FC Bayern Munich is a storied institution with unwritten rules woven into the tapestry of the club’s trophy-laden history.
Alongside using the formal ‘Sie’ to address your superiors, smiling when forced into lederhosen at Oktoberfest and always winning the Bundesliga, perhaps the club need to confiscate any skis and poles upon arrival in Bavaria.
Julian Nagelsmann was in the Austrian alps when his family ski trip was soured with the news that he would no longer be the manager of the club he grew up supporting. Just a few months prior, Bayern’s captain Manuel Neuer broke his leg whizzing down the slopes after Germany had tumbled out of the World Cup group stage once again.
Going into the Qatar tournament, Bayern were four points clear at the top of the Bundesliga on the back of a ten-match winning run. The perennial German champions have dropped 12 points in 2023 yet remain within touching distance of league leaders Borussia Dortmund – who they face on 1 April – and are poised to compete in the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal and the Champions League.
So, less than two years after Bayern paid a world-record €25m fee to secure Nagelsmann’s signature, why have they consigned his tenure to scrapheap with Thomas Tuchel set to take over?
Five days before Nagelsmann was ushered out of the back door, Bayern’s president Herbert Hainer offered little evidence that the 35-year-old was on the brink of the sack. “I think Julian has come a long way,” Hainer told the German publication Kicker.
“A top coach who also proved against Paris that he is tactically and strategically excellent at the highest European level. We recognised that with a five-year contract because we want to build something with him.”
Hainer referenced Bayern’s two-legged victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16, a convincing and composed triumph in which the Bavarians were comfortably superior for at least 160 of the tie’s 180 minutes – making his subsequent departure all the more bizarre. Bayern are the only side in this season’s Champions League to have won every match, defeating Inter, Barcelona and PSG while keeping seven clean sheets along the way.
Bayern followed up their European progression with a chaotic 5-3 win over Augsburg before skulking into the March international break on the back of a 2-1 reverse away to Bayer Leverkusen. It was the club’s third league defeat of the season, their second of the new year, but the manner of the loss was what proved most troublesome for the club’s top brass.
Only Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick and Carlo Ancelotti averaged more Bundesliga points than Nagelsmann during their tenures but events on the pitch are not the only defining factor in his departure.
Nagelsmann once famously opined: “30% of coaching is tactics, 70% social competence.” Unfortunately for the towering Bavarian, his personal relationships have become increasingly strained.
After Leverkusen’s Exequiel Palacios held his nerve to convert two penalties in last Sunday’s victory against Nagelsmann’s side, Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic seethed: “That’s not what Bayern is about. So little drive, mentality, assertiveness. I’ve seldom experienced that.”
This was a rare divergence from the public praise Salihamidzic has been keen to heap on the coach he decided to sign. However, Nagelsmann would not be the first manager to fall out with Bayern’s forthright sporting director. The deterioration in the relationship between Flick, Nagelsmann’s predecessor, and Salihamidzic ultimately hastened his departure for the German national team.
Nagelmann’s running spat with Neuer has been far more public. The Bayern skipper caused real controversy with an interview for The Athletic in February when he lamented the surprise departure of long-time goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalovic for “no reason that I could comprehend”, a decision which brought the veteran keeper to tears.
Nagelsmann never warmed to Neuer’s confidant Tapalovic and was expected to be behind his departure. The frost crackled across his words when Neuer – who is 16 months older than Nagelsmann – described his relationship with the manager: “I work with him in a professional manner. We were very straight with each other. He knows where I stand.”
It would be wrong to suggest that Nagelsmann lost the entirety or even the majority of the Bayern dressing room – just look at the shock of Joao Cancelo when confronted with the news while on international duty – but clearly some key figures won’t be brought to tears.
It all started so well. Back on the first weekend of August, Bayern lined up against freshly crowned Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt with a front four of Sadio Mane, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller, producing fluid and fluent attacking play so sharp, the visiting backline needed to be bandaged up at the final whistle.
Across the first four games of the season, Bayern scored an outrageous 20 goals. However, that edge had already begun to blunt by October. Mane’s maiden season has been punctuated by injuries and half of his league goal tally came in August. The former Liverpool forward, brought in as the flexible replacement for Barcelona-bound Robert Lewandowski, has not scored since Halloween.
Unable to replicate the free-wheeling, striker-less front line which succeeded so well at Manchester City last season under the watch of one of his idols Guardiola, Nagelsmann turned to the only orthodox centre-forward left in the squad; Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. The footballing punchline has morphed into a reliable poacher under Nagelsmann – who warrants credit for pivoting mid-season – but Bayern’s attack was not what it has been in recent seasons.
The Bavarians are creating fewer chances of lower quality, still registering the best expected goals (xG) rate in the Bundesliga but they have gone from racking up 2.5 xG per 90 last season to 2.0 this term – a 20% drop-off.
Choupo-Moting missed Bayern’s defeat to Leverkusen with back problems, underlining the worrisome reliance the team has developed for the former Stoke City striker.
Bayern have stricter managerial criteria than other super clubs. Tuchel, a Champions League-winning German speaker, with detailed knowledge of the Bundesliga who was out of contract, ticked all of the boxes.
How much longer the former Borussia Dortmund coach would have been available was also a factor in the proactive decision-making of Bayern’s hierarchy. With the summer break nearing, Bayern clearly felt they could not afford to watch Tuchel join another club.
15 years after he gave Nagelsmann his first job off the pitch, shifting the chronically injured centre-back from the treatment table to a scouting role at Augsburg, Tuchel is snatching the sacked coach’s dream role off him.