“He has won more trophies than I have underpants.”
These words, regarding Bayern Munich manager Carlo Ancelotti, came from the mouth of 30-year old Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann. The dynamic young coach was back peddling on earlier comments made about his desire to one day manage European football giants Bayern. Nagelsmann was born just outside of Munich and admitted that the Bavarian club “has always played a prominent role in my dreams.” Unfortunately his words came across in the wrong way and he apologised via text message to Ancelotti, whose position is looking increasingly unstable.
Trouble brewing at Bayern
Bayern Munich are the reigning Bundesliga champions, having won the league for the fifth consecutive season, and on Tuesday night they opened their Champions League group stage campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Anderlecht. However, under the surface things are becoming increasingly tense in Bavaria, and Nagelsmann’s comments are just the latest contribution to the discontent around the Allianz Arena.
Even in the 3-0 win over Anderlecht, Bayern didn’t look convincing. The Belgian side went down to ten men after just 11 minutes, but it took until just after the hour mark for Bayern to press that advantage and find a second goal to kill the game. What’s worse is that Anderlecht really should have equalised in the 49th minute when Alexandru Chipciu’s shot struck the post.
This was a game that exhibited the problems not so quietly bubbling away at Bayern. Franck Ribery throw his shirt away in anger after substituted, and Arjen Robben said after the game that the fans deserved to have seen Bayern dismantle the Belgians following the red card, and he definitely had a point.
Robben isn’t the first player to voice his frustration publically. Earlier in the season long-time Bayern legend Thomas Muller said: “I don’t know exactly which qualities the head coach wants to see. But mine are seemingly not one hundred per cent needed.” Muller is a player that can be difficult to fit into a system, but one who is certainly worth trying to get the best from, and Ancelotti has struggled with that.
Robert Lewandowski, another big name in the dressing room, also went public when he questioned Bayern’s transfer policy. The prolific Polish striker argued that his club needs to compete with the biggest transfer fees in order to stay competitive. These controversial comments drew a lot of criticism, especially from Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who responded by saying: “Whoever publicly criticises the club or his team-mates will get in trouble with me personally.”
While these public outbursts don’t necessarily translate to poor on-pitch performances, it is worth noting that Bayern currently sit sixth in the Bundesliga table after three games. Far too early to panic I’ll admit, but their league performances really haven’t been convincing. With other teams like RB Leipzig and Hoffenheim on the rise, and rivals Borussia Dortmund always threatening, the German football landscape is changing, and Bayern are in danger of being left behind.
Nagelsmann the giant killer
When Ancelotti and Nagelsmann went head to head last weekend it was the youthful coach who came out on top as his Hoffenheim side came away with a 2-0 home win. Two goals from Mark Uth made a big statement, and it’s no surprise that the Bayern hierarchy are getting twitchy about Ancelotti. The Italian manager has won league titles in four different countries, as well as adding three Champions League win to his collection, but he has thus far failed to bring the ultimate European club trophy back to the Bavarian capital.
In the past Ancelotti has been praised for the freedom he gives players to express themselves and the versatility he exhibits as a coach, but over time there is always the danger that this can lead to complacency on the players’ part, which leads to a downturn in results. When Lewandowski remarked last season that he believed he wasn’t receiving enough support in his quest for the Golden Boot, warning bells immediately sounded.
What makes matters worse for Ancelotti is that Julian Nagelsmann is hot property right now, and he has already started turning the heads of those up high in Munich. The Bundesliga ‘Manager of the Season’ has never been beaten by Bayern in his coaching career, and this includes five games as coach of Hoffenheim U-19s. But it isn’t just against Bayern that he has excelled – Hoffenheim went unbeaten at home in the league last season and finished in the Champions League places for the first time in their history. Sadly they missed out on qualification for the group stage, losing out to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
What Nagelsmann also brings is youthful exuberance, something that has been somewhat lacking at Bayern in the last two seasons. Even after the retirement of legends Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso at the end of last season, the average age of Bayern’s starting XI against Anderlecht on Tuesday was 28, and when Jerome Boateng returns that average shoots closer to 29.
The next few seasons are going to be an important period of transition for Bayern as more of their top players will likely be retiring. This means that the Bavarians will have to turn more the youth, and 30-year old Julian Nagelsmann seems like the perfect man to lead Bayern into their next era and get them back challenging at the very top in Europe.
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