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BFW Commentary: Assessing the damage at Bayern Munich — give us your thoughts

The next two seasons will be pivotal for Bayern Munich.

Bayern München v Villarreal CF Quarter Final Leg Two - UEFA Champions League Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

When Bayern Munich was unceremoniously bounced from the Champions League against Villarreal, it set off of a range of emotions with fans from anger to despair to frustration to apathy.

What happened on the pitch was the end product of two years of acrimony, a disconnect between the coaching staff and the front office, and a series of poor performances from the squad.

Let’s take a look at some of the events that led to Bayern Munich’s premature elimination from European play:

The Past: Personality conflicts and poor squad planning

Why not start at the beginning? The “Brazzo vs. Flick” debate was all the rage at this time last season. Sporting director Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidzic and then-manager Hansi Flick had a private, ongoing feud that divided many in the organization into two sides: Team Hansi or Team Brazzo.

Of course, that never ends well.

Ultimately, Flick walked away, but so did mostly all of the staffers associated with his tenure. To lose all of that institutional knowledge on the players, the system, the league, etc., was a huge failure on Säbener Straße. It would be easy enough to just lament losing one of the most successful and well-liked coaches in the history of the club, but to lose other figured like Hermann “Tiger” Gerland, whose rapport with the squad was impeccable, hurts...badly.

Moreover, Bayern Munich has been playing this game with its personnel: The coach wants to run a system, but the squad planners did not fully buy into giving him the players to do it. It happened with Carlo Ancelotti, Niko Kovac, and Flick, as well.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final Draw
Hansi Flick’s short, but remarkable time at Bayern Munich ended prematurely.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Upon hiring Julian Nagelsmann, nearly everyone speculated that the new boss would want to use a back three. Of course, Bayern Munich has spent a good portion of this season doing just that — only without a true right wing-back. Instead, the squad is overloaded with highly-paid wingers, (whose position may now be irrelevant), who have been disguised at attacking midfielders or wing-backs. Moreover, the club has made questionable decisions with its squad planning — if Nagelsmann does, indeed, plan to use a back three moving forward, while also making some poor assessments on players along the way.

Not getting out in front of players contracts for key players has cost the club Niklas Süle and probably escalated the asking price from Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller, and Manuel Neuer. The squad planning has been reactive instead of proactive — and that has been a killer.

The Present: Let’s talk about options

This was the state of the squad heading into the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals:

  • Serge Gnabry — who is angling to paid like a star — was sad about not being able to play as an attacking midfielder and often being used as a makeshift wing-back.
  • Leroy Sane was reprimanded for a lack of effort at training just a few weeks ago and gave Nagelsmann the cold shoulder when being subbed off last Saturday against FC Augsburg.
  • Numerous reports state that Robert Lewandowski was miffed about the club’s lack of contact with him regard to a new contract and its rumored interest in Erling Haaland.
  • Benjamin Pavard openly stated he wants to move to center-back.
  • Süle already decided to move on.
  • Lucas Hernandez has been reluctant to talk about his future in Bavaria past his contract expiration.

Meanwhile, the club is actively — or not actively depending on who you believe — in contract talks with Lewandowski, Müller, Neuer, Gnabry, along with Ajax’s Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui.

FC Bayern München - Training Session
Alphonso Davies is great, but is far from a finished product.
Photo by Roland Krivec/vi/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

In addition, players like Marc Roca, Marcel Sabitzer, and the currently injured duo of Corentin Tolisso and Bouna Sarr have all been rumored to be seeking an exit.

Why is all of that relevant? Because of investment. Who is invested in a project they might not feel is fully invested in them? Such is the state of the modern athlete.

As it pertains to leg two against Villarreal, between injuries and comfort level, Nagelsmann was essentially left looking down at his bench for two choices when Hernandez had to leave the game with injury:

  • Tanguy Nianzou: A natural center-back, who is too young, inexperienced, and prone to mistakes to be pulled into a Champions League make-or-break situation.
  • Alphonso Davies: A left-back, who just recently returned from a bout with myocarditis, who has not looked like himself since coming back, and who has struggled with his positioning all season.

Nagelsmann opted for Davies, which was probably the correct decision given his options, but one that ultimately helped lose the game. For as much as everyone loves Davies, he has not been good positionally all season — and even struggled with it last season. His eagerness to push up put Bayern Munich in a bad spot against Villarreal and it ultimately led to the game-winning goal.

Did the entire match come down to that moment? No, Bayern had ample chances to put the game out of reach prior to that, but it does illustrate the gap between what the coach envisions for his squad and what the squad planners gave him.

The Future: How to move on?

Bayern Munich is in an awkward and unwinnable situation: Pay veterans who are club legends, but max out your budget — or move on from them and draw ire from the fanbase and media.

It is truly a no-win situation.

Lewandowski, Müller, Neuer likely still have much to offer, but the club is in the precarious position of telling those players just how much...and for how long. The issue of contract length is already at the forefront of Lewandowski’s mind and surely will be important to Müller and Neuer, as well. As for Gnabry, the club and coaching staff must determine exactly where he fit and if adding another hefty salary is really worth it for a player who might not be a consistent starter, but wants to be paid like it.

Bayern München v Villarreal CF Quarter Final Leg Two - UEFA Champions League
Can Julian Nagelsmann rebound and help Bayern Munich get back on track?
Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

Nagelsmann will rightfully take most of the heat for this failure in the Champions League — and also the DFB-Pokal as well. The squad has shown flashes of brilliance, but often has looked choppy and underwhelming. Whether it is the consistent changing of formations and tactics, the adjustment period under a new coach, or something as simple as the parts not all fitting together, Bayern Munich needs to figure it out.

Tough decisions will have to be made as the club balances finding players for Nagelsmann’s system, showing loyalty to veterans, developing youngsters, and adding depth pieces.

It will not be easy and it is not clear if Nagelsmann — or anyone else — is capable of navigating that terrain.

There is no doubt that the club is still well-positioned to be the best in Germany, but the next two seasons will go a long way in determining where Bayern Munich slots into the new world of football moving forward.

At this point, there are a lot more questions than answers.

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