Have Bayern Munich blown it? Replacing Julian Nagelsmann with Thomas Tuchel could be one of the worst managerial changes in Bundesliga history

Thomas Tuchel Kahn Salihamidzic Nagelsmann Bayern GFX
The Bavarians sensationally decided to change manager during the March international break - but that bold gamble has not paid off

Less than a month after suddenly replacing Julien Nagelsmann as Bayern Munich boss, Thomas Tuchel was fielding questions about a club in crisis. "I can absolutely understand that three years without a semi-final in the DFB-Pokal is not enough," he told reporters on April 21. "But the quarter-finals of the Champions League three years in a row is not a crisis.

"We don't have to question everything. There's always a sense of being realistic. Many big clubs didn't even make it to the quarter-finals. Although we remain ambitious and we always want more, we're still first in the Bundesliga. I wouldn't say we're in a crisis."

They definitely are now, though. On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund will end Bayern Munich's run of 10 consecutive German titles if they beat Mainz at home. It would be a stunning achievement by BVB, but an utter embarrassment for Bayern, who are operating on a whole other financial plane to everyone else in the league.

Heads would almost certainly roll at the Allianz Arena, with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and CEO Oliver Kahn already under intense pressure over what is now looking like one of the most catastrophic calls in German football history.

  1. 'Are you kidding me?!'
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    'Are you kidding me?!'

    Bayern's decision to sack Nagelsmann came as a massive shock, not least to the man himself. The 35-year-old was on a skiing holiday when his agent, Volker Struth, broke the news to him. Nagelsmann replied, "Are you kidding me?!"

    The manager's shock was understandable. Bayern had gone into the March international break on the back of a desperately disappointing 2-1 loss at Bayer Leverkusen that had allowed Dortmund to move one point clear of them at the top of the Bundesliga table. Salihamidzic had publicly berated the players for playing with "so little drive, so little mentality, so little fight and so little assertiveness" but there was no inclination that a change of manager was on the cards.

    Not with a monumental meeting with Manchester City on the horizon. There was concern at board level over Nagelsmann's apparent struggles to motivate his players for domestic fixtures, but his record in the Champions League, Bayern's primary target, was literally flawless. The Bavarians had won all eight of their fixtures on their way to the quarters, outclassing Barcelona, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain along the way.

    As Struth told the Phrasenmaher podcast, "I would have bet my fortune after that Leverkusen game that nothing would happen at all. I would have thought that they would still wait for the games against Manchester City."

    Instead, Bayern dropped a bomb on the football world on March 23.

  2. 'I thought it was a joke'
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    'I thought it was a joke'

    Kahn's argument was that Nagelsmann just wasn't getting the most out of the stellar squad at his disposal. "After the World Cup we played less and less successfully and attractively," the former goalkeeper said in a statement. "The strong fluctuations in performance called our goals into question this season, but also beyond this season."

    There were rumours that Nagelsmann had lost the support of several influential players, including Manuel Neuer. However, Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus felt there was more to it; that it wasn't just a classic case of player power pushing a manager out the door as Nagelsmann hadn't completely lost the dressing room.

    "I thought [the news] was a joke at first but it wasn't April 1st," the World Cup winner told GOAL. "It's the club's decision after all. The players aren't all with the coach usually in the dressing room, but a lot were happy with him and talked positively about him when he left – [Leon] Goretzka and [Joshua] Kimmich, for example.

    "Something happened that we don't know about. The fans were happy with him, too, so we don't know what happened that made Bayern take this decision. I personally don't."

  3. 'Bayern were nervous'
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    'Bayern were nervous'

    However, as even Matthaus conceded, the availability of - and widespread interest in - Tuchel played a pivotal role in Bayern's thinking. The former Dortmund boss had been a long-time target, but the timing had never been right. It still wasn't in March.

    But in their desperation to belatedly land their man, Bayern were willing to offload a coach that they had paid €25 million (£21.7m/$26.8m) to prise away from RB Leipzig in 2021. Why? Because Tuchel was a free agent and considered by a number of top clubs, including PSG, Real Madrid and Juventus. Tottenham were also looking for someone to take over on a full-time basis from Antonio Conte - and still are.

    So, "Bayern were nervous" as Matthaus put it. "Tuchel was free and Bayen didn't believe 100 percent in Nagelsmann. They couldn't [sack him] if he'd won three titles, as you couldn't explain it then. So, they decided to change him now, after just one."

    It was a massive gamble, though, the kind of risk more associated with the days of FC Hollywood than the current incarnation of Bayern Munich, which is, on the surface at least, all about prudence and sensibility. And it's yet to pay off. An in-season change is never ideal, but Kahn felt compelled to act. He felt that inaction might result in Bayern losing their league crown. However, the switch hasn't improved Bayern; on the contrary, it's made them worse.

  4. 'We look drained'

    'We look drained'

    Despite losing 3-0 at the Etihad in his fourth game in charge, Tuchel claimed that he was quite taken with the way in which his players had performed for 70 minutes in Manchester. "Of course, the result is bitter for us," he told Amazon Prime Video. "But I fell in love with my team a little today."

    It's fair to say he is no longer quite as besotted. Love has quickly given away to frustration, as underlined by a visibly enraged Tuchel snapping a slalom pole in two during a training session at the tail end of April.

    By that stage, Bayern's season was unravelling. Tuchel had lifted the spirits at the Allianz Arena by beating former club Dortmund to put the team back on top of the table. However, the Bavarians only won one of their next six games in all competitions, which saw them knocked out of both the Champions League and the DFB-Pokal, and slip to second in the Bundesliga.

    As well as blaming both the pitch and the referee for Bayern's worryingly meek European exit against Man City in Munich, Tuchel also questioned his players' fitness after a demoralising defeat at Mainz. "We look drained," he said. "We look like a team that has already played 80 games this season. We are not able to play flawless football, so the games and the points are running through our hands like sand."

  5. 'One of the biggest mistakes in Bayern's history'
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    'One of the biggest mistakes in Bayern's history'

    Tuchel's arrival, then, appears to have done nothing to re-energise a squad that Nagelsmann had accused of being "lazy" after that fateful loss in Leverkusen. They're fading rather than flourishing under the new boss.

    And it's not just about tiredness either; there's mounting tension there too. Obviously, the most glaring example was the post-match dust-up between Sadio Mane and Leroy Sane at the Etihad, and it would not be surprising to see the former leave at the end of a desperately disappointing debut campaign.

    "I thought he would be a brilliant signing because Munich produced world-class players in the past, but never really signed one," former Bayern midfielder Didi Hamann told GOAL. "Now, in Mane, they signed one, but it probably goes down as one of the biggest mistakes in Bayern’s history."

    But the Senegalese isn't the only unhappy camper. Lucas Hernandez wants out, Thomas Muller is unhappy with his lack of game time and Kimmich is being constantly linked with a variety of clubs.

    Tuchel insists that he "loves" Joao Cancelo, who has actually been one of Bayern's better players in recent weeks, but the on-loan defender's future remains up in the air, primarily because it would cost the club €70 million (£61m/$75m) to acquire him from City on a permanent basis. And if Bayern are to spend big this summer, it would most likely be on the prolific centre-forward they have so clearly lacked since losing Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona last year. Is the money there, though, to sign preferred target Victor Osimhen, given Napoli are likely to demand a nine-figure fee for their star forward?

    "They do need a No.9," Hamman said. "But they have got two managers to pay at the moment – if Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t get another job, they have to pay him, so I'm not sure how much money they have got. They say that Osimhen is probably too expensive but they also talk about Randal Kolo Muani – and he is probably the logical option.

    "Then, you need to see who leaves. Konrad Laimer is coming on a free from Leipzig. They all hope that Manuel Neuer comes back [from injury] in the summer. But you also need to see what happens in midfield because that’s where they fell short this season.

    "Ryan Gravenberch hardly played, I don’t think Kimmich is a No.6 and Leon Goretzka has been a huge disappointment this season – he has gone backwards in a big way. So, it will be an interesting summer."

    It certainly will, primarily because it's not yet clear who will be overseeing the overhaul.

  6. 'Heroes of yesteryear, whistles of today'

    'Heroes of yesteryear, whistles of today'

    Given Bayern have now lost more games under Tuchel (four) this season than Nagelsmann (three), the new manager's position has already become the subject of incessant speculation in the press, much to Kahn's annoyance.

    "Thomas is the last person we need to talk about now. He is doing everything he can to help the boys progress," he told reporters after the Mainz debacle. "There are 11 men on the pitch who have to work hard to achieve the goals of this club, and what the team showed on the pitch is not enough.

    "We played a catastrophic second half. Who was the team that wanted to become champions? It will be very difficult to become champions with such performances."

    And Bayern won't, unless they win at Koln on Saturday and Dortmund fail to defeat Mainz. The fault for that failure obviously wouldn't lie with Tuchel, at least not entirely. He was offered a big job and he unsurprisingly accepted it. The finger of blame will instead be pointed at the two men who made it happen, Kahn and Salihamidzic. It already is, in fact.

    Even a dramatic, final-day turnaround might not be enough to save Kahn, who could be replaced by Uli Hoeness or even Philip Lahm. He still has a year left on his contract with the club, but his judgement is now being called into question after going to great lengths - and expense - to hire Nagelsmann, only to ditch him at a rather inopportune moment.

    Kahn does, at least, retain the backing of super-fan supermodel Heidi Klum, unlike Salihamidzic, who could pay the price for the fact that Matthijs de Ligt and teenager Mathys Tel are the only truly successful signings made during the past two transfer windows. Consequently, the pressure on the pair is building. As a recent banner at the Allianz Arena read, "Brazzo (Salihamidzic) + Kahn: Heroes of yesteryear, whistles of today."

    This, then, is a club shrouded in uncertainty, provoking nothing but questions right now, including the biggest one of all: did Bayern spoil their season the moment they decided to replace Nagelsmann with Tuchel less than three months before the conclusion of the campaign?

    Rightly or wrongly, the events of Saturday will go some way towards determining the answer.