Bundesliga European Football

Hansi Flick Is Leaving? Already?

On the rumblings of managerial turmoil in Bavaria and why they make more sense than many think…

So we have already covered Bayern Munich’s historic sextuple-winning team and how great they are and how great manager Hansi Flick has been and blah blah blah. Something else is happening in Bavaria, something major. There is now a very interesting wrinkle to this story, albeit mostly based on speculation, that is worth exploring.

So Bayern are not as dominant this season as they were last season. Despite being on track to win their ninth consecutive Bundesliga title, they were eliminated from the DFB-Pokal in quite shocking fashion by second division minnows Holstein Kiel. They were also most recently knocked out of the Champions League by PSG at the quarterfinals stage, with their largely injury-and-COVID-ravaged side unable to complete the remontada in Paris earlier this week.

Tough season, but surely there is nothing there to draw major conclusions from. Things happen, that is just how football is. You cannot win every trophy every year. Had Bayern been able to call upon the services of the injured Robert Lewandowski or COVID-struck Serge Gnabry, maybe they go through? Surely this is not the time for drastic changes, right?

Wrong.

(Allegedly)

Following Bayern’s failed comeback in Paris, Bayern Munich and Germany legend Lothar Matthäus, covering the match for Sky Deutschland, dropped the bombshell of insider knowledge that (at least to his knowledge) this would be Hansi Flick’s final season as Bayern manager. Matthäus claimed that Flick had an offer on the table to succeed Joachim Löw as Germany manager and that he would take that offer, choosing to leave Bavaria due to increased tensions between himself and several members of the Bayern hierarchy. He specifically cited tensions between Flick and Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić as a reason for Flick’s desire to leave.

This is a very bold claim. Saying that a manager, one that is considered one of the best in the world, is willing to walk away from arguably one of the three or four best teams in the world at the moment (even after what happened in Paris) while being under contract for the next few years is an incredibly bold claim. Someone of Matthäus’ recognition and stature attaching himself to this claim makes it even more wild.

Now, Matthäus is not exactly the most reputable individual. A man who could not escape controversy as a player or coach, he has made a reputation as a television pundit out of good insights as a former football legend, sure, but also from going on television and saying some things that he probably should not be saying. Is he the most informed person in the football world? Probably not. Is he in touch with everything going on at his former club? Maybe, but I would not think so. But is he the only one saying these things? Definitely not, he has just magnified what he and others have been observing.

There have been reports of internal strife at Bayern from a variety of English and German tabloids dating back to before the game in Paris. German outlet BILD shared reports of a potential “showdown” meeting between Flick, Salihamidžić, and the rest of the Bayern board. They also reported that several members of the Bayern board were going to fly out to Paris and watch the second leg themselves to assess the state of the current project. These rumblings have been building, crescendoing to their peak with Bayern’s failure in Paris. Something significant appears to be happening.

But why? Why would Flick consider this? Why would Bayern allow this? It seems ridiculous to make such a bold change now, doesn’t it? Despite their failure in Paris, it looks like Bayern are going to retain the Meisterschale this season. They are still one of the best teams in the world and have one of the best team sheets on paper in the world. Had injury and sickness not struck Lewandowski, Gnabry, and Leon Goretzka, it is very possible Bayern do enough in Paris to win the tie. Honestly, if Leroy Sané played a pullback pass to Jamal Musiala late on in that match instead of passing it directly into the hands of the goalkeeper, it is very possible Bayern complete their comeback regardless of their injury situation. Even with their Champions League failure this season, is it really the end of the world? This team’s main issue, their defense, is very fixable, and with Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano arriving in the summer, they are only going to get better.

Hansi Flick has reinvigorated a Bayern team following struggles under previous managers, and Flick has found himself a job at one of the best teams in the world very early in his career. Is he sure he wants to walk away from it so soon? This would be Bayern’s sixth managerial change since Pep Guardiola left the club in 2016. Does the club really want that much upheaval when their ideal long-term manager is already in the job? Bayern cannot keep ditching managers and calling Jupp Heynckes to save them every year, and Flick will likely not find a club job better than this. So why is this ideal marriage heading toward divorce?

It is largely about control. And bureaucracy.

So to understand FC Bayern as a club, you also have to understand the machine that operates behind the scenes. Like with most of the world’s elite football clubs, there is an entire bureaucracy behind the scenes at Bayern that controls the day-to-day operation, as well as the medium and long-term planning, of the club. There are quite a few people involved that have varying levels of influence over the direction of the club at all levels and all age groups, and that starts at the ownership level.

Approximately 75% of the football club is owned by a company called FC Bayern München AG (if you were curious, the other 25% is shared between Adidas, Audi, and financial services company Allianz). FCB AG is essentially a spin-off company that works to organize the structure of ownership and organizational leadership within the football club into a logical corporate model while housing and representing the “membership” (or fan ownership) stakes in the club. Having 50% “fan ownership” is required through German football’s famous “50+1 rule”, and Bayern accomplish it through this method. This company has a president, a position voted on by club members (again, usually fans), which was formerly filled by Bayern legend Uli Hoeneß and now filled by former Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer. This company also has a board made up of five members and one chairman, which is currently another former Bayern legend in Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Salihamidžić sits on the board as sporting director, having been in this position since 2017. It is this group that makes the decisions on sporting matters, as well as on economic issues, global marketing, commercialization, and a variety of other topics.

There is a lot going on, right? There are a lot of people with a say, a lot of people with different ideas, and many voices that could want attention. It is quite a few egos fighting at the same table. It is important to understand this structure when talking about where this relationship broke down, because it is clearly about control, and all of those previously named people are characters in this story.

Flick, even this early in his managerial career, strikes me as a manager that wants control over the sporting project. Having come through the national team coaching pathway, he has been exposed to a management structure where the manager has significantly more control over sporting decisions, operating without sporting directors or other entities above him making significant personnel decisions. Flick has a vision, an idea of what he wants his team to look like, how he wants his team to play, and what players need to be moved in or out in order to realize that vision, and he wants to have the control and power needed to enact his vision. He is likely never going to get this level of control at Bayern, and while there was a semblance of order last season, it only took one major transfer window for the issues to start arising.

Because of Bayern’s structure, Flick does not have complete control over the club’s transfer and player strategies. Salihamidžić is the one who largely has the final say, and, according to the speculation from the tabloids, several of the decisions made by him greatly angered Flick. It was Salihamidžić’s decision, allegedly, to allow Thiago Alcântara to leave the club and join Liverpool. Relations were further strained, allegedly, when the club ended contract discussions with David Alaba and Jérôme Boateng. Both of these decisions were reportedly against Flick’s wishes, as he wanted Thiago to remain at the club and wanted Alaba to sign a new deal. You could also question how much input Flick had on Bayern’s signings in this past summer window. Leroy Sané was probably a joint decision, or at least one that is difficult to object to, but the rest of the moves are quite puzzling, especially with how late in the window they were completed. The signings that were largely influenced by Salihamidžić, allegedly, were Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting, Marc Roca, Douglas Costa, and Bouna Sarr. Based on how little that they, especially the latter three players, have featured, you can rightly question how much choice Hansi Flick had in their signing.

This issue has played out very publicly for us to see over the last week. Last Friday, prior to Bayern’s home league match against Union Berlin, which would be their last league match before the second leg against PSG, Flick was asked by a journalist about how he would handle the notable absences in his team. He responded by saying, “We had a team last year that was better in terms of quality. Everyone knows this and will agree with me [that last year’s team was] better than this year’s.”

Wow. There is no way to be more blunt than that.

Despite the injury concerns and need to rest major players before the trip to Paris, Flick felt compelled to start Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman, Jérôme Boateng, and Manuel Neuer against Union Berlin, I presume feeling it necessary to play those players to get a result. This match, which ended in a 1-1 draw, likely further exhausted an already depleted and tired Bayern team. During the PSG match, with his team needing a goal and only having five minutes plus stoppage time to find it, Flick made the move to take off Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting, his only fit and available striker, and replace him with Javi Martínez, a defensive midfielder. What seemed like an illogical decision from an outsider perspective was actually a direct shot at Salihamidžić and his leadership ability. He felt that his team would be more likely to score while playing a defensive midfielder at striker than while playing one of the players that, allegedly, Salihamidžić brought to the club without Flick’s approval.

We have seen disputes and disagreements like this in the football world before. Jose Mourinho was famously against Manchester United signing Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk in the summer of 2018. André Villas-Boas resigned from his position as manager at Marseille in February 2021 after a dispute with club leadership was brought to a boiling point by the signing of Olivier Ntcham from Glasgow Celtic, which Villas-Boas did not approve of. Things like this have happened before at other clubs, and they almost always end very poorly. It appears Bayern are on the same path with this situation.

This is inherently a massive draw to the Germany job for Flick. Yes, there is technically an infrastructure that exists above the manager. This should not be a surprise to Flick, who served as sporting director for the German National Team prior to becoming an assistant at Bayern in 2019. But despite this, the manager of the national team will still have much more power in shaping the team and the project than Flick currently does at Bayern. Flick will choose how the team plays, the formation the team plays in, the players that will be called up, and, due to his stature, he will likely come into the job with a significant amount of influence and weight in conversations when it comes to the overall structure and vision of the men’s national team system moving forward. The German National Team set up has a sporting director, but it does not have the level of influence that Salihamidžić has at Bayern. Sure, it probably will not pay him as much as Bayern could, but the control seems to be a significant appeal for this position.

Flick is already very familiar with the national team set up, as he served as assistant manager to Joachim Löw with the senior national team for eight years. Löw was seemingly grooming a young Flick for future management, much in the same way that Löw was prepared for the national team job by serving as an assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann. The German player pool is also very strong, one that could contend for major honors under Flick’s management as early as the World Cup in Qatar next year. Yes, leaving Bayern at this stage seems a bit crazy, but there are genuinely appealing aspects to the Germany job for Flick. Him leaving Bayern does not seem as farfetched as people believe.

So that “showdown” meeting is going to be incredibly significant. Remember that board and club hierarchy I mentioned before? Yeah, it comes into play here. This meeting involving Flick and the rest of the board is going to basically be a duel of egos. Rummenigge backs Flick. That is his man, the guy he envisions leading Bayern forward. Other members of the board feel differently, however, particularly Hainer and Hoeneß, who has stayed at the club in an ambiguous yet influential advisory role, who back Salihamidžić. The added dimension to this dynamic is Rummenigge’s impending retirement. The long-time Bayern chairman is stepping down at the end of the calendar year, choosing Bayern and Germany legend (and FCB AG board member) Oliver Kahn as his replacement. Kahn might be the ultimate deciding vote on this matter. He made sure to be a part of the traveling party that went to Paris in midweek, and BILD has reported that he wants to be a central figure in that “showdown” meeting to see how truly committed Flick is to the Bayern project and how seriously he is considering the Germany job.

This is a massive crossroads moment, the first and maybe the biggest test of Kahn’s stewardship. Dortmund hiring Marco Rose and Borussia Mönchengladbach hiring Adi Hütter shows that the chasing pack could start to catch up to Bayern very soon. This feels like something that could define the club for the next five to ten years, so Kahn really cannot afford to mess this up.

Sure, whatever replacement candidate they choose will probably be good enough to help keep Bayern among the best teams on the continent. Matthäus mentioned Bayern’s desire to hire RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, and while both Naglesmann’s camp and Leipzig have denied any contact from Bayern, it could be hard for the young star manager to say no to that offer. But all of this is putting hopes in chance and fate aligning in the Bavarians’ favor. Flick’s appointment is the first time since Guardiola left the club that Bayern have seen the on-pitch results they desire, and it seems crazy but entirely possible that they are on the verge of letting this fall apart over unchecked egos and bureaucratic mess. There is no guarantee that they strike gold to this degree ever again.

Yes, much of this is based on speculation. There is nothing incredibly concrete signaling serious issues at the club outside of tabloid writing and reading into press conference statements and substitutions. But there is something there. This is not just some random off-hand statement that Lothar Matthäus randomly dropped during a match broadcast.

When there is smoke, there is usually fire. And there is a whole lot of smoke here.

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