Five Christmas Wishes for a Hallelujah
The first snow has fallen in Germany, the supermarkets are again filled with Advent calendars and special pastries and the temperatures are slowly moving into the cellar. Christmas is approaching and this time of year has always been a conciliatory and quiet celebration for FC Bayern in the recent past. This year, however, the Christmas tree threatens to burn.
However, it is not the coach who bears the main responsibility for the current situation. FC Bayern has slowly put itself in this situation due to poor decisions in recent years. Now the club has to work itself out again. Therefore, we are already writing our wish list to Santa Claus at the beginning of November.
Even though in the most successful of times FC Bayern hasn’t always appeared to put forth a strategy for the entire club, Louis van Gaal brought a touch of Barcelona to Säbener Straße in 2009. Since then, the club has rejoined the European elite. It was Philipp Lahm who, in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, criticised the lack of a clear philosophy. Players and coaches were signed because of their name, but there appeared to be little to no implementable concept behind them.
In 2018, the club will be in a similar position. To some extent, it can still be seen that the Munich club would like to play dominant football, yet the endeavours of recent years at all levels only partially corresponded. Particularly in the coaching position, Ancelotti and later Kovač were chosen as coaches, who in the past were successful primarily with teams at the zenith or with young teams. At FC Bayern, they both met a team that is long past its zenith.
Key players have their best years behind them, young players are falling behind in their development. Management squad policy and coaching commitments have not aligned with each other. It also complicates matters when the respective coaches either didn’t have adequate substitutes for the aging stars or didn’t dare to take the risk required to rejuvenate the team. The club once again needs a clear strategy on a footballing level. They need someone to give the team a clear identity and that means a new coach who is capable of giving it to them. With that the question should not be how much successes a coach has had recently, but how his footballing ideas fit the squad and what his ideas are and mean for the future.
This leads us directly to squad politics. Players like Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng, Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben, Mats Hummels and Javi Martínez are all high up in the squad hierarchy. They set the tone off the pitch, but unfortunately only rarely on the pitch. As leading players, they have a great responsibility to ensure that the squad sees itself as a unit even in difficult times.
However, a clear division can be seen. The young players notice that the names of the stars are often bigger than their actual performances warrant. However if the big named players play less, they suddenly go to the BILD newspaper and work against the coach. Carlo Ancelotti experienced this phenomenon just as Niko Kovač has and therefore the coach has to be protected in these circumstances. The squad has now been very successful in both cases. That they are so powerful that they can easily overturn any coach is alarming and would be just as difficult a task for any other coach to solve as it has been for Niko Kovač.
Rummenigge, Hoeneß and Salihamidžić are responsible for protecting the trainer and strengthening his authority. If that doesn’t work, it has to be sorted out in a tough way. None of the players mentioned is athletically still irreplaceable. The necessary upheaval can only succeed if the hierarchy is refreshed from below and young players increasingly assume responsible roles. This does not mean that each of the aforementioned players must automatically move into the second rank. It only means that the competition must be intensified and the hierarchy changed. Here, too, the board lacks a clear strategy that can lead to a peaceful conclusion with big players who can no longer reach the level of FC Bayern.
We are still not in a position to gauge how valuable Salihamidžić is internally for FC Bayern. However, his external image can be evaluated and it is catastrophic in many areas. In response to the kicker’s question as to why no progress was discernible at the moment, the sporting director replied: “Yes, that’s… that’s what I’m asking myself too. I have no answer to that either.”
The club as a whole seems completely surprised that things have been going down hill so rapidly in recent years, especially this season, and the sporting director is a symbol of the helplessness they all project. However, this is only one result of the lack of change. When Hoeneß talked to Sky about the Bayern way before the season, something resembling an “aha” moment arose. It was the first time that the specific points to be tackled in the coming months and years were named.
Pulling up players from one’s own youth, organizing transfers as early as possible in order to avoid competition with the other top clubs, shortening the playing time for Robben and Ribéry in order to give younger players the chance. Many of these points seemed conclusive. As of October, however, there is still little to be seen in the way of implementation. In spite of injuries, the youngsters don’t get a chance, Robben and Ribéry form the centre of the attacking game in spite of their strongly diminishing performances and it is not really recognizable how this club wants to stay at the top of Europe. Much worse, however, is that no one in public is able to explain this situation. We need someone who can do that.
The FC Bayern Campus also plays a role. The Bavarians proudly opened their youth academy and looked forward to a rosy future. It’s not surprising that only now are the first talents showing themselves who have the potential to become at least very good Bundesliga players. Nobody could seriously expect that the opening of a campus alone would immediately produce ten players for the pros.
However, there is little confidence in the talents that are now emerging. A calendar could now be filled with photos showing Salihamidžić with young players who received a contract in the summer. But it has had no effect on their playing time for the pros. In recent years, FC Bayern coaches have only dared to bring in a young player when the game was of little importance.
What was understandable a few years ago due to the level and the demands of the game, is now hardly comprehensible. Players such as Lukas Mai, Oliver Batista Meier and other talents have what it takes to keep FC Bayern fresh, at least in their current condition. When van Gaal integrated Müller, Badstuber and Alaba in 2009, he launched a wave of success. This courage is also needed in the future coach of the club. Otherwise, the campus might as well be closed again.
Yet communication in itself is a problem for the Bavarians. Hoeneß and Rummenigge not only contradict each other from time to time, but also lack a clear plan. There is no external communication whatsoever about FC Bayern’s path. It would be so easy to sell the public a transition, which should bring about a renewal from below. That takes time.
Of course it is the ambition of FC Bayern to win as many titles as possible. If one could finally formulate more clearly where the club is in the process, an evaluation of the situation would be much easier. In addition, the Munich club could better manage the expectations of the community. It would also be of enormous benefit to the club’s own coach if the club were to put its ideas into concrete terms at all levels. Then the coach would have both a clear framework for his actions and the support of the club in the form of a philosophy.
Success is also often measured by one’ s words. The comments made by the bosses in recent months were not only unclear, but often even arrogant. The highlight was a press conference in which the bosses did not admit their own mistakes. On the one hand there is the desire for a successful future, on the other there are those responsible who do not take the necessary steps. Where is the clear plan that is followed by actions that fit in with the goals? Above all, where is the plan for the future after Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß? Here, too, there has been a lot of talk over the past few years and little presented in terms of solutions.
At the moment FC Bayern seems to cling to the past. An ageing squad with a hierarchy that prevents it from performing, a coach who is overburdened with this situation because he finds it difficult to develop a system for it, a sporting director who is increasingly withdrawing from the public eye and cannot give answers to the current situation, and bosses who are jointly responsible for all this because they either have no plan, cannot implement their plan or cannot explain it sufficiently. There is no hope that this situation will not end in disaster.
It would not be the first time that a great era ended in disaster. A seamless transition to a new great era is also virtually impossible. However, it is the lack of development that worries one. Since the 2015/16 season it was foreseeable that many key players would be taking their final steps at a very high level. With Süle, Kimmich and a few other players, Bayern have shown good instinct.
But just now, when the time has come for a new generation, they lack the courage to take the last step. FC Bayern are desperately clinging to the last few years and are not ready to break away from it. Until that stops, progress will hardly be possible.