On April 27th, 2021, Bayern Munich made a groundbreaking decision to replace then-coach Hansi Flick with Julian Nagelsmann for a record transfer fee of €25 million. A lot of confidence and support was exuded publicly by the Bayern Munich board, and it appeared as if we were in for a long-term relationship. Surprisingly, as reported by @iMiaSanMia and Bild, Julian Nagelsmann has been sacked effective immediately after not even two years. Did this decision truly come out of the blue? Let’s recap a few things to see why this scenario was in the making for quite some time if not since the get-go.
Let’s go back to Julian Nagelsmann’s Bundesliga accomplishments prior to his Bayern Munich time. Nagelsmann was known to be a charismatic and eloquent coach whose role model was Pep Guardiola, another former Bayern head coach. Nagelsmann became the youngest coach in the history of the Bundesliga when 1899 Hoffenheim appointed him to be the head coach, and he led the then relegation-facing team from Sinsheim to escape going to the 2. Bundesliga. In the following year, Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim secured fourth place in the Bundesliga and even qualified for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
In 2019, Nagelsmann joined RB Leipzig and during his coaching stint in Saxony, he led the team to the Champions League semi-finals in 2020 which was a first in the club’s history. Nagelsmann himself then became the youngest coach in Champions League history to lead a club to the semi-finals. Nagelsmann went on to face Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals where he faced none other than his former boss during his senior career in Augsburg and new Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel. On top of that, a year later, Nagelsmann and Leipzig finished the Bundesliga in second place.
A lot of success stories and “firsts” were achieved by the young coach which led to Bayern Munich’s huge interest in the prodigy. This is where things get interesting. Right off the bat it was proudly exclaimed that Julian Nagelsmann was to ring in a new era and bring in success for years to come. His career trajectory has shown that he could very well make “firsts” happen. However, at Bayern Munich, a club that measures success and everyone in the club contributing to it solely by victories and titles, “firsts” do not matter as long as the bottom line is titles. Preferably, the Champions League title. Winning the Bundesliga title would be nothing but accomplishing what is expected. It is, so to speak, an unspoken rule to win die Meisterschaft each year. Even winning the double consisting of Meisterschaft and DFB-Pokal would probably only be considered a “decent season”. Therefore, one could reasonably assume that Nagelsmann was brought in to win the Champions League. This factor is also what is inexplicable about this sacking, but more on that shortly.
Shaky performances since the very beginning
Nagelsmann was more than capable of managing big German teams, but would he be able to manage the biggest German team? The expectations that came along with a costly multi-year contract must have caused unprecedented pressure on Nagelsmann that cannot be simply brushed aside with a smile and charming wordplays. So, how would he perform at the helm of Bayern Munich?
Nagelsmann’s first games were elusive, even deceptive, as a draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach was quickly swept under the rug when Bayern won the 2021 DFL-Supercup against Borussia Dortmund, leading to Nagelsmann’s first title with the new team. The 12–0 victory against Bremer SV in the DFB-Pokal, as well as Bundesliga victories against Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig were not strong enough tests to prove whether Nagelsmann could make it in decisive games. However, a 3-0 victory against FC Barcelona in the Champions League group stage seemed to finally calm a lot of nerves and silence doubters… until Bayern lost against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. Such shaky performances would become a recurring theme: A 5-1 victory against Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and a 4-0 victory over S.L. Benfica in the Champions League would shortly be followed by a devastating 5-0 loss against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB-Pokal which eliminated Bayern way too early from the cup in an embarrassing manner.
Further blows were the 2-1 loss against FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga, followed by narrow victories by one goal against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League and Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga; as well as that 2-3 victory against Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesligam which Bayern won by the thinnest of margins. Inconsistent performances under Nagelsmann followed for the rest of 2021, and 2022 was kicked off with a 1-2 loss against — who else? — Borussia Mönchengladbach. Problems started to arise internally and Julian Nagelsmann and sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić seemed to be at odds over the quality and depth of the squad. The big nail in the coffin appeared to be the elimination from the Champions League quarter-final against Villarreal CF. Nagelsmann evidently wanted to have a bigger say in transfers, and hesitantly, perhaps reluctantly, the board decided to slowly bring in new players to Bavaria. Everyone still put on happy faces.
Squad and tactics
Bayern’s decision-makers did not see the achievements they had hoped for when Nagelsmann came on board. However, after all the hype, the board could not lose face, so Nagelsmann’s desire to have new and qualitatively high players was granted. Or, was it?
While Jérôme Boateng, David Alaba, Javi Martínez, and Robert Lewandowski left, Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Sabitzer, and Omar Richards came in. These players showed glimpses of excellence but either were not consistent or did not receive the trust to play in decisive games, so they never became the heirs to the players that departed and suitable replacements still have not been found for all of them. Richards left the club for good and Sabitzer is willing to prove himself at Manchester United these days. Other players that were also brought in mostly failed to meet the high expectations of Bayern or could not prove themselves with little to no playing minutes.
Top-notch quality players were needed. Eventually, Matthis de Ligt, Sadio Mané, Mathys Tel, and Ryan Gravenberch were added to the team for a lot of money, but none of them have shown the consistency to date either. Promising players like Chris Richards, Malik Tillman, Gabriel Vidovic, Bright Arrey-Mbi, Arijon Ibrahimovic, and Paul Wanner were and are not used sufficiently. Even João Cancelo, of whom Nagelsmann was a fan, has only been used sporadically. No other Bayern coach in the recent past has received as much support as Nagelsmann as far as building a squad goes. Currently, despite being inconsistent, Bayern probably has the best team they have had in years - qualitatively and quantitatively — but the performances remained an enigma for the rest of 2022 with excellent games in the Champions League and a lot of ups and downs in the Bundesliga.
But wasn’t the Champions League seemingly the reason why Nagelsmann was brought to the Säbener Straße? You cannot possibly complain too much after winning all of the Champions League group stage games against FC Barcelona and Inter Milan, and even making it to the quarter-finals after defeating Paris Saint-Germain twice in the round of 16. You cannot, unless you consider the fact that Bayern had a nine-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table at the start of 2023 that was quickly melted down by three consecutive draws against RB Leipzig, 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt.
What was even more frustrating than the draws was the lack of creativity and, at times, the questionable tactics that Nagelsmann used. A back-three defense, a back-four defense, the use of wing-backs and then not using them for many games, switching players to positions they do not feel comfortable with, making abrupt substitutions that hurt the game immensely and jeopardized a victory, playing with one, two, or no strikers, - the tactics seemed to have no rhyme or reason and were catastrophic - as seen against, once again, Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga in February 2023 which ended in a 3-2 loss, and against Bayer 04 Leverkusen which Bayern lost 2-1 after leading. This was Nagelsmann’s last game for Bayern. The players lost trust in their coach which only underlines that there were frictions, even a somewhat broken relationship, between the players and Nagelsmann.
Already towards the end of 2022, the players felt that Nagelsmann was running an authoritative one-man show that only blamed the players when things went south. Even though the players are in no way exempt from criticism, as they must meet the high standards at Bayern, having a rift between the coach and the players cannot possibly go well. It was one of the biggest reasons why Niko Kovač was sacked. Ultimately, despite having the desired squad depth, the goal of winning the Bundesliga is understood to be at stake currently, as Bayern is behind Borussia Dortmund whom they will face after the international break. Nagelsmann’s tactics cost Bayern a few too many points this season, and the board’s patience was running thin.
Too much turmoil
The pressure on Nagelsmann’s became more and more evident over time. In his interviews, he seemed to be more distant, even angry on many occasions. On the pitch, he blew a lot of steam, but, unfortunately, in an undesirable fashion when he rushed into the referees’ dressing room after the loss against Borussia Mönchengladbach and insulted them in an unsportsmanlike manner, for which he paid a €50,000 fine. His emotional outbursts and impulsive behaviors were not appreciated in Munich and have been frowned upon for a while.
Moreover, though his personal life should be none of our concern, it probably was not the most welcomed news at the Bayern board when it became public that Nagelsmann was in a relationship with a Bild reporter. It was not something that was well accepted in the dressing room and became a topic of discussion. The recent mole story where someone leaked confidential tactic sheets just adds unnecessary fuel to the fire.
Another criticism that Nagelsmann received is his flashy appearance. Again, this is another point that should not be any of our business, but his presentation may have led to unwanted attention and distractions. We have seen what happens when players make such moves. It is not something the German culture embraces. Though Bayern aka FC Hollywood has always had a bit of drama, Nagelsmann may have stepped on the feet of too many people too soon.
Nagelsmann is a skilled coach, but he may not have been quite ready to handle the world of Bayern, where coaches and players are constantly scrutinized and where today’s victory means nothing in tomorrow’s game. Even the littlest of problems won’t be forgotten, and a snowball effect may have led to a big avalanche. Though Hasan Salihamidžić stated that this was the “most difficult decision” he has faced as a sporting director at Bayern, it probably was not that difficult after all if it was made within a few hours.
The real problem, Tuchel, the future
Julian Nagelsmann was, in my humble opinion, the right person for the job, and with a little more patience, the long-term relationship could have come to fruition. But the fact of the matter is that Nagelsmann was, despite all the public support by the Bayern board, only an experiment for which Bayern seemed to have no true commitment.
As harsh as it may sound, he was in for the loss as soon as he accepted the job if Thomas Tuchel was the candidate Bayern was actually waiting for. Surely, Nagelsmann could have irked a lot of people, and the Bundesliga performance of Bayern has seen too many draws and losses this season, but the title is always within reach for Bayern. With a win against Borussia Dortmund, things could be looking completely different.
As far as the Champions League goes, Bayern has done exceptionally well and, even though Manchester City might be die Endstation, I would consider the international accomplishments this year a success. Unless there was something serious going on behind the scenes that we are not aware of at the moment, sacking Nagelsmann after not even two years seems very strange. It is also not very Bayern-like that a coach finds out about his exit through the media.
The problem Bayern is facing now is that Thomas Tuchel, despite being a formidable coach, is not really known to be an easy person to deal with either. He had clashes with the leadership and players at Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea FC. He received a contract until 2025 which also looks like a short-term cooperation, and if he falls out of favor with the players, history will most likely repeat itself and Tuchel won’t last more than two seasons with Bayern. Also, Thomas Tuchel is considered to be somewhat of a role model to Nagelsmann, so the leadership style could be very similar. Is this already the base for an immediate clash? Things must change as Bayern indeed needs a long-term solution for stability, and the Bayern players cannot force a coach’s exit each time they feel uncomfortable when they are supposed to maintain a high-level performance for more than just a handful of games. What will happen after Tuchel’s contract ends? Will it be a panic extension or will there be a viable option for the future?
Also, it is also rumored that Real Madrid is already trying to secure the services of Julian Nagelsmann with whom Los Blancos had contact already back in 2018. This would mean that a direct competitor for the Champions League could be strengthened by a good coach that we let go prematurely. If Nagelsmann ends up with another top European club and manages to win the Champions League, it would really add insult to injury and Bayern could question, if not even regret the decision of firing Nagelsmann.
It will be interesting to see what information will be provided to us by all involved parties over the next few days and weeks. It is such an unfortunate timing, as the games against Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City should be the sole focus. All of what is happening right now is just a distraction that hopefully won’t be our demise. Regardless of what we will find out soon — Danke, Julian!
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