The boardroom power struggle that made Bayern’s quest to replace Tuchel an embarrassment

Bayern Munich finally have their new manager, although it took them more than three months to unveil the successor to Thomas Tuchel after announcing his departure in February. And it comes as something of a surprise that the rather inexperienced Vincent Kompany, who arrives fresh off being relegated from the Premier League with Burnley, will lead the hulking cargo ship that is Bayern.

The record German champions are coming off a disappointing 2023-24 campaign that ended without any silverware for the first time since 2011-12. Whether Kompany can turn this around remains to be seen, but if he fails to do so, it won’t be all his fault. An even more seasoned manager might struggle with the task at hand, because Bayern have too many cooks in the kitchen. This managerial search, which was largely conducted out in the open because of numerous leaks to the media, has shown how Bayern have struggled to contain the power grab unfolding in their boardroom.

The roots of this mess can be traced back to March 2023, when club bosses lost their cool and sacked Julian Nagelsmann. They did so in the second year of his five-year contract, and while Naglesmann was hired as a young and talented manager who could lead Bayern into their next era of success, the team did not progress as quickly as some of club executives desired. Subsequently, CEO Oliver Kahn and director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic were also relieved of their duties at the end of the 2022-23 season. The two former Bayern players had been built up for years to be the successors to Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, another pair of former club legends who had run the club for decades.

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With Kahn and Salihamidzic shown the door and their allies inside the club seriously weakened, others stepped into the power vacuum, while Hoeness and Rummenigge unofficially returned to the club’s command center, helping make decisions but without the job titles. Along with CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen, president Herbert Hainer, newly hired sporting director Christoph Freund and Max Eberl, who took over Salihamidzic’s role in March of this year, they formed a circle of powerful and opinionated people who now call the shots at Bayern’s Säbener Strasse HQ.

One source with knowledge of Bayern’s inner workings said that it’s tough to recognize who actually casts the deciding vote. Most clubs, especially those without an overbearing owner or investor, are run differently than they were in the past, when a Sir Alex Ferguson-like figure as manager would have latitude to make all the important decisions. Democracy ought to be seen as a positive as the world of football becomes increasingly complex, but with job roles split into specific duties and a need for collaboration, too many competing agendas can prove detrimental.

When the decision was made in February that Tuchel would leave the club at the end of the 2023-24 season, Bayern’s preferred choice was Xabi Alonso, who at that point was leading the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen. However, it was clear from the outset that luring Alonso would be a long shot, with Liverpool also showing interest in the former midfielder and Leverkusen trying their utmost to convince the much-sought-after 42-year-old to stay. Once Alonso opted to continue his tenure at Leverkusen, guiding them to their first-ever Bundesliga title during an unbeaten league season, Bayern turned their attention to a reunion with Nagelsmann.

Eberl hoped that with new management in place, the former Bayern head coach could be convinced to come back, but talks revealed that the Germany manager did not feel that he would enjoy the backing of the entire board. So he chose to extend his contract with the Nationalmannschaft and will, barring unforeseen circumstances, remain in the national team job through the 2026 World Cup.

Bayern then engaged Ralf Rangnick in negotiations, which some sources describe as fruitful conversations. At some point in late-April, it seemed as if the 65-year-old would give up his job with Austria after Euro 2024 and join the Bavarians, whose decision-makers were optimistic that they could finally put their search to rest. However, Rangnick became wary about the complications his signing with Bayern could have on his European Championship campaign with Austria and ultimately, whether a return to club football was right for him after all. In the end, the former Schalke and RB Leipzig manager rejected the opportunity, informing Bayern on May 1 and returning the club to square one.

Up to that point, the Rekordmeister were determined to negotiate with only one candidate at a time in order to give that person the feeling they were valued. After Rangnick’s rejection, though, the club became more frantic and reached out to a variety of candidates.

They approached Oliver Glasner in light of his success with Crystal Palace, but the south London side demanded an astronomical fee to release the 49-year-old from his contract. Bayern also enquired with representatives for Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag and Roberto De Zerbi of Brighton & Hove Albion, and held several discussions with another former manager in Hansi Flick.

Initially, Flick had been focused on the job at Barcelona, but became approachable when Xavi Hernández announced his decision to stay with the Catalan club. In light of Xavi’s eventual sacking, Flick signed with Barca instead.

In an act of desperation, Bayern held talks with Tuchel and his agent, Olaf Meinking, on May 15, to see if he might consider staying. Veterans Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller had previously pleaded with Bayern’s management to do everything in their power and convince Tuchel to stay. The pro-Tuchel group also included Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Leroy Sané, all of whom showed their appreciation for the German coach and his assistant Anthony Barry, who followed Tuchel to Bayern from Chelsea.

Bayern asked Tuchel to reconsider his decision in the weeks leading up to the season finale, but the 50-year-old felt that there was no coming back from February’s announcement, especially with the club not overly keen on his demands. Tuchel asserted that he needed concessions from those at Säbener Strasse, including extending his contract until 2026, to strengthen his position both publicly and internally. Bayern’s bosses, however, only wanted to revoke the February settlement, which included Tuchel and his staff being paid their entire salaries for the 2024-25 season, and continue with the existing contract. Fascinatingly, Eberl, who was pushing for a U-turn from Tuchel, was unable to attend the meeting in person and only called in via phone.

At the news conference before the last game of the season, Tuchel surprised many by stressing that there would be no change in heart: “We were not able to find an agreement for a further collaboration and that’s why the arrangement from February remains as it is.” A day later, despite taking an early two-goal lead, Bayern fell 4-2 to TSG Hoffenheim and dropped down to third in the Bundesliga table, behind VfB Stuttgart. It was a fitting ending for a disappointing season, as the search for a manager started all over again.

The club had started drawing up a contingency plan even before Tuchel’s snub, focusing primarily on coaches from the Premier League due to their English-language proficiency. At some point, Kompany’s name was added to the list and concrete talks began in mid-May.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Kompany was not Bayern’s first, second or even third choice, though there is an upside to his hiring. The 38-year-old former Manchester City captain now gets a chance to show that his brand of football could work with a possession-oriented team like Bayern rather than an underdog Premier League side. However, shortly before Kompany was brought in, there was still dissent among Bayern’s higher-ups, as Hoeness and others were still in favor of Flick.

It was specifically Eberl who argued that Kompany would be the right choice, though this process has likely weakened his position as Bayern’s new dealmaker.

“Uli Hoeness created the club the way it is now,” Felix Magath, who coached Bayern from 2004 to 2007, said. “What has always been the issue related to his activities was that he wanted to control everything. If he had a manager he could control, then all was right with the world. … Everyone who works here depends on his mercy.”

If this is indeed true, then it’s difficult to envision Bayern taking many lessons from their disastrous managerial search.

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