Some days, you just don’t have it. Others, you wake up and suddenly it’s all gone a bit blurry. Yet by the time you realize it, it’s too late. You cannot put your finger on it because it’s already passed you by.
Now I’m not sure if this currently describes Carlo Ancelotti. I’m not even entirely sure if it describes his time with Bayern Munich. That just seems too simple, almost lazy. But going back to last season, something seemed a little off with the Bundesliga giants. And now, of course, Ancelotti is out of a job.
Bayern Munich are currently looking for what would be their sixth consecutive Bundesliga title. After six such matches, they sit third with four wins, a draw and a loss. 13 points from a possible 18. We’re not talking about a span of six matches down the stretch to ultimately determine a winner either. We’re talking about the first six matches of the league campaign—period. According to Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, that wasn’t good enough:
“The performance of our team since the start of the season did not meet the expectations we put to them…”
This firing, however, centers around Bayern’s recent Champions League performance. Wednesday afternoon, Paris Saint-Germain hosted the Bavarians in matchweek two of the group stage. And Wednesday afternoon, PSG embarrassed the ever-living out of Munich en route to a 3-0 victory. This time, Ancelotti became the scapegoat.
Yet it runs deeper than that.
Not because we’re looking to make excuses for Ancelotti. Far from it. It runs deeper than that simply because it has to. Because Bayern Munich doesn’t just fire managers when things look sour for a couple of weeks. That’s what makes these reports trickling in all the more interesting:
“There were five players against Ancelotti… It was impossible to get out of that.”
Those are the words of one Uli Hoeneß, Bayern’s president. Remember, Rummenigge claimed it was due to failing to meet expectations. Hoeneß takes it a bit further, and it’s crucial to note how important that is. Of course, the answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.
Now this isn’t out of the ordinary when it comes to clubs making managerial changes. While reports of “losing the dressing room” often seem overblown, it typically plays a part in any decision that ultimately ends with someone losing their job. Sometimes the line serves as a crutch, a knee-jerk reaction when things aren’t running smoothly for a couple weeks. Other times it’s the easiest way to rationalize a firing.
I don’t believe this decision falls into either category. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction, for one. This club as we know them now wouldn’t know what that is. Moreover, there’s nothing easy about firing a manager like Carlo Ancelotti—from Bayern Munich, no less—two months into a campaign. Was something just not working? A quote like this from German journalist Raphael Honigstein makes you wonder:
Bayern Munich's squad under Carlo Ancelotti's tutelage. Some are clearly missing Guardiola. pic.twitter.com/1eLR9U6iOq
— Shane Burns (@ShaneBurns_) September 13, 2017
But we’re not stopping there. Remember when Robert Lewandowski talked about Bayern needing alter their transfer policy? That was earlier this month. Or how about Thomas Müller questioning his value under Ancelotti? That happened in August. But perhaps the biggest indictment of all came from Arjen Robben who, following the 3-0 defeat to PSG, was asked if the club still backed Ancelotti:
“I will not answer that. It was a painful defeat, we can talk about this. When it is a game as big as this, you never want to lose.”
Now you could make the argument that these types of things need to be discussed behind closed doors. And more often than not, you would be correct. But these aren’t three newbies whining to get their way. These are superstars with 53 trophies at the club level between them. Müller is a World Cup-winner. Lewandowski is the only one without a Champions League title.
Did Bayern finally become complacent? Was Ancelotti simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? After facing very little resistance en route to five consecutive Bundesliga titles, it’s possible. Yet it would be absurd to accuse these players of simply going through the motions; of doing only what they had to until the Champions League came back around.
Pep Guardiola faced scrutiny for inheriting “the best club in the world” and “doing nothing” with it after taking over for Jupp Heynckes following his treble-winning season during the 2012-13 campaign. Under Heynckes, Bayern won 83 of 109 between 2011 and 2013—winning at a clip of 76 percent and only losing 14 times. He led arguably the best Bayern Munich we’ve ever seen. Yet now, that feels like it’s become a bit of the problem.
Heynckes’ accomplishment has made some genuinely believe that Bayern should be winning the Champions League every single season. Now nobody’s saying Bayern shouldn’t be competitive on all fronts year in and year out, but this isn’t FIFA. You don’t receive a Champions League medal simply for showing up. Real Madrid are arguably the greatest club of all time and even they can’t win it every year.
In a way, Carlo Ancelotti was a victim of circumstance. But maybe he woke up one day and the game had passed him by. Perhaps he just hasn’t realized it yet. There’s no shame in that; Ancelotti has absolutely nothing left to prove in this game. But also, it’s obvious this Bayern squad needs addressing. There’s a laundry list of star-power at this club, but numerous aging pieces as well.
But more than anything, this club is facing real adversity for the first time in a decade. And we have no idea how they’re going to deal with it.