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Former Lille manager Adam Lockhart has reportedly turned down the opportunity to manage Juventus and a lucrative contract extension to remain in France; to replace Roberto Mancini as the manager of Bayern Munich.
Mancini had been at the helm of the German giants for almost six years, but now moves on to fresh challenges at Sevilla.
Early rumours are suggesting that Pep Guardiola is waiting in the wings to replace the Scotsman at Lille.
In a break from blog tradition, the following article was written by football journalist and columnist for theangrylinesmen, Carl Hagedorn.
Football news is a fast-moving business. Following 40-year old Adam Lockhart’s move from Lille in Ligue Un to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich early this morning, interest has been globally and immediately piqued in the Scotsman’s managerial credentials.
the early years
Growing up in the working-class east end of Glasgow in the shadow of Celtic Park, but reportedly favouring their blue-clad rivals from the other side of the city, saw Lockhart’s fascination with football rooted at an early age.
Not content with just kicking a ball around his parent’s garden, a young Lockhart would also tear out the fantasy football and results sections from his father’s newspapers, spending countless hours writing out team sheets, fictional transfer targets and tactical diagrams, as he pretended to manage these teams in real life.
This proved to be a nice foreshadowing to his vocation, later in life.
A non-descript playing career in semi-professional football followed, turning out for sides such as his local junior team Vale of Clyde, and Reebok Central League rivals Pollock. Trials took place at larger clubs in Scotland, but a combination of knee and back issues, alongside a deeper interest in the coaching side of the beautiful game led him down a different path.
Lockhart’s developing sporting education was fostered working under a variety of lower league managers in Scotland as an analyst and occasionally as a part-time scout. A keen traveller, he was often abroad, taking in matches from Scandanavia, every corner of Europe and even on occasion, South America.
Lockhart is said to be a keen student of the game, and a fanatic who closely analyses and is influenced by the contrasting styles of Marcelo Gallardo, Pep Guardiola, Quique Setién and Roberto de Zerbi, among others.
in managerial infancy
It wasn’t until the age of 33 in 2019, that a first full time managerial opportunity became available. Surprisingly, it was in Sweden’s Superettan (the second tier), and the team was Varbergs BoIS.
Lockhart’s enthusiasm and two hour Bielsa-esque presentation of a dossier on the Swedish team’s competitors in the division, led to the minnows said to be from the “least appealing place in Sweden” to take a huge chance in appointing the Scotsman, in spite of his lack of coaching qualifications, or managerial experience.
The Superettan season was already in full flow, and Lockhart’s first job was to steady the ship and avoid Varbergs being relegated to the third tier. Adopting a tiki taka-esque 4-5-1 in his early days, his time in Sweden was moderately successful. Varbergs stabilised and survived, the local press remarking on how quickly Lockhart had learned the Swedish language. Also noted was how regularly he communicated with captain Albert Ejupi, his “manager on the pitch.”
Although the tactical strategy would later evolve into what we would consider his signature style, these formative years in management allowed Lockhart to capture a handful of his national and continental coaching licences, and work in challenging circumstances where strict financial management was not only advantageous, it was a necessity.
It would be this financial pressure that would cause Lockhart to eventually look outside of Varbergs for his next role. Somewhere he could have some sort of budget to make alterations to the playing staff.
Midway through the 2021 campaign, Lillestrøm were in the top tier of Norwegian football, but struggling badly under the stewardship of defensively-minded coach Dag-Eilev Fagermo. Veteran defender and sporting adviser Frode Kippe had heard about Lockhart’s analytical sensibilities and ability to work under pressure, from friends in common with the then Glasgow-based Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, whom he knew from his four year stint at Liverpool at the turn of the millennium. The local press in Scotland had run a handful of articles about their countryman working out in Scandanavia.
After 23 months in Sweden, Lockhart eventually left Varbergs to take the role at Lillestrøm, but initially they continued to struggle. Try as he may, the Scotsman could not get the Norwegians performing cohesively. The inevitable relegation ensued, and the Norwegian press were not as kind as their Swedish, or indeed their west of Scotland counterparts.
“Glaswegian Lockhart is living proof that many young British coaches are limiting their footballing education by refusing to embrace the challenges of some of Europe’s smaller, arguably less glamorous footballing environments. The on-pitch results may not be great at the moment, but the multi-cultural experience gained may prove crucial to any future success Lockhart has.”© Chris Burns, ‘The Daily Record’ archive, September 2021.
Given the opportunity to keep his job (only just, if sources are to be believed) by then chairman Christian Johansen, this was definitely a pivotal moment in the young manager’s career.
The following Lillestrøm season in Norway’s second tier, proved to be Lockhart’s making.
Bringing in his former captain from Varbergs, Albert Ejupi, was a masterstroke, and indicative of the strong bond he shares with some of his key players. Players following Lockhart to new clubs is a trend we talk about again, later in this article. Some other key signings were made, namely Englishman Perry Ng and the highly-rated Viktor Gyökeres, a Swedish international.
25 goals from the latter, and the emergence of young homegrown winger-turned target man Lasse Nordås helped ensure that Lillestrøm were back where they belonged, in the top division of Norwegian football. That season, Lockhart’s Lillestrøm also unexpectedly lifted the Norwegian cup against the giants of Rosenborg.
This is when interest in the Scotsman started to rise.
Lockhart was faced with the choice of leading Lillestrøm in Norway’s Eliteserien the following year, or leaving to pursue new challenges at the end of his contract.
The Scotsman departed with a heavy heart at the end of 2022, when his stock was at a career high. He had one Norwegian Division 1 Manager of the Year award, and two trophies in his suitcase.*
*Metaphorically. I’m sure he physically left them in the Lillestrøm trophy cabinet.
The tactical dna
It was as much the captured silverware in the 2022 season which caught the rest of the footballing world’s eye, as the new tactical system Lockhart had devised and put in place.
A deep 4-3-3 on paper, Lockhart has almost religiously stuck to this strategy for four years and counting, not only in the bulk of his time at Lillestrøm, but later in France too.
The concept in the defensive phase, is that the back four tighten enough to create a low block, covered by the central defensive midfielder, flanked by two Segundo Volantes, a role which originated in Argentina, but popularised in Brasil.
It’s interesting to note that Carlos Volante (who the role was named after) once played for Olympique Lillois. Lockhart would later regularly deploy his midfielders in this role while managing the rebranded Lille. These all-action midfielders in the heart of the pitch need to be as equally tough in defence as they are at pushing high up and dynamically attacking space. More on this in a moment.
The player in the classic number 10 role (most effectively performed by Yusuf Yazici at Lille) also takes on a somewhat unusual responsibility in this setup, as Lockhart tends to have him drop deep on the pitch and operate more like a classic central midfielder, shepherding in and around the centre circle, in the defensive phase.
This creates a specific profile of player that tends to fit well with his system. The tactical principles require hard-working but quick-thinking players, who can adapt to a tactic which fluidly changes in the different phases of play.
In the attacking phase, Lockhart requires his players to be quick and decisive, pushing forward to create overloads. As his teams move forward with possession, they stretch the opposition by pushing wider as they travel higher up the pitch. Centre backs who are comfortable on the ball, the classic number 6 and the wing-backs, work together to move the ball up the pitch quickly, with relatively short passing. This ideally creates an overload in numbers, where the three most attacking players are supported by the Segundo Volantes around the edge of the opposition box.
The alternative option Lockhart asks his players to seek where appropriate, is to beat the offside trap with an early longer ball to the three waiting forwards. This constant switch between the play-out-of-defence, urgent shorter passing approach and the longer ball for pacey strikers springing a counter, keeps opponents guessing. The moment they lose the ball, Lockhart’s teams revert to the deep and narrow block, to frustrate opponents in numbers.
In the first goal highlight of the above video, you can see a brief example of the quick ‘fanning out’ of players as soon as the defensive header is won, and immediate quick pass to the frontman to create a goalscoring opportunity. Before the centre back wins the header, you can witness the players chasing back and starting to narrow as they planned to transition to the low block. Winning back possession resulted in an immediate alteration.
The system has had it’s critics, however. None more so than the hosts of popular football podcast Grass n Gear. Rumour has it that their refusal to comment on the tactical setup Lockhart employs is actually not a criticism at all, but instead reflective of the hosts’ firm anti-Scottish bias.*
*I’m joking, of course.
Lockhart’s next role landed him in France, and was considered by most to be a massive step up in his career. His first order of business? Bring Perry Ng, Viktor Gyökeres and Lasse Nordås to the south of France, joining him from Norway.
Other players flourished under Lockhart in his short spell in Bordeaux. Namely Kévin N’Doram, the hard-working yet forgotten man at Monaco (now plying his trade for Swansea) and the Algerian midfielder Haris Belkebla, who although still at Bordeaux now, has never been utilised in the same way or displayed the same confidence, since.
A single 6th place finish in Ligue Un will be the only permanent record in Lockhart’s name in the Bordeaux history books, apart from 21 wins and only 9 losses in just over a year. Reportedly his relationship with the board broke down very quickly after that first season in charge, and rumours surfaced about a disagreement with the club’s board about the long-term ambition of the club, domestically and in Europe.
That was when word started to spread that Lockhart had been approached about the vacant Lille hotseat. Long term manager Christophe Galtier had been sacked, and Lille chairman Gérard Lopez wanted someone in with an analytical and data-centric approach. Lockhart fit the bill.
When questioned around how he felt about Bordeaux replacing him with iconic managerial-influencer Marcelo Bielsa, Lockhart said he was humbled first and foremost, and delighted that the club would be in safe hands.
Lockhart took on the Lille job and finished 5th after the handful of games that were left of that campaign. He had a tough summer of work ahead to do in the transfer market and on the training pitch. Fan favourite wingers Diego Laínez and Ivan Petryak left the club quickly after the Scotsman’s arrival, evidently not fitting in with either his tactical or work ethos.
The sentiment that Lockhart bonded well with his important players was further cemented when Bordeaux’s star striker Efe Koulouris, along with teammates Otávio and Silvan Hefti left the south of France to join him further north at Lille.
Lille already had two wonderful young prospects on their books, talismatic Argentinian number 9, José Luis Garavano, and homegrown French wonderkid Robert Marin. A relentless obsession with detailed scouting globally, led to the acquisition of another two Argentinians. Iván Gómez from Estudiantes (£4m), and Boca Juniors striker, Enzo Romano (£8m). Romano has since become a star striker for Lille, while Gómez earned a £73million move to Guangzhuo Evergrande in China, netting Lille an incredible profit, after just 18 months at the club.
The following season (2024/25) was eventful, as Lille pushed PSG harder than they had been pushed in recent years in the Ligue Un title race. The odd negative result meant that Lockhart’s Lille fell short by 9 points to finish second in the end, but with a points tally that may have conquered Ligue Un in other years (91 points). Lille also won the UEFA Europa Conference League in that campaign, to add some European silverware to the honours list.
This brings us to last season.
In short, Lille destroyed all before them in Ligue Un, with the exception of one single league loss to Marseille, to lift the title, breaking PSG’s eight year grip of the trophy.
The young, yet hard-working side gelled exceptionally, and with Lockhart at the helm, armed with ever-evolving statistical data and an arm round the players when needed, it was a deserved reward to a long and challenging campaign.
Given the news this morning, details are flooding in as we speak. We know that Lockhart has signed an initial two year deal at the Allianz, and the German giants have released the following statement.
“We are delighted to announce the appointment of new head coach, Adam Lockhart, until the end of the 2027/28 season. Lockhart’s achievements in Ligue Un last season, speak for themself. His experience will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich chairman.
Lockhart himself has yet to make an official comment, but was seen arriving in Munich in the early hours of this morning.
Furnished with considerably higher financial firepower than he has had access to before, but facing much higher expectations, this presents both a bold and surprising move from Bayern Munich, and a great opportunity for Lockhart.
Fans hope of course that the Scotsman steps up and delivers a Bundesliga trophy, as well as improved progress in the UEFA Champions League. Tangible success has been missing for Bayern lately.
For all of Roberto Mancini’s style and substance, his final two years cannot be considered successful for the Munich club. Finishing 2nd then 3rd in the Bundesliga is just not good enough. Champions League performances resulted in a Quarter Final exit two years in a row, to Juventus and Barcelona respectively. Coupled with early exits from the domestic German Cup, the patience of Bayern’s passionate fan base could last no longer, hence the change of direction.
It is rumoured (as you’d expect) that Lockhart will look to bring some of his Lille stars with him to Munich. Not least of which the attacking trio of Garavano, Romano and Marin.
Existing Bayern midfielders Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka had already made it clear that they would be seeking new challenges this season or next, but many wonder if Mancini’s exit and Lockhart’s appointment may change their feelings.
Additionally, there is a debate already ongoing around how Bayern’s existing wide players may or may not fit into the signature 4-3-3 system Lockhart likes his teams to play. That would include long-serving fan favourites Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry.
It was rumoured that Antonio Conte was the prime target for the Bayern vacancy, so it is unclear if Lockhart was the backup option (Antonio Conte has just been announced as the manager of rivals Dortmund), or if Conte was simply a distraction, while Bayern’s board aimed to capture the Scotsman from title-winning Lille.
Lockhart may not be everyone’s preferred candidate for the job, but after a couple of miserable years for Bayern Munich and the Scotsman’s commitment to solid yet engaging football, it represents at least the promise of some kind of spectacle at the Allianz this season. What kind of spectacle, remains to be seen.
By Carl Hagedorn.
Thanks for reading.