FC Bayern, the Bundesliga’s Rekordmeister (record champions), are coming off a strange season. While they did claim their 11th consecutive league title, they did so in an unusual fashion—by the skin of their teeth. A Dortmund capitulation against Mainz and a brilliant late Jamal Musiala strike spared the Munich outfit’s blushes on the final day of the campaign. If you know Bayern, however, you will know that cutting it this close is far from good enough.
Indeed, mere moments after the title celebrations began, news filtered through that chief executive Oliver Kahn and director of sport Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidzic had been relieved of their duties, a decision made at an extraordinary board meeting on the eve of the final match. Now, Bayern are in the midst of a crucial transfer window—the first under new head coach Thomas Tuchel—without a clear sporting and recruitment hierarchy.
Nevertheless, the Bavarians remain as ambitious as ever, and if president Herbert Hainer’s words are anything to go by, the club will splash the cash this summer even without a clear front office structure. This is a risk, but it could pay off big time since it will give Tuchel more of a say in the recruitment process than may otherwise have been the case. But before we can analyse why and on whom Bayern will spend “€100 million,” we have to investigate how they ended up in this position.
Last summer, Bayern were heading into the new season quite optimistic. Sure, they had lost the goals of Robert Lewandowski, but Salihamidzic managed to pull off what seemed like something of a coup when he replaced the Pole with legendary Liverpool winger Sadio Mane—not a like-for-like substitute, of course, but a versatile attacking player who seemed well-suited to then-coach Julian Nagelsmann’s style of play.
Bayern also got off to a good start, beating RB Leipzig in the Supercup with a more flexible and fluid approach to the game than had been possible with Lewandowski up top. Nagelsmann appeared to have conjured up something new and exciting again, as he had done previously at Hoffenheim and with the Red Bulls. But he was eventually forced to rethink his approach.
Three draws and an embarrassing 1-0 loss to Augsburg saw them drop to fifth in the table. An abject Leverkusen, experiencing the death throes of Gerardo Seoane’s time in charge, were brushed aside, but another draw, this time a dramatic 2-2 in Dortmund, soon followed. Experimentation gave way to pragmatism, and the young coach reverted to playing with a classic number nine in the form of Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting. The Mane experiment had failed and convinced Bayern bosses that they needed a new striker.
The winter months saw the German giants hit by an avalanche of injuries to the likes of Mane, Lucas Hernandez, Noussair Mazraoui, and Manuel Neuer. On top of this, they struggled to get going after the World Cup break. As Dortmund started racking up the points, failing to win only one of their ten games between the Bundesliga restart and the beginning of April, Bayern were losing to Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen.
The latter proved to be pivotal. Twice did Leverkusen’s Amine Adli go down in the Bayern box, and both times the referee initially gave the Frenchman a yellow for diving before changing his decision after looking at the VAR monitor. The two converted penalties were enough to down Bayern, and they cost Julian Nagelsmann his job. It was a mind-boggling decision, worthy of the FC Hollywood nickname, and made all the crazier given the unusual way the game had transpired. The 35-year-old, one of the brightest minds in football, was supposed to head the Munich outfit for the next decade, if not longer, and now he was sacked in March because Bayern had, for the moment, slipped down to second in the table.
And this knee-jerk firing was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back and set in motion the sackings of Kahn and Salihamidzic, as alluded to by the infamous former Bayern president Uli Hoeneß. The two had made the momentous choice to release Nagelsmann, for whom Bayern had paid an initial transfer fee of €25 million to Leipzig and who is now entitled to “exorbitant compensation,” on their own. “Nobody,” Hoeneß told Süddeutsche Zeitung, knew about the decision; “even Herbert Hainer as chairman of the board was informed way too late. You just can’t do that.” Not even the players were told; January loan arrival Joao Cancelo found out during a TV interview.
His replacement, Thomas Tuchel, who ironically had fallen victim to a similarly ill-advised, impromptu sacking earlier in the season at Chelsea, would ultimately lead Bayern to the title, scraping past Dortmund on goal difference on the final day. But they were also dumped out of the Champions League and the DFB-Pokal under Tuchel, which meant that the Nagelsmann matter continued to loom large in the minds of fans and club chiefs alike. But it wasn’t just this one decision by Kahn and Salihamidzic that caused strife. According to Hoeneß, the two were let go because they were responsible for an “overall development that increasingly caused irritation.”
What he may have meant by this is that Bayern had managed to somewhat shed their FC Hollywood image in recent years. Of course, as is usual with big clubs, Bayern were still always in the news—for example, due to their Qatar Airways sponsorship—but they were rarely responsible for the crazy headlines of decades past. The club came across as a well-oiled, methodical machine under the experienced stewardship of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hoeneß, long-time servants who were thoroughly embedded in, and indeed shaped, the ‘Bayern DNA’. With Kahn and “Brazzo” at the helm, this changed. News of internal power struggles and disagreements became more frequent.
Hoeneß accused Kahn of neglecting the sporting side of his job and of completely disregarding the advice from Bayern seniors like himself and Rummenigge. Kahn and Salihamidzic didn’t undo the work of the previous regime; they didn’t necessarily tarnish the management legacies of their predecessors, but the way they carried themselves in trying to put their stamp on the club left a sour taste in the mouths of the old guard, which also contributed to the double sacking. Hoeneß claims that he has no desire to still run the show, but such an outspoken and opinionated character must have felt threatened by being completely excluded from the decision-making process.
So, what’s next for Bayern? Finding a new CEO wasn’t an issue; Kahn was immediately succeeded by his popular deputy, Jan-Christian Dreesen. The matter of finding a proper replacement for Salihamidzic, however, proved to be a different beast altogether. According to Hoeneß, Bayern were ready, if need be, to take their time until around Christmas before announcing a new recruitment chief, but after several weeks of sounding out potential options, the Bavarians have already managed to strike a deal with Christoph Freund. The RB Salzburg sporting director will start his new job in Munich on September 1 and will, therefore, not influence Bayern’s summer transfer business, at least not formally.
In the meantime, long-time former chairman of the board Rummenigge has been brought back to the club, and he, along with Dreesen, Hainer, and honorary president Hoeneß, will be responsible for player recruitment going forward together with Tuchel. This summer, they plan on bringing in some big names, according to Hainer, who has been the most vocal about the club’s ambitions for this transfer window and the upcoming season.
When questioned on whether Bayern, who are looking for a classic number nine like many of Europe’s biggest sides, have the means to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United in order to attract a world-class striker, the 68-year-old was bullish. “FC Bayern is capable of spending €100 million,” Hainer told BILD-TV in early June. “But for that to happen, everything has to come together. It is well established that we are looking for a striker. But there are a limited number of options, and they are all very expensive. We are on the right path, however.”
They are looking for “a striker who is good enough for FC Bayern in order to help us challenge in national and international competitions.” The president also openly acknowledged the links to the likes of Randal Kolo Muani, Victor Osimhen, and Harry Kane, but it is the latter that the Bavarians are now targeting. He would be a “statement signing,” in the words of former Frankfurt and Hertha sporting director Fredi Bobic, but is this the right approach?
Real Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea, the two Manchester giants, and Arsenal are all, with a few exceptions, shifting their transfer focus onto younger talent. At Bayern, this trend isn’t quite as pronounced. Kane and already-announced free transfer signing Raphael Guerreiro are both 29. Konrad Laimer and recent Napoli arrival Kim Min-jae are 26. Most of the club’s established players are in their late 20s and 30s.
That is not to say that Bayern haven’t signed some incredible young talent in recent years. Alphonso Davies, Matthijs de Ligt, Dayot Upamecano, Ryan Gravenberch, and Mathys Tel are all players with sky-high ceilings—not to mention academy product Jamal Musiala—but Bayern’s fixation on peak-age players with a view to rivaling the Premier League for Champions League success may yet prove a misjudgement in the long run, just like the Mane signing, whom Bayern bosses apparently already want to get off the books.
Indeed, the Rekordmeister’s ambitions may be at odds with the reality of the Bundesliga. Bobic wrote in a recent Kicker column that “the Bundesliga, with the exception of Munich, is currently a development league for the Premier League.” The signing of Kane (and Kim) will certainly help Bayern recapture the domestic dominance of years past and make them competitive in Europe’s premier competition, but it spells doom for the German top flight. “The Bavarians won’t experience such a wobbly season again for the foreseeable future; they are returning to their old position of strength,” concluded Bobic
President Hainer echoes this sentiment, and he is confident that “Thomas Tuchel is exactly the coach that FC Bayern needs” in what he claims is an “extraordinary situation for the club.” Their Galactico-esque transfer policy may yet see some upheaval when the well-connected Freund arrives. The 46-year-old turned Salzburg into a veritable talent factory, unearthing and nurturing prodigies like Erling Haaland and Dominik Szoboszlai as well as Bayern’s Mane and Upamecano, but given his expertise, he will only make the club even stronger; he won’t suddenly turn them into a stepping-stone side for emerging talents.
Someone like Hainer would never admit it—and it would be questionable from a business perspective to do so, to be fair—but this “extraordinary situation,” i.e., Bayern struggling, is exactly what the Bundesliga and, by extension, Bayern need. The jeopardy that we saw last season is what makes football exciting, and it would help the league attract better talents; at least that’s what former Bayern technical director Michael Reschke claims.
The Bundesliga can’t compete financially with the Premier League, and this is unlikely to change. The German Football League’s proposal to allow outside investment has met with fierce resistance from fans who don’t want to see their clubs at the whims of billionaires, especially after seeing what happened at Hertha following Lars Windhorst’s takeover and what is bound to continue now that the dodgy American ownership group 777 is involved. This means that the Bundesliga needs to rival the Premier League in attractiveness. The current ‘bundesligafication’ of the English league, i.e., Manchester City’s dominance, opens up a window of opportunity, but that chance will almost certainly be spurned.
Dortmund won’t give Bayern such a good run for their money again next term after losing Jude Bellingham, who is irreplaceable, as the Black and Yellows club chiefs have readily acknowledged. Leipzig, too, have seen their star men, Christopher Nkunku and Szoboszlai, depart, and although the additions of Benjamin Sesko and Christoph Baumgartner are exciting, it is doubtful whether they can help them mount a title challenge. Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt are unreliable and inconsistent, while Union Berlin and SC Freiburg will be preoccupied with milking their participation in European competition for all it’s worth.
All of this is to say that the drama at Bayern makes for good FC Hollywood storylines, but it will ultimately make little difference in the grand scheme of things. Hainer’s assertion that his club is capable of spending €100 million on a player may be exciting to the Bayern faithful, who are hankering for Champions League success, and Bundesliga marketers, yet it will only continue to hold back a league whose potential is already impaired by 11 years of almost unchallenged, one-sided dominance.