Sammer’s departure: Assessing an era
What transpired on Sunday afternoon was quite the surprise: Bayern Munich’s sporting director will leave the club. Matthias Sammer had disappeared from the public eye in recent months, after a blood circulation problem in his brain forced him to take a break in April. His wish to be able to concentrate fully on his recovery was respected by both the media and the club, and Sammer had only one public appearance at the championship celebration in Postpalast. He seems back to full health by now, but things have obviously changed quite a bit in recent months; for him and for the club both. Sammer doesn’t want the 24/7 job in professional football anymore.
He is one of the most prominent faces of the most successful Bayern era of modern times to leave the club. Four league titles, one Champions League title, three DFB Cup wins, one European Supercup, and, most of all, Bayern’s establishment in the European elite, are the facts and figures of his time in Munich.
When Sammer took over the role of sporting director, which was created specifically for him, in 2012, Munich was depressed. It wasn’t just the Champions League final that had been lost on home turf in an almost absurd manner; Dortmund had also humiliated the record winner in the Cup final, having already won the league title. Marco Reus had very publicly decided for Borussia Dortmund and against FC Bayern in the winter. There was talk of a change of power. On top of all that came a rather weak Euro for Germany and numerous injury problems during pre-season training. So when the club began its training camp in Trentino, the atmosphere could hardly have been worse. Matthias Sammer used his first real appearance at a press conference to change the tone of the debate: there would be no room for self-pity, and even less for individual fates. Those who didn’t understand that could leave the club right away, the former DFB sporting director announced with a mixture of acridity and demonstrative coolness. At the same time, he placed himself with verve between Arjen Robben and the criticism that was heaped on the player from both inside and outside the club, stating that his ambition and intensity were incredible. There were no further rumours about Robben leaving the club after that day.
During his first days, Sammer had already set the tone that would surround the entire club from then on: focus, concentration, integrity, hunger for success. It was due to Sammer, at least in part, that the heavy defeats of the 2011/12 season didn’t turn into a burden, but rather became the foundation for the 2013 treble season.
Looking back, it might be this role as communicator that proved most impactful during his four-year term. Via his presence in the media, Sammer became the club’s public face. He moderated small hiccups with Jupp Heynckes, navigated the team through the difficult situation around Uli Hoeneß, and during the term of media avoidant Guardiola, he became interceptor and narrator of the sporting leadership team. He was more than just the admonisher that he was often reduced to in public perception.
To this day, his operative influence within the club is difficult to assess. In cooperation with his research associate Dr. Karsten Schumann, whom he brought with him from DFB, Sammer was tasked with optimising the youth work and improving internal structures. There was a big turnover within the youth development team, with Scholl, ten Hag, Herrlich – names that were associated with Sammer – not lasting very long. Some complained that it took a Uli Hoeneß return in a special supervising role within the youth development department to get things moving, which is not entirely fair; especially since the preparations for the new Youth Campus had been underway long before Hoeneß.
There are few transfers directly linked to Sammer; Rode, Kirchhoff, probably Kurt. It wasn’t until technical director and squad planner Michael Rescke arrived in 2014 with an enormous European network, not just in scouting, but also transfer settlement, that structure and more quality came to Munich. This didn’t make Sammer irrelevant, however. He was part of a four-member informal transfer committee with Reschke, Rummenigge, and Jan-Christian Dreesen, which, in recent seasons, made decisions in accordance with Pep Guardiola. This, by the way, is not unusual; sporting directors don’t need to be head scouts or negotiators, like Max Eberl or Christian Heidel. He has to have the ability to trust the right people, and to defend decisions externally. Rudi Völler is another example of this kind of sporting director.
It’s therefore not surprising that the club doesn’t want to re-cast Sammer’s position right away. The operative processes are well-established, as proven during the months of Sammer’s absence. The big question is who will take over his role of communicator and public face of the sporting leadership team. Who will remove Ancelotti from the direct line of harm, like Sammer did for Guardiola? Who can assess sporting failures in public? Who can give external stimuli? Who can act as a corrective to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on the executive board? Who will be the point of contact for players when problems need to be solved without involving the coach? The answer to these questions, as has so often been the case, might be Uli Hoeneß, who is close to making his comeback.
It’s possible that the remaining executive board is now going to take their time to look for a successor to the post of sporting director, which was created specifically for Sammer. Max Eberl is a potential candidate, so are Hansi Flick or Stefan Reuter. Philipp Lahm maybe, in another two years. Without a doubt, Michael Reschke would be suited for the role, but he won’t want it. He is a brilliant networker and football geek with a fantastic eye for potential. His role isn’t that of the public representative, which would be a big part of becoming a member of the executive board. He consciously avoids public events or sponsorship tours like the upcoming tour to the US. It’s not a world he feels comfortable in, and his scope of action wouldn’t really be increased by becoming a board member; he is already the de facto sporting director of FC Bayern now.
After Sammer’s departure, the search continues for a strong personality to lead the club into a time post Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß. Without a doubt, the club loses footballing know-how, but most of all, we will miss the personality of Matthias Sammer. He was good for the club, or, to put it into his own words: he created constellations which enabled the team to become sustainably successful. And ultimately, that was his most important task.