Bayern prides itself on being not a team but a club in the truest sense of the word, a Bavarian civic institution. It expects its players to dress up in lederhosen for Oktoberfest, and to go out to visit fan groups once a year. It demands its manager engage with its social side, too. Guardiola, single-minded and reclusive, never did.
When the time came to replace him, then, Bayern decided it needed a change of pace: not quite a rest, but not far from it. Ancelotti fit the bill perfectly.
He had the résumé: three Champions League victories as a coach, at A.C. Milan and Real Madrid, and a list of former employers that proved he could coach a team of big names and manage a board of considerable egos, too.
Just as significant, though, he had the personality: genial, professional and, compared to Guardiola, relaxed. “Carlo is a calm, balanced expert, who knows how to deal with stars and favors a multifaceted style of play,” Rummenigge said when Ancelotti’s appointment was confirmed. “We were looking for this, and we have found it.”
Ancelotti was exactly as advertised. He is calm, and he is genial. He was popular in Munich, a much more approachable figure than Guardiola: “Down to earth,” in Rummenigge’s words at last year’s annual general meeting of club members.
Ancelotti was just what Bayern had wanted. It just turned out he was not at all what it needed.
On the surface, Bayern appears to have acted with uncharacteristic haste in firing Ancelotti now, just a few weeks into the season and a day after a humbling defeat. It is an unwelcome return to the days when the club was known in Germany’s tabloid media as F.C. Hollywood.
Bayern has never ousted a manager so early in the campaign. It also has lost only one game, and drawn another, of six Bundesliga matches so far. Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League defeat to Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain was a setback, not a disaster.
Beneath the surface, though, the currents have been moving in this direction for some time, the club harboring a handful of doubts about its Italian manager since the start of the year.
Bayern’s results were still good, of course — Ancelotti won the league in his only season — but the team’s performances were a little more erratic. Some players, such as Thomas Müller, seemed lacking in their usual sparkle, and Ancelotti appeared unable to lift them from their funk. The club’s power brokers started to wonder if the team had gone stale or, worse, if individuals were regressing under his aegis.
Those same voices railed, too, against Ancelotti’s apparent preference for the tried-and-tested over the up-and-coming. His distrust of Joshua Kimmich — the club’s finest prospect — was a source of particular consternation. At a time when Bayern is acutely conscious of the need to find its next generation of homegrown talent, even building a new, state-of-the-art academy for its youth teams, Ancelotti’s approach seemed jarringly out of sync.
The immediate interpretation is that Ancelotti’s 15 months in Munich should be read as an allegory for not knowing what you’ve got until its gone, and to interpret his appointment and dismissal as proof that what Bayern wanted all along was actually — here is the ironic twist — Guardiola.
The reality is different. Bayern and Guardiola had traveled as far as they could together; fissures were starting to appear by the time he left. The mistake Bayern made was in assuming that was the end of the journey: that what was needed now was someone to keep things ticking along, rather than put a foot on the throttle.
In both a domestic and European context, Ancelotti’s calling card — that air of serene stability, managing both upward and down — now seems a little outdated.
In Germany, in those years when Guardiola was transforming Bayern, the rest of the league changed too, becoming populated by a raft of bright young coaches full of bold new ideas. They are all cast from the same mold, each possessing just a scintilla of Guardiola’s influence: their styles are adventurous and expansive, their tactics complex and advanced. In the Bundesliga, as elsewhere, players do not expect simply to be maintained. They expect to be improved.
In Europe, the elite, the teams Bayern sees as its rivals, have rejected the idea of slow-burning progress. It is fitting that P.S.G. — a club that best symbolizes that relentless growth — delivered the coup de grâce to Ancelotti’s reign. Stability now looks like staleness. Bayern fell behind because it stopped, briefly, sprinting forward.
Ancelotti’s career is not over because his spell at Bayern ended unhappily; he is far from a busted flush. But it is easy to feel that, perhaps, his time has now passed, that European soccer’s top tier is no longer a place for the calm and the balanced.
It is instructive that the two likeliest names to replace him, long term, in Munich are Julian Nagelsmann, of Hoffenheim, and Thomas Tuchel, once of Borussia Dortmund. Young, dynamic, full of ideas: That is what Bayern wants now, an admission that it is precisely what it needed all along.
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