So, the inevitable has happened. After weeks of rumbling tension, backbiting and gossip in Munich, FC Bayern have finally sent coach Carlo Ancelotti on his way. Now, after the earthquake, the rebuilding begins.
The team selection against Paris St. Germain was curious at best, and the performance insipid. As Bayern slumped to their biggest Champions League group stage defeat in more than two decades, it was clear things were not well in the Bavarian camp. Arjen Robben remained coy when asked about the coach. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke about “consequences”.
Every Bayern fan could tell that something was afoot, but nobody was really prepared for the following day’s fallout. As the news started to leak and make its way across the Twittersphere, the stories started to converge.
Ancelotti was out, taking all of his support team with him.
A slight apocalypse
I had written about the doom mongers from the start of the season. Before that, even, during Bayern’s busy and torrid preseason. I had sensed that things were not quite right in the dressing room, but did not expect this to happen. Let alone so quickly. Some crazy people had predicted that 23rd September was going to mark the end of the world. Just five days later, the doom mongers had been proven correct in Munich.
It was not quite the Bavarian bloodbath, but what one could call a slight apocalypse.
These things do not happen in Munich, a club that has prided itself on giving its coaches a fair crack of the whip and working through their problems. The last time a coach was dismissed so early in the season was in October 1991, when Jupp Heynckes was shown the door.
A September sacking is unheard of at Bayern. This sort of nonsense only happens at Hamburger SV.
An overcooked Kaiserschmarrn
While I was always going to be one of the last Carlettoists standing, even my patience had started to wear a little thin after the Wolfsburg match. However, in my mind it was something that needed to be worked out. Even after the defeat in Paris, I was convinced that Ancelotti had to stay, if just until the end of the year where there was enough time for the board to take proper stock of things.
I am sure that both Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had thought this all through. After all, the idea of having to look for a new coach just half a dozen games into the new Bundesliga season was the last thing they would have wanted. But as the details started to emerge, one has to conclude that their decision was the correct one.
Having said that, I still have my doubts. Especially after the latest shambles in Berlin. Oh, I don’t know. What a mess. An overcooked Kaiserschmarrn.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
One has to wonder when the rot had started to set in. There were rumblings last season, but a fifth successive Bundesliga title seemed to calm the waters and steady the ship. Bayern had gone down fighting against Real Madrid in the Champions League with the referee footing the blame, and everything was quiet enough going into the summer.
During the close season, Ancelotti got the signings he wanted. A record amount was splashed out on Lyon’s Corentin Tolisso, and the snaring of James Rodríguez on loan was just what the Italian had wanted. The preseason mess was, well, just preseason. Nobody cared too much about it. While things were not firing on all cylinders, everybody was prepared for another season, and “business as usual”.
Or not, as it turned out.
It is hard to pin down one single cause for the collapse. Was it Ancelotti’s laissez-faire approach to training, which was in marked contrast to the intensity of his predecessor Pep Guardiola? Was it his inability to control the bigger names, something that he had done with an expert touch elsewhere? Or was it Carletto’s arguably outmoded tactics that had broken the camel’s back?
From calm to stupor
As the dust slowly started to clear, five senior players were named as the “conspirators” in the plot to oust the Italian. Thomas Müller’s position had been well established early on, while Franck Ribéry’s shirt-throwing tantrum against Anderlecht signalled his disgruntlement. Then came Arjen Robben’s unwillingness to back the coach immediately after the Parisian fiasco.
The other two, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng, had said little if nothing at all – in public at least. Hummels has since denied that he was involved in any plot to oust Ancelotti, taking to Twitter to deny what he described as accusations of “regicide”.
Up against established senior pros like this, it would be fair to say that Ancelotti had lost the support of the dressing room. Nevertheless, he took the decision of the Bayern board with his customary good grace. A gentleman to the end.
The Italian had arrived in Munich in the summer of 2016 as the perfect antidote to the Guardiola’s programmed intensity and the associated media circus. The perfect man-manager, he was seen by many as the soothing balm Bayern needed. In the end, things had moved too far in the other direction. The calm had become a stupor.
What happens now
Despite his friendship with Carlo Ancelotti, Uli Hoeneß felt unable to let things continue. For him, the bubbling dressing room revolt had become too much, and the coach’s position had simply become untenable. In Hoeneß’ own words, the enemy in your bed is the most dangerous – der Feind in deinem Bett der gefährlichste ist.
One had to wonder what the role played by newly-appointed sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić was in all of this. He would often be seen sitting on the bench with Ancelotti and assistant coach Willy Sagnol, but little has been said about what action he may (or may not) have taken to mitigate this escalation.
Would this have happened under Matthias Sammer’s watch? Might the fault lines in the dressing room have been exposed earlier? Had the appointment of Sagnol as assistant coach been a signal that things were not quite right? Until that point, the post had been occupied by Ancelotti’s son Davide.
Sagnol is now the coach of FC Bayern. That is where we are right now.
The end of September is not the best time to be looking for a new coach, let alone one that fits Bayern’s expansive vision. The choices are stark. Either they stick with Sagnol to at least the end of the Hinrunde, or bring in a more solid interim. Even here, the shelves are bare.
The one name that has been touted is former Borussia Dortmund Trainer Thomas Tuchel – who is currently a free agent after his being shown the door by Bayern’s Ruhrpott rivals in the summer. For many, Tuchel has the perfect credentials. I am not a massive fan of the man who looks a little like a skeletal ghost – appropriate as we are just over a month away from Hallowe’en – but even so he is not exactly the “interim” type.
When all is said and done, Tuchel is one of Germany’s top coaches. He has his own method, his own style, and a clear vision. He is not the first man one would have as a stop-gap. If Bayern were to offer their hand to Tuchel, it would not be wholly on the club’s terms. As his fractious tenure with Dortmund illustrated perfectly well, he is a coach who wants to do things his way.
The club did not expect to be in this predicament, and both Tuchel and the Bayern board know it. If he does come to Munich, he has to be given some sort of licence, or things are not going to work out. You heard it here first.
With Tuchel the only coach available, it is rather like visiting a supermarket only to find nothing but bran flakes on an otherwise empty shelf.
The upside is that Tuchel is a Bavarian, born in the small town of Krumbach, some 25 kilometres south of Günzburg.
The Nagelsmann question
The other name being bandied around in the media is that of TSG Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann. At just thirty years old, Nagelsmann has been described as one of the greatest coaching talents in Germany, and so far one cannot say much to dispute that.
But… and it is a big but… Nagelsmann has only been coaching for just over a year. It is not exactly the best CV for a potential coach of a powerhouse like FC Bayern. One only needs to look at other similar coaches in recent years, all of whom were seen the next best young thing. André Breitenreiter, who masterminded SC Paderborn 07’s astonishing rise to the top flight. Or Markus Weinzierl, who took a bits-and-pieces FC Augsburg side into the Europa League.
Lauded by the media, both Breitenreiter and Weinzierl flopped spectacularly at that famous graveyard for promising young coaches, Schalke 04. Breitenreiter is currently experiening a measure of success at top flight returnees Hannover 96. Former Bayern player Weinzierl, touted by some as a future coach of Die Roten, is currently out of a job.
Big name stars
Even if one ignores Julian Nagelsmann’s lack of top level experience, there is the dressing room issue. By all accounts, the atmosphere at Hoffenheim is pretty much like a group of friends. Nagelsmann’s task today is not easy, but it is a far cry from having to manage the collection of international stars in Munich.
Nagelsmann may have transformed Hoffenheim and taken them into Europe, but the reality is that we know next to little about him. He has proved that he has been able to take a mix of young talents and journeymen and turn them into a team capable to making the Champions League qualifying round, but there is no indication that he can work with big name stars.
Even more experienced coaches have struggled with the dressing room at Bayern. Coaches who were excellent elsewhere, but complete disasters in Munich. Otto Rehhagel, who was a magician with a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts team in Bremen for many years, was a complete flop when dealing with big egos and even bigger mouths. Felix Magath had performed miracles in turning around an ordinary Stuttgart side, but was never able set things alight in Munich.
It takes a special sort of coach to work effectively at a top level club, and this is why there are so very few of them.
The can of worms
As well as Nagelsmann’s inexperience, there is also the little matter of his current contract at Hoffenheim. This makes any move before the end of this season unlikely. One possible idea is to bring in him at the start of the 2018/19 season, but this opens up another possible can of worms.
Picture the situation. Bayern get Nagelsmann’s signature. Then, during the latter part of this season, Hoffenheim take a nosedive. Just like that, the young genius coach’s stock also plummets, and the deal is suddenly not looking as tempting any more. Bayern are locked into the contract, and the board are left looking like even bigger clowns than those poor fellows in Gelsenkirchen. Not good.
Of course, any “Nagelsmann 2018” plan pretty much rules out the appointment of a high profile coach like Thomas Tuchel. A Nagel in the coffin, so to speak.
Personally, as a Bayern fan, it is something of a dilemma. I am not a fan of Thomas Tuchel. Julian Nagelsmann is a wonderful idea, but that is as far as it goes. Willy Sagnol is no more than stop-gap. Then, we have some of the other names that have been given a ride on the media merry go round. Jürgen Klopp? A nice guy to have a beer with, sure, but too much of a Dortmund fan. Louis van Gaal? Been there, done that, and… Uli will say no anyway. Jogi Löw? With the World Cup around the corner? Not a chance. Manuel Pellegrini? I don’t want a Man Citeh castoff, thanks.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a 100/1 chance, but I will never forgive him for 1999. We might as well give Jupp Heynckes a call. Or Ottmar Hitzfeld. Or Franz Beckenbauer for that matter. He has done it three times before, after all.
Tough times ahead
I will admit to having a soft spot for Carlo Ancelotti. He has always been my sort of coach, and I really wanted to see things work. In the end, it just didn’t work out. In a perfect world, some sort of compromise could have been reached. Things might have been turned around. But, alas, it was not to be. Was the decision to remove him taken with too much haste? Perhaps.
There are going to be some tough times ahead for Die Roten. Coaching appointments aside, the team will need to get things together for the remainder of the Hinrunde. There are four more Champions league matches to play before Christmas, and it is crucial that the team are still part of the competition next year.
What we do not need is any further fallout. While we know five of those who were pushing for Ancelotti’s removal, there will be those who were on the other side of the fence. The decision has been made, and is time for the dressing room to draw a line under this and rediscover their focus.
What we need now is unity off the pitch, which will surely guarantee unity on it. Mia san mia.