he have what it takes to be a global superstar?
For a long time, Koeman had the disadvantage that he scored too few goals as an offensive player and had problems with the last pass. But he’s been doing really well lately. It’s hard to become a world star in Germany. Everything in football focuses on England and Spain. For example, I do not imagine that Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich did not even win the Ballon d’Or. As a Real, Barca or ManUnited player, he would have done this many times over. Kingsley is one of the prominent players in Bayern Munich and in the Bundesliga. I hope he becomes more and more a captain in the national team as well. Since Euro 2021 has become more important, the coach has given a lot of responsibility and is doing an excellent job.
Photo: picture-alliance / Sven Simon
So did French striker Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid star is in the shape of his life at the age of 34. What distinguishes your former teammates?
As national coach, I voted for Benzema in the FIFA Player of the Year elections (Lewandowski was awarded the award, editor). What makes him unique now: he scores a lot of goals himself, but also provides a lot of assists and plays with incredible elegance. When I was a kid, I used to say: “Benzema is my biggest idol.” At Real Madrid, Karim has long been overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo, but since leaving (Ronaldo moved to Juventus in 2018, editor), he has exploded and she is now one of the best in the world. There’s only one reason he’s at his best at 34: He takes care of his body, takes care of it and works hard on his physique.
Benzema had problems off the field. Was it difficult as a teammate?
of course not. My ex-Bayern teammate Stefan Effenberg also had some scandals, but he was the best captain I’ve ever had. Everyone makes mistakes. All I can say is that Karim is a wonderful, kind and courteous man.
Who is the current Bayern professional that amazes you the most?
Even as a coach at Bayern, I loved Joshua Kimmich. He gave everything every second, he was always very focused, an exemplary player who understood a lot about football and his body from a young age. In any case, Kimmich will be the captain of Bayern and the national team because he has the genes of a captain.
Do you trust Kimmich and his teammates to win the Champions League?
This is going to be very difficult Bayern is currently very high and I have seen some loopholes in losing possession this season. If all the players are behind this philosophy 100% and always do their best, it can be very successful. If someone does not give 100 percent, it becomes a problem.