Before Borussia Dortmund – Bayern Munich: Bayern and the question of identity

The paradox is glaring. On the one hand, more than 70,000 spectators at the Allianz Arena, a full stadium for the first time since the pandemic vertigo of 2020, a rediscovered atmosphere, a flamboyant and moving tifo in honor of the inaccessible and eternal legend Bavarian Gerd Müller in the south bend. On the other, a painful elimination, in the last moments of the Champions League quarter-final return, by the 7th in La Liga, an opponent objectively inferior in his workforce as in his potential. A goal conceded after a counter perfectly led by Villarreal was enough to cause the loss of Bayern in this European campaign.

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While leaders, sporting director and coach pouted, the supporters took the shock of disillusionment in the face, deserting the stadium as quickly as possible, noting with bitterness the gap between their support and the lack of sharp attitude of the players on the field. . It is the second time in a row that the southern German club have disappeared from continental competition at this stage, something that had not happened since 2006-2007 under Felix Magath and Ottmar Hitzfeld respectively. The difference, with regard to these three precedents, is due to the prestige of the adversary – Paris Saint-Germain last year, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Liverpool in the past; an outsider this time. The consequences will only be more inexorable.


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“Nagelsmann is the main culprit for Bayern’s elimination”

Since the crash, the analyzes developed across the Rhine on this burning topic have been all the more severe since, if we are to believe their authors, a status quo is unthinkable if Bayern intends, as it regularly announces by voice of his direction, to continue to aim each season for the last four of the Champions League.

Lack of internal competition

A Bayern in form would reasonably have been able to qualify against the 7th in La Liga. Except that on the way there and back, the players below their capacities, presumed or real, were legion: Leroy Sané in the first place, but also tauliers like Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich or Serge Gnabry. A finding that does not date from yesterday. “Bayern, for weeks, have not delivered the services expected of them“, decided Lothar Matthäus in mid-April in the specialized press.

Among the elements of explanation, the lack of depth of the professional group: in fact, most Bayern starters are assured of their place at kick-off, from Neuer at one end of the chain to Lewandowski at the other, which constitutes a brake on emulation and testifies to a certain lack of competition. In coach Nagelsmann’s analysis, the poor performance of the first leg – 0-1 defeat – is the key to elimination.

However, coming up behind by a goal at home in 90 minutes does not seem insurmountable, as evidenced by the demonstration of his players on the return, in the round of 16, in a close configuration. Alas, the latter only obtained, in fine, only a few opportunities, counted on the fingers of one hand, barely. The 2022 record in the Champions League is meager: three weak matches out of four, or at least three matches well below the low water level not only that it is lent to but that Bayern claims itself.

The joy of Villarreal players after qualifying against Bayern Munich

Credit: Getty Images

If the level of play is uncertain at the start of spring, the future of several of the club’s stars was even more so during the quarters. Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry: these are at least four pillars of the professional workforce who had not yet extended their contract in mid-April. If the situation of the first two has since become clearer – they extend and will therefore continue to exercise a powerful power of identification – that of the other two is a source of much discussion. The Pole is getting older and Bayern are still reluctant to extend the contracts of their “old” 30-somethings for more than a season.

The choice, for the club, is difficult: keep “Lewi” until 2025 (he will be 36) and risk not only a decline in the competitiveness of his center forward over time but also a brutal transition, not to mention a to assume the annual 25 million euros that it weighs; or let him slip away for 50 or 60 M€ and replace him with a lower-level striker, certainly younger, necessarily cheaper, but with an immediate drop in competitiveness.

Gnabry, meanwhile, has not in recent weeks shown any performance in line with his rising salary expectations, or even expressed an irrepressible desire to stay in Bavaria. It’s that Real has its contact details, you see. Except that Bayern, with rare exceptions, has never been a selling club. Can it, should it be? Dilemma, again.

“Yes, he Kahn”

If he bet on the future by enlisting Julian Nagelsmann for five years – a record –, this Bayern must accept the fact that at 34, the former Hoffenheim coach cannot, by definition, be omniscient: dynamic and affable, he was unable to find the key to breaking through or circumventing the defensive and tactical puzzle offered by Unai Emery, a far more experienced counterpart. By breaking, in the 88th minute of the second leg, the balance of his defense – downright convincing until then – to bring in Alphonso Davies, Nagelsmann even probably precipitated his fall and this lethal counter synonymous with elimination.

Ostensibly corrected in the German Cup by Mönchengladbach (0-5), Bayern should end the season with the only championship as a trophy, insufficient in the balance at the time of the balance sheet. But the chain of responsibilities may go back even further. Until very recently, new chairman Herbert Hainer and Oliver Kahn maintained great restraint, the latter going so far as to say that a quarter-final elimination was not going to bring a flood of tears to Bayern. So it wouldn’t be so painful. Which is highly debatable on two points: on the image side, necessarily a little damaged, and on the finances, necessarily a little reduced.

Oliver Kahn – Bayern Munich

Credit: Getty Images

Should we then return to the great Bavarian tradition of grumblers, embodied for decades by Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge? If nostalgia does not make much progress, Oliver Kahn has nonetheless begun to formally put his feet in the dish, in the wake of elimination, changing his initial schedule to finally go to Bielefeld with his team on weekend that followed, after speaking directly to his players in the locker room. This reaction from the boss was watched and expected.

But communication is one thing – and relieving Nagelsmann of part of the media mine clearance, which he has done a great deal of up to now, cannot hurt – actions are another. In quality as in quantity, the staff will quickly ask questions. Süle free party, Tolisso about to do the same, Sarr, Roca, Sabitzer or Richards insufficient for Bavarian standards: already half a dozen elements to replace or exfiltrate. Not necessarily a bad thing for Nagelsmann, moreover, who could therefore maneuver towards a recruitment more in line with the pressing and movement football he advocates.

Human heat evaporated

But regardless of the possible recruits – some of whom, from Ajax, are very close, namely Gravenberch and Mazraoui, others like Adeyemi or Schlotterbeck, courted by Dortmund, a little more distant – likely to fill certain gaps, a missing remains: the paternalism and the human dimension embodied first and foremost by Uli Hoeness for half a century.

Although a Salihamidzic claims that you can always come and have a coffee in his office, these attributes have evaporated, the spirit of family and living together with them, very Bavarian genes that Hansi Flick still embodied there is a few months or Franck Ribéry a little earlier. And which are passionately held by the most historic Bayern supporters. Changing his DNA is not easy, especially when his roots, inside and outside the club, are so deep.


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