Call me paranoid (please do, it helps with engagement metrics) but as a Bayern Munich fan who is prone to overthinking things, this upcoming season reeks of something fishy. Knowing how the football gods have a penchant for recycling old scripts, the club may be in for a rough ride in 2021/2022, as a parallel to 2016/2017 when Carlo Ancelotti took over from Pep Guardiola.
Why do I feel this way? Well, there are some uncanny similarities between Bayern’s current situation and that of the 2016 preseason. Let’s recount some of them, and talk about how they may be warning us of things to come.
A disappointing Euros
For the second time in a row, Bayern Munich have had a very disappointing run at the Euros. Euro 2020 was arguably much worse for our players than Euro 2016 was, and the fact that every single Bayern player was knocked out before the quarter finals doesn’t reflect well on a club of this caliber.
Of course, the parallels are only superficial, and there are mitigating circumstances to this. Robert Lewandowski did as well as he could carrying that pathetic Polish national side, while Germany were hamstrung by Joachim Low. France, meanwhile, played a mediocre tournament and imploded against Switzerland, and most of the Bayern contingent were barely involved.
However, there is something to be said about how a collectively poor Euros can have an effect on player morale. Thomas Muller, for example, had his worst ever individual season in 16/17 (right after Euro 2016). Despite 15/16 being his best ever season at the time, he couldn’t replicate his form after a bad tournament. Once again, he faces the prospect of picking up after a tough international campaign, and with the weight of a career-best season (2020/2021) hanging over his head.
Meanwhile, the Euros also deprive most Bayern stars of proper rest and a long preseason, which is especially problematic when a new coach is at the helm. While the parallels with 2016 may just be a coincidence, there may be some tangible effects on the club next year.
The star-signing being a center-back
In 2016 there was Mats Hummels. In 2021 we have Dayot Upamecano. Both hailed as some of the best center-backs in the Bundesliga, and both purchased from a direct rival. Their transfer fees are even similar — showing acute management by the board in the wake of inflationary prices across Europe.
However, it isn’t exactly the kind of signing that will take Bayern to the next level. Upa is a great player, and he will likely slot right into the setup after some acclimatization. However, a CB is almost never the kind of game-changing signing that a forward or a midfielder can be, and that game-changer is what Bayern’s transfer window is missing this year. When it happened in 2016, we didn’t see the problem until it was too late. Could that same scenario happen again?
Strange parallels between the new coaches
I like Julian Nagelsmann. I think he’s an excellent coach and I’ve wanted him at Bayern for years, ever since he practically ran Carlo out of town back in the day. But people should remember that, when Carlo Ancelotti was hired, people thought he was the perfect man to take over the helm from Pep Guardiola.
Carlo, for his own part, said that very little would change in the beginning and he simply wanted to give his team more options to play with. That’s very similar to what Nagelsmann has said in his opening press conferences, especially in reference to the 3-4-3 formation.
Now I don’t think Carlo Ancelotti and Julian Nagelsmann are the same type of coach — far from it. Nagelsmann seems to fit Bayern’s energy better, and he clearly has a firmer grasp of his vision for the club. However, the Bayern job reacts strangely to new coaches — who knows where the 33-year-old could make a misstep?
There’s a lot of optimism in the Bayern fanbase at the moment, but it’s hard to see where it’s coming from. Most of it is predicated on assumptions around Nageslmann — that he can make improvements to the team Flick is leaving behind and take the Bayern to the next level. However, the logic is flawed.
- How exactly do you improve on what Flick did? The man has us playing some of the best football this club has ever seen, and he won the sextuple while doing it. What can Nagelsmann really bring to the table that trumps Flick’s 2020 Bayern side?
- The squad has made no significant reinforcements in the last two years — if anything, the 2021-22 team is weaker than the one Niko Kovac started with at the beginning to 2019-20 (the season where he got fired).
- Departed veterans like Thiago Alcantara, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, and Javi Martinez have not been replaced. Between this and the lack of signings, the odds are stacked against Nagelsmann — he has to improve on Flick’s all-time great season, with fewer resources than Flick had at his disposal.
This is a lot like what it felt in 2016. Ancelotti was expected to take Guardiola’s team to the next level, unshackling it from boring Spanish tiki-taka and unleashing the players’ true potential. In fact, it turned out that Pep WAS getting the most out of his squad, and Ancelotti flailed around trying to do something different. He experimented with a 4-3-3 and a 4-3-2-1, but they all ended up being inferior to the 4-2-3-1 that the squad was built for.
It’s easy to see Nagelsmann falling into the same trap — having been given a mandate to improve the team, but no clear means of doing so. People really underestimate the magnitude of the job he’s been given.
Nagelsmann: "But naturally, the Champions League is also a big dream, for the club and of course for me. So I don't want to favour the one or the other just now. We aim to win every trophy."— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) July 7, 2021
A coaching staff overhaul
This isn’t anyone’s fault (you can blame Brazzo or Flick but in the end, it’s one of those things that happens) but Bayern Munich are heading into the new season with a radically overhauled coaching staff. Hansi Flick took Danny Rohl with him to the DFB, while Hermann Gerland and Miroslav Klose quit. Meanwhile, Bayern paid top dollar to secure Nagelmann’s Leipzig assistants to follow him to Munich.
Ancelotti’s downfall came because he brought a whole host of people with him from Real Madrid, including Paul Clement (his assistant), his son Davide, and the questionable fitness trainer Giovanni Mauri. Longtime assistant Hermann Gerland meanwhile took up a position in the campus.
The nepotism and discord was so bad under Ancelotti’s reign that Bayern ended up making a rule that coaches could no longer bring their whole staff with them to Munich — which is why Niko Kovac could only have his brother Robert working with him.
However, with Nagelsmann starting afresh with a mostly new staff, it feels like things might go off the rails again. While I doubt Nagelsmann is engaging in the same level of nepotism as Ancelotti, the absence of Gerland could be a catalyst that stirs unfamiliarity and breeds discord in the ranks of the squad.
It’s hard to draw conclusions from some coincidental parallels between scenarios that are five years apart, but there’s something to be said about the situation Bayern are in. The club’s last two permanent coaching hires were huge flops (Ancelotti and Kovac) who had to be bailed out by emergency interim candidates (Jupp and Hansi). Getting the right coach for this club is a very tricky thing.
Nagelsmann has the odds stacked against him. He takes over a weakened squad, and must follow up on Flick’s all-conquering juggernaut. Bayern Munich fans have extremely high expectations for him, but they may be impossible to live up to. Let’s see how it goes.