‘This is part of the club’
Things are not going so smoothly at Bayern Munich for a while. The German national champion lost last week’s outward match of the Champions League quarterfinals against Manchester City by unambiguous figures: it was 3-0 to the English. A thump that does not seem to be an isolated one; it is restless on the Säbener Strasse.
Coach Julian Nagelsmann was unexpectedly sacked at the end of March. Former Bayern striker Roy Makaay can understand the dismissal. “I was as surprised as everyone else, but all I saw was that in the league they gave away a big lead and were a point behind Dortmund.”
Although Bayern lost the lead in the Bundesliga to Borussia Dortmund, the Munich club was still in the cup and Champions League and a win over Dortmund would already be enough to regain the lead in the league.
Even Andries Jonker, national coach of the Dutch women’s team, was not surprised when Nagelsmann was sent packing. “This is part of Bayern, this happens from time to time. It’s a club where you have to win. If you don’t win, there will be unrest. You just can’t always win, but it’s inherent in the character of the club.”
That win came, but under a new coach. The Bayern management had intervened. Because of the results, but riots behind the scenes also played a role.
Thus goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalovic, a confidant of captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, was fired and stories circulated about a lack of authority of the young coach. And so Thomas Tuchel was successfully lured to Munich.
After an important win over Dortmund, however, things went from bad to worse in Munich. First there was the cup loss against Freiburg and last week the southern Germans went off hard against City, after which Sadio Mané also dealt a blow to teammate Leroy Sané.
The club suspended Mané for last weekend’s match against Hoffenheim. That game at their own Allianz Arena ended in a disappointing draw, but the damage was limited because rival Dortmund were also unable to add three points.
Many Bayern fans are now pointing in the direction of the board, and not surprisingly so. There has been a drastic changing of the guard at the top of the club in recent years.
Uli Hoeness was a prominent face at Bayern for 40 years, first as general manager, then as president. In 2019, Herbert Hainer took over. Two years ago, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was replaced by Oliver Kahn after nearly two decades. Meanwhile, Hasan Salihamidzic, who has been Munich’s technical director since 2017, was also given a board position.
Mia san Mia
Club legend Lothar Matthäus announced after Nagelsmann’s dismissal that the old club leaders, headed by Hoeness and Rummenigge, would never have made the decision to fire the coach. Bayern would go directly against its own slogan “Mia san Mia” (We are We) by that action.
Makaay: “With the win over Dortmund, they are ahead again. I played four years at Bayern and know that it is a club that makes a decision when necessary,” said ‘das Phantom’.
Two years ago, Hansi Flick, who won the Champions League with Bayern a season earlier, decided to quit as head coach. He became national coach, but in his final months at the ‘Rekordmeister’ there was already talk of a power struggle between him and Salihamidzic. Even then it raised eyebrows among many fans.
According to Makaay, with Kahn and Salihamidzic at the helm, not that much has changed at all. “In my time, a coach was also fired shortly after the winter break. It generally doesn’t happen very quickly, but Niko Kovac was also traded for Hansi Flick early on. The pressure is always great, because it’s just expected to win prizes.”
There was also no question of a landslide in management, according to the former top striker. “In Rummenigge’s last two years, Kahn was already walking along to take over step by step. At Bayern, former players are often involved in the organization and these gentlemen gradually rolled into their positions.”
Jonker worked at the club from Bavaria between 2009 and 2012. First as assistant to Louis van Gaal, then briefly as interim coach and then still as coach of the second team.
Like Makaay, Jonker does not want to point at the new board. “It is in the line of Bayern Munich. These kinds of decisions belong to the club, no matter who is at the helm. You have to win, and that’s what makes them so strong. Everyone knows that, including whoever starts the job.”
National title priority
Chaos or not, if there is no stunt against Manchester City tonight, the only thing left for Bayern to win a prize is the Bundesliga. What is to become of the club that after ten national championships in a row can no longer really settle for “just” the championship trophy?
“The national title remains the priority,” Makaay said. “The Champions League is the goal for many clubs, but is also the hardest prize to win. In addition, Bayern is also on the difficult side of the schedule, with first Paris Saint-Germain, now City and then possibly Real Madrid. It does make a difference against whom you fly out.”
Should Bayern also miss out on the national title, Germany will see another champion for the first time since 2012. According to Jonker, it would bring liveliness, “but on the other hand, German soccer also thrives on Bayern’s success. It is ultimately perhaps the biggest club in Europe. I think German soccer benefits tremendously from that in all respects.”