Nagelsmann’s schadenfreude well-earned
Bayern’s bungling no fault of sacked manager
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There’s a German word for what Julian Nagelsmann is feeling right about now.
Barely two months ago, while skiing in Austria, the 35-year-old learned through social media that his tenure as Bayern Munich manager was about to end both abruptly and prematurely. He raced back to Bavaria to save his job, but by then club CEO Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidžic had decided to replace him with Thomas Tuchel.
The decision, rash as it seemed — and has since proved to be — shocked the team, the city, the Bundesliga and European football generally.
Nagelsmann had been, and certainly remains, a coaching prodigy, and having won the title in his debut season at Allianz-Arena it seemed inevitable that he’d accomplish great things — revolutionary things — at the country’s biggest club. When he departed, he had more than three years left on his deal.
Of course, Kahn and Salihamidžic can claim they had their reasons for sacking the figure they themselves aggressively recruited, and they might even have a few. Nagelsmann’s relationship with a BILD reporter likely troubled them, and the millennial’s style and bearing was perhaps a surprise when they saw it up close.
Then there was his quite obvious frustration with a number of his players, most notably Sadio Mané and Manuel Neuer.
He and Mané came close to blows when the ex-Liverpool forward was omitted from the Bayern lineup against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. Neuer, meanwhile, violated his contract when he broke his leg skiing in December — a needless incident that left the Bayern hierarchy fuming.
Nagelsmann reportedly lost his temper with his captain and escalated the situation by firing Toni Tapalovic, Neuer’s dedicated goalkeeping coach and personal friend.
Nevertheless, at no point did he commit a “sackable offence,” and if anything his occasional heavy-handedness should’ve been welcomed by his bosses, what with big-name players getting out of control and performances predictably suffering as a result.
Which, apparently unsurprising to everyone but Kahn and Salihamidžic, is precisely what’s happened.
When Nagelsmann left Säbener Straße for a final time on March 24, Bayern were a point back of Borussia Dortmund (with the April 1 Klassiker providing a chance to regain first place) and had finished 16 of 24 matchdays atop the Bundesliga. They had a DFB-Pokal quarterfinal to anticipate and were undefeated in the Champions League, outscoring their opponents a combined 21-2.
Kahn and Salihamidžic, however, were panicking. Desperate for a second treble in four seasons, they took the drastic step of removing their manager and opting for what they’d gambled would be a surer set of hands.
It was a disastrous wager.
Tuchel did manage to guide Bayern back to the Bundesliga perch with a Klassiker victory, but just three days later an embarrassing 2-1 defeat at home to Freiburg saw his side bounced from the Pokal. A week after that their Champions League campaign was effectively over, having been trounced by Manchester City. Three days following their exit from the European stage, they lost 3-1 to Mainz.
All told, Tuchel’s Bayern have won only five of 11 matches, been eliminated from both cup competitions and, depending on Saturday’s results in the final round of Bundesliga play, could relinquish the title as well.
And agonizingly — unless you’re Nagelsmann, perhaps — the outcome is beyond their control.
Last weekend’s defeat by Leipzig at the Allianz gave Dortmund a chance to go top with a single match remaining, and after battling to break down 10-man Augsburg they ended up prevailing quite comfortably. Win Saturday at home to Mainz (8:30 a.m., Sportsnet 360) and they’ll lift the shield. It’s the simplest of scenarios, though Bayern already have the look of felled champions.
With Mané misfiring and Neuer absent, and given the sustained, substandard play of Thomas Müller, Leon Goretzka, João Cancelo and just about everyone else not named Serge Gnabry or Joshua Kimmich, it’s actually a wonder they could still win the league, provided they beat Koln (8:30 a.m., Sportsnet) and Dortmund lose or draw at the Westfalenstadion.
Because, quite frankly, this is the weakest Bayern team in more than a decade. That they even won last season’s title and were still on course for a treble this spring is testament to Nagelsmann’s abilities. Considering what he had to work with, and the total incompetence of his superiors, one could argue he might even be more magician than manager.
Saturday, as the final Bundesliga matches kick off and conclude concurrently, he’ll be watching the seemingly inevitable Bayern collapse like everyone else. And you’ll forgive him the wry smile as he leans back in his chair. For if anyone was entitled to a bit of schadenfreude, it’s Julian Nagelsmann.