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Bayern Munich and Thomas Tuchel: Second time lucky

March 24, 2023

After the dismissal of Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern Munich have unveiled Thomas Tuchel as their new head coach. Bayern first approached Tuchel in 2018 but were too late. Now they've got their man, but can it work?

Bildkombo FC Bayern München | Tuchel und Nagelsmann
Image: R. Ibing/picture alliance/Wagner/B. Feil/IMAGO

Sometimes in football, things move extremely quickly.

On Monday, Kicker magazine published an in-depth interview with Herbert Hainer in which the Bayern Munich president spoke in glowing terms of head coach Julian Nagelsmann.

"[He] proved against Paris Saint-Germain [in the Champions League] that he is tactically and strategically outstanding at the highest level," said the 68-year-old former Adidas CEO. "We're planning long-term with him, as we've shown by giving him a five-year contract, and we can see clear progress. The discussions surrounding him come from outside, not from us."

By Thursday evening, Nagelsmann had been dismissed. But the identity of his replacement showed that, at other times in football, things can actually take a lot longer.

Bayern Munich first approached Thomas Tuchel in 2018 when they were looking for a permanent successor to Carlo Ancelotti. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, then Bayern chief executive, reached a verbal agreement with Tuchel, who was without a job after leaving Borussia Dortmund the previous year.

But Uli Hoeness, then club president, was determined to convince 2013 Treble-winning coach Jupp Heynckes to stay on for another year, after taking interim charge and leading Bayern to the Bundesliga title. In the weeks it took for Hoeness to accept that Heynckes' nein meant nein, Tuchel joined PSG instead, and Bayern settled for Niko Kovac.

Five years later, and with Tuchel reportedly already in talks with Tottenham Hotspur about potentially replacing Antonio Conte, Bayern acted quicker and have their man.

"Believe me or not, I was a bit dumbstruck in the first 30 seconds of our first discussion," Tuchel said at his unveiling on Saturday. "I didn't know what we were talking about. It became clear that it was for right now. I was completely surprised. The timing was surprising. There was no contact beforehand."

It may be sudden, but will it work?

Dortmund, Paris, Chelsea: Tuchel gets results

Kicker's front-page headline advertising the big interview with Hainer consisted of three words: "Sport. Money. Family." But one thing matters to Bayern Munich above all else: results.

And Nagelsmann, despite a 3-0 aggregate win over PSG to set up a Champions League quarterfinal with Manchester City, was simply not delivering them.

Sunday's 2-1 reversal in Leverkusen, Bayern's third Bundesliga defeat of the season and second of 2023, saw them surrender top spot to Borussia Dortmund ahead of the meeting between the two in Munich on April 1.

After picking up just 18 points from nine games since the turn of the year, Bayern are closer to losing their Bundesliga crown than at any other point since 2012, the last time they were not top after matchday 25. Should Dortmund win in Munich, Bayern will find themselves four points behind with eight games to play – the sort of deficit they have never recovered since the introduction of three points for a win.

"We realized that this wasn't simply a blip or a phase anymore, rather that the connection between the team and the head coach was no longer working," said  Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. "When the form curve dips like this, you have to react."

Bayern have, and it's now down to Tuchel to plot an upward trajectory. At least on paper, his appointment appears logical: a Champions League triumph with Chelsea in 2021 and the highest points-per-game average (2.12) of any Borussia Dortmund head coach in Bundesliga history speak to his pedigree.

Tuchel, now 49, is meticulous and demanding, a tactical perfectionist. But he can also come across cold, robotic and impatient, and has been criticized for his man-management skills in the past.

Thomas Tuchel speaking to his players during his time as Borussia Dortmund coach
Meticulous: Thomas Tuchel showed at BVB that he is a demanding coach, but he gets resultsImage: Jürgen Fromme/firo Sportphoto/augenklick/picture alliance

'Sometimes things don't work in harmony'

In November 2016, he publicly labelled his Borussia Dortmund players "technically, tactically and mentally deficient" following a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, a game in which he made a triple substitution just before the hour mark.

During his time at the Westfalenstadion, Tuchel also crossed swords with Sven Mislintat over the then head scout's appearance and attitude, and his alleged habit of smoking around the training ground.

"Tuchel is an exceptionally good coach, that's clear," said Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke at the time. "In principle, he was a top solution to succeed [Jürgen] Klopp because he had incredible abilities on the pitch. But sometimes things don't work in harmony."

A Dortmund source later told the Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet: "We were warned by Mainz that it would likely become difficult, but we didn't listen. For a year-and-a-half everything was great. Then everything was just as Mainz said it would be."

In Tuchel's defense, his coaching career has also been characterized by unprecedented events and difficult personnel structures.

Indeed, his time in Dortmund is remembered less for the 2017 cup win and more for the potentially lethal attack on the team bus ahead of a Champions League game against Monaco a month earlier. The attacker, Sergei W., was later sentenced to 14 years in jail, but the decision to postpone the game by just 22 hours marked the beginning of the end of the relationship between Tuchel and Watzke.

In Paris, Tuchel won two obligatory Ligue 1 titles and a couple of cups, but also took PSG's galacticos the closest they've ever come to Champions League glory, losing to Bayern in the 2020 final in Lisbon. But he lamented that he never got the appreciation he deserved at the chaotic Qatari-run club, and clashed with sporting director Leonardo.

Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel celebrates with the trophy after winning the Champions League
European champion: Thomas Tuchel won the Champions League with Chelsea, but was sacked not long afterImage: Susana Vera/REUTERS

Last September, he was sacked by Chelsea after just 100 games, despite taking the Blues from ninth to fourth in the Premier League the previous season and winning the Champions League.

It was during his time at Stamford Bridge that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich was forced to sell the club as a result of sanctions imposed on him by the British government due to his proximity to Vladimir Putin. Under new owner Todd Boehly, clear differences over recruitment policy emerged, and Tuchel was dismissed.

The return of 'FC Hollywood'

Now back in Germany, the question is less whether Tuchel is able to deliver results, but more whether he can establish effective working relationships in with a star-studded Bayern squad and a uniquely demanding hierarchy which has now sacked five head coaches since Pep Guardiola in 2016.

"The moniker of FC Hollywood was supposed to be consigned to the past," wrote Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. "Yet the whole process doesn't cast [sporting director] Hasan Salihamidzic or chief executive Oliver Kahn in a good light. FC Hollywood is back!"

Whether Thomas Tuchel proves to be the calming, professional influence required to continue Bayern's domestic hegemony, or merely fuel on the fire, will become clear soon enough.

Edited by Michael Da Silva