Bayern Munich Face Vital Decision in How to Replace Carlo Ancelotti

Andy BrassellFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2017

Bayern caretaker Willy Sagnol directs his team in Sunday's draw at Hertha.
Bayern caretaker Willy Sagnol directs his team in Sunday's draw at Hertha.Associated Press

The response was emphatic, exactly as we had expected. When the news came through on Thursday afternoon that Bayern Munich had fired their coach Carlo Ancelotti, one imagines that there was a gulp or two in the Hertha Berlin dressing room as they prepared for a night of Europa League action in northern Sweden.

Pal Dardai's side would have feared—quite rightly—that Bayern would react with ferocity, pride and a sheer will to get on with things after a frustrating beginning to their season.

The 3-0 humbling at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the board, but it wouldn't have radically altered the perception of Ancelotti within the dressing room. Or, for that matter, the sense among the players that they might demand more of themselves.

Bayern began in that vein in Berlin's Olympiastadion and could already have been in front by the time Mats Hummels headed the first in the 10th minute. When Robert Lewandowski made it two just into the second half, it seemed as if it was back to business, only for the shortcomings so familiar of late to re-emerge.

Alarm bells rang when Genki Haraguchi waltzed through the Bayern backline to set Ondrej Duda up for a tap-in almost immediately after Lewandowski's goal, and only five minutes after that, Salomon Kalou took advantage of more sleepy defending to snatch an equaliser. There is work to do for whoever's next.

Few that have watched Bayern under Ancelotti with anything approaching regularity could argue he hasn't had a fair crack of the whip. For the most part, the serial German champions were dismal under the former Milan and Real Madrid coach, able to maintain their domestic domination by way of their exceptional individual qualities and, to a degree, the shortcomings of their rivals.

Whatever your thoughts on the timing of the club's decision, it had become abundantly clear that Bayern were not going to reach either the heights of the treble under Jupp Heynckes or the aesthetic apex of the Pep Guardiola era. So, Ancelotti's successor will have a daunting task—to bring success and to imbue a much stronger sense of playing identity to this side.

Carlo Ancelotti looks on glumly in his final game on the Bayern bench, against former club Paris Saint-Germain.
Carlo Ancelotti looks on glumly in his final game on the Bayern bench, against former club Paris Saint-Germain.Thibault Camus/Associated Press/Associated Press

That sounds hard enough on its own, but when you then consider the new man will have no benefit of any sort of honeymoon, no pre-season or room to experiment, it becomes clear just what a niche task this will be.

In an ideal world, Bayern would have waited until the end of the season to bring the curtain down on Ancelotti's term, and they would almost certainly have hitched their wagon to Hoffenheim's rising star Julian Nagelsmann.

The seeds of doubt sewn by last season (and particularly the performance in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid) have grown, though, to the point where Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have decided enough is enough.

This unusual situation, at an uncommonly early stage of the season, requires an out-of-the-ordinary solution. Normally Willy Sagnol, Ancelotti's erstwhile assistant who stepped up to take care of the interim beginning with the game at Hertha, might seem the obvious choice. After all, the moment clearly craves calm and stability.

Sagnol has the big advantage of knowing exactly what Bayern are all about; the way the politics of the club work, the culture, the pressures and the expectations are all second nature to him after almost nine years at Sabener Strasse as a player.

This is why he was brought back into the club by Hoeness and Rummenigge—not just to help Ancelotti, but to keep an eye on the first-team and to surround the current group with that extra little bit of Bayern-ness.

The problem, if we're thinking any longer than a game or two, is Sagnol's own past as a head coach. On the field it was a mixed bag. He started well after joining Bordeaux in 2014, but it all began to unravel after he gave an interview to Ouest-France (quoted here by Liberation, in French) in which he crassly stereotyped African players.

Sagnol's reign limped on until March 2016, when he was fired after a derby hammering at Toulouse left Les Girondins looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone. By then, considerable discord had developed in the squad and he had fallen out with a number of his staff. These are not pointers that suggest he is the man to bring the Bayern squad together.

In the aftermath of the Hertha game, Sagnol decreed that Bayern are "no longer the best team in Germany," per Bundesliga.com. This may well be designed to prickle the pride of his squad and elicit a response, but it is a high-risk strategy and—bearing in mind the clumsiness of some of his exchanges in the past—does make one wonder if he's learned from the mistakes of his Bordeaux days.

Tuchel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate after his final game with Dortmund, the DfB Pokal final win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
Tuchel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate after his final game with Dortmund, the DfB Pokal final win over Eintracht Frankfurt.Michael Sohn/Associated Press/Associated Press

Communication is also an issue hanging over another candidate for the role. There is little arguing with Thomas Tuchel's record on paper at Borussia Dortmund, with a DfB Pokal, successive Champions League qualifications and a quarter-final in that competition all to his credit; never mind dealing with the sales of Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan, as well as his dignity and humanity in dealing with the aftermath of the bus attack last April.

Talks with Tuchel have already taken place, according to Bild (via The Mirror's Joe Mewis), which underlines how unprepared Bayern are for the current situation. He was not removed as Dortmund coach for the sporting side of his work, as CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke made clear in the club's statement announcing his departure.

"We couldn't see a basis for continued work together built on trust," wrote Watzke, per ESPN FC, alluding to Tuchel's various fall-outs behind the scenes, notably with head scout Sven Mislintat. One wonders if Tuchel would recognise the need to row back from certain stances at a club like Bayern, where the true power is always further up the food chain than the coach.

There is also the concern of how the players would adapt. Tuchel was described as "the anti-Ancelotti" on TV channel ZDF's Aktuelle Sportstudio this weekend, and his would be a much more tactically rigorous, demanding regime. Given how Bayern's squad struggled to cope with the switch in intensity between Pep Guardiola and Ancelotti, another leap back to a newly micro-managed routine might be tough.

Julian Nagelsmann seems destined for Bayern—but is this the right moment?
Julian Nagelsmann seems destined for Bayern—but is this the right moment?Dave Thompson/Associated Press/Associated Press

All of which, of course, leaves us with Nagelsmann. The mutual interest is clear, and it already was before his remarkably candid recent interview with Eurosport. The appointment would be a progressive one, and the 30-year-old is clearly a rare talent. The problem is one of timing.

Even assuming Hoffenheim would let him go now, is it fair to let Nagelsmann begin his new regime earlier than planned as a salvage operation? The first thing any new coach will need to do is to get some experienced stars to wind their necks in and, supertalent or not, Bayern are Bayern, and Nagelsmann is 30. Neither has he had a pre-season to assess the squad and instil his way of doing things.

With that said, he was thrust into the Hoffenheim hot seat months earlier than intended, when Huub Stevens left due to ill health in October 2015, having been due to take the post in summer 2016. Perhaps if anybody can deal with the chaos of this situation, it's Nagelsmann.

Chaos, though, is what this is. A five-point gap at the top of the Bundesliga is not insurmountable, and the loss at PSG need not stop the squad regrouping for a Champions League charge. Bayern, however, are at a crossroads, and they must choose carefully if they are to pick the right man to lead them out of the woods.