In recent years, Bayern Munich have become the example to follow when it comes to planning and pragmatism. Their recruitment is deliberate and conducted with the future in mind, often weakening direct rivals by pinching their best players and hoovering up Europe’s most talented young stars. As a modern super club there will be always ill feeling directed your way, but they have created an image (at least outside Germany) of being both likeable and patient, alongside their low ticket prices and open approach to social media.
Yet last week, after an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, they fired their coach Carlo Ancelotti. They haven’t parted ways with a manager this early in the campaign since 1945, and only one other time in their entire history have they sacked a manager before December. Ancelotti has of course been sacked before, but never during the season. As a result of this out of character decision, Bayern needed to offer an explanation, however it was clear that all was not well behind the scenes.
When looking at their situation objectively, it couldn’t be solely down to results. They were third in the Bundesliga just three points off the top of the table. They looked sluggish away to PSG but losing to an impressive side playing with such confidence is nothing to be overly concerned with. However, the noises coming from within the club were that performances had been underwhelming. They said Ancelotti’s methods were outdated and that five senior players had turned against him. Once that mutual respect leaves the dressing room it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
So where do they go from here? Willy Sagnol has been appointed in the interim and former coach Jupp Heynckes is set to return from retirement to lead the side to the end of the season, but it’s clear that those who sit upstairs need to make their next move carefully with the club and squad in need of surgery. Once Pep Guardiola moved on, the biggest issue was how poorly the squad was managed. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are both out of contract in June. Two guys at 34 and 35 who were hugely influential in the departure of Ancelotti, but will they be part of their plan going forward?
Even taking a look at the spine of their side, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Javi Martinez, Arturo Vidal, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski are all aged 28 or over. You either stick with this group and invest in ready-made superstars of a similar profile with the short-term in mind, or you plan for the future. Ancelotti was not clear in his plans, but ultimately that uncertainty filtered down from above with Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge rarely seeing eye to eye.
The next step is crucial. The Bayern hierarchy will need to come to an agreement at least on who Ancelotti’s long-term successor will be. Former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel has been linked, but the likeliest option in the long term looks to be Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann.
30-year-old Nagelsmann led Hoffenheim to the Champions League for the first time in their history last season – a feat made all the more impressive when looking at their minuscule budget and wage bill. “30% percent of coaching is tactics, 70% social competence,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung in August, and while this undersells his vast knowledge and nous of the game, there’s no doubt that Hoffenheim have enjoyed success based on Nagelsmann’s ability to make every squad member feel valued. This was arguably Ancelotti’s downfall. His unique set-up that sees Hoffenheim play a 3-1-3-3 formation and this is just another example of a youthful, progressive coach embracing the tactical and social demands of modern football.
They will still be competitive – there is too much talent within their ranks for that not to be the case — but what’s obvious is that some serious forward-planning is now required. A manager with clear ideas and objectives would be a start, but unity upstairs and behind the scenes is far more important to keeping Bayern competitive amongst Europe’s elite.