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Football: FC Bayern in the “horror film”: The long road to the big crisis

Stunned in Bochum: Munich veteran Thomas Müller has never experienced a season like this.

Photo: imago/Mika Volkmann

On Monday, everyone who supported FC Bayern must still have felt like Leon Goretzka when they woke up. “It feels like a horror film that doesn’t stop,” the midfielder said after the 3-2 defeat at VfL Bochum on Sunday. It was the third defeat in eight days, after the 3-0 defeat at league leaders Bayer Leverkusen and the 1-0 defeat at Lazio in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16.

There is a lot to be said for the first titleless season in twelve years. Jan-Christian Dreesen ruled out any immediate consequences. Coach Thomas Tuchel will “of course” sit on the bench against Leipzig on Saturday, said the CEO. Even if they at FC Bayern have decided to try it with a wagon for the time being, the error analysis has long been running in the background. Because the list of deficiencies is so long that a new trainer could hardly eliminate them alone. With this list you could lay out the 75 meters over which Bochum’s counterattack extended before the 1-1 draw. At the end of this chain of errors, Takuma Asano, who had already scored Japan’s winning goal against goalkeeper Manuel Neuer at the 2022 World Cup and thus initiated the DFB team’s elimination after the group phase, scored the equalizer.

That also fits into the bigger picture. The generation born in 1995/96, which was highly praised early on, from Joshua Kimmich to Goretzka and Leroy Sané to Serge Gnabry, could not and cannot live up to expectations. In Bochum, Kimmich clashed with Tuchel’s assistant Zsolt Löw out of frustration over his substitution – an expression of the tense domestic climate.

At the end of the overarching chain of errors at all levels is perhaps FC Bayern’s biggest crisis in almost two decades, since the 2006/07 season, when the Munich team missed out on participating in the Champions League. The current mosaic of failure is made up of recurring individual but also team tactical errors.

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The general uncertainty probably also has something to do with Tuchel’s team leadership. In the summer, the coach denied all of the possible sixes, whether Kimmich, Goretzka, Konrad Laimer, Raphaël Guerreiro or the talented Aleksandar Pavlović, the desired profile of a “holding six”. Defenders Matthijs de Ligt and Thomas Müller were also “dismantled” by Tuchel, critics say. It is obvious that most players lack self-confidence. Müller recently described the approach as “too cerebral.” Kimmich also complained that there was hardly any “joy to play, creativity, lightness, freedom.”

On the other hand, there are hardly any automatisms to be recognized in the game going forward. A lot of things seem random and unimaginative. If the offensive players don’t win their duels, the balls don’t even reach the receiver, center forward Harry Kane. The attacks dry up or even lead to counterattacks. And like the entire team, the defensive line doesn’t seem like a unit at all, but more like a ragtag collection of individually acting defenders. There is a lack of a commander and therefore a link between the goalkeeper and midfield.

The lack of injuries must also be cited as a reason for the many problems in Munich. But Tuchel also had to repeatedly improvise, especially in defense, because the squad was constructed with an imbalance. Only three central defenders were part of the staff in the first half of the year and only one true right-back after Benjamin Pavard and Josip Stanišić were handed over last summer, the latter to Leverkusen. He recently scored 1-0 for the club against Bayern. His overwhelmed opponent was Sacha Boey in the unusual position of left-back.

The seemingly overpriced purchase of right-back Boey for 30 million euros was one of the emergency transfers of the winter. Defender Eric Dier and offensive player Bryan Zaragoza, who was originally only supposed to arrive in the summer, were also loaned out. Critics say that last summer Bayern concentrated so much on correcting the mistake of the summer of 2022 with the record purchase of Kane, when no successor was brought in for Robert Lewandowski, that the rest of the squad architecture suffered.

Perhaps we need to look much further back in search of the reasons for Bavaria’s crisis. Until the sudden dismissal of Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann in March 2023, which came against the wishes of many players. Or maybe even back in 2017, when Hasan Salihamidzic became sports director and was promoted to sports director three years later. In 2019, the former Bayern professional made the then record transfer of Lucas Hernández for 80 million euros. His annual salary of 24 million euros ensured that his colleagues demanded significantly more wages from then on. The transfer of Hernández “started the money destruction machine,” said Kicker magazine.

And now? The next expensive upheaval will probably be imminent in the summer, in the squad and in the coaching staff. Before that, Max Eberl is expected to be the new sports director. His hiring will be decided at the supervisory board meeting on February 26th. Like all players in the club and company management, Eberl gets his job at the request of honorary president Uli Hoeneß.

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