When the news broke late on Thursday that Bayern Munich had sacked trainer Julian Nagelsmann and were lining up Thomas Tuchel as his replacement, the instant reaction was one of shock. But as the day breaks and Bayern find themselves once again the top news story, the question needs to be asked as to whether this was an inevitable parting of the ways (even if the timing was a surprise).
The sacking of Nagelsmann saw social media go into near meltdown when the news broke with the move taking everyone by surprise. Yes, Bayern are currently second in the table behind Borussia Dortmund (by a point), but they overcame Paris St Germain in the Champions League to reach the quarterfinals and still have the DFB Pokal in their sights. With the Klassiker (and potential title decider) against Dortmund coming up straight after the international break the timing of the announcement seems very odd to say the least.
However, this cannot be a snap decision from those in charge at the Rekordmeister and there has clearly been discord behind the scenes even if the public statements emanating from the club have all stridently backed the coach.
The beginning of the end
The thread of Nagelsmann’s downfall can be followed back to last season and Bayern’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of lowly Villarreal at the quarterfinal stage. If Nagelsmann couldn’t negotiate his way past the unfancied Spaniards, what chance did Bayern have against the real heavyweights?
Then there was the criticism levelled at him by Robert Lewandowski, who would eventually depart acrimoniously to Barcelona. The talismanic striker hinted at frustrations about tactics under Nagelsmann, saying it had ‘not been easy’ to flourish in attack – despite going on to smash in 50 goals in 46 games.
There was also a reported clash in training when Lewandowski took umbrage at Nagelsmann advising the player about his positioning and telling him the runs he wanted him to make when his team-mates crossed the ball in for him. An angered Lewandowski reportedly fired back at him, reminding the coach it was he who had netted 41 goals at the time, and not him.
The seed ripens
Nagelsmann won the league in his first season, but with just one trophy in the bag, the season couldn’t be viewed as a complete success. This season has seen Bayern forced into a real title race for the first time in years and it is by no means a foregone conclusion that they will achieve a 12th consecutive Bundesliga title. The Hinrunde saw them go on a four-match winless run, which included defeat to Augsburg. The start of the Rückrunde saw them winless in three and there followed defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach and more recently Bayer Leverkusen.
Nagelsmann has also found trouble hard to avoid this season with a number of issues clouding his tenure. There has been squad unrest with players voicing their frustration over a lack of playing time (Leon Goretzka and Ryan Gravenberch), uncertainty over the most profitable use of Sadio Mané, as well as the uncomfortable fact that Nagelsmann’s girlfriend is Lena Wurzenberger- a sports journalist with the Bild Zeitung.
A number of squad members were said to be unhappy about the sacking of goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic in January with club captain Manuel Neuer the prominent amongst them. The idea that Nagelsmann wants to be the top dog and centre-stage has also grated somewhat. Losing the dressing room is always the first step on a slippery slope and the coach is always going to be the one to pay the price.
But why now? Why not wait until the end of the season and use a lost Meisterschale or an exit from the Champions League as the excuse to axe a coach widely acclaimed to be one of the best young trainers around?
This is where the Thomas Tuchel factor comes in. The former Dortmund trainer was a serious contender prior to Nagelsmann being hired, and his name has never really gone from the minds of the Bayern bosses. The fact that Tottenham were reportedly making serious moves to have Tuchel replace Antonio Conte meant that Bayern had to act now rather than potentially miss out on Tuchel for a second time.
The wisdom (or lack wisdom) of the Nagelsmann sacking will only become evident in time. Tuchel could steer Bayern to the treble, but would that be his achievement or Nagelsmann’s? The suitability of Tuchel at Bayern is a whole story in itself, but one is clear- Bayern have made a huge call here and once against are the top story off the pitch even in the international break.