Monday 19 March 2018

Ancelotti left in the shade as Bayern player power prevails

Carlo Ancelotti has been around long enough to know that if you do not win the big games then you had better hope you are on the right side of the politics. Photo: AP
Carlo Ancelotti has been around long enough to know that if you do not win the big games then you had better hope you are on the right side of the politics. Photo: AP

Sam Wallace

Carlo Ancelotti was never a fan of Bayern Munich's unusual tradition of the post-match banquet where, whatever the result, the staff and players are obliged to break bread with sponsors and supporters into the early hours of the morning after the exertions of a top-level European game.

There is food, drink and speeches too, which, depending on which way you look at it, can be a unifying occasion at the end of a triumphant night or, in different circumstances, a bad defeat followed by something resembling a bad wedding reception. Bayern lost in Paris on Wednesday night, a 3-0 humbling against Paris St-Germain, but in they went to the banquet, following the Bayern principle of win or lose, on the stews.

Ancelotti knew something was up when the speech given by chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was delivered in German at a pace the Italian was unable to follow. The atmosphere on the plane home was, by all accounts, as frosty as the window pane of a Bavarian ski resort in season. By the next morning, Rummenigge and president Uli Hoeness had presented themselves at the training ground to tell Ancelotti that it was just not working.

On sacking him they agreed on one thing: that Ancelotti had made enemies of certain players. Hoeness, famously outspoken, has said that there were five players who had taken against their manager. The Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper accused Ancelotti of failing at his "core competency" - referring to an ability to sooth egos, a quality deemed vital after the high-pressure Pep Guardiola era.

The 'diva-whisperer' was the best nickname ever assigned to Ancelotti, the man who can calm the feverish atmosphere at a super-club and make every big dog in the squad believe that the mirror on the dressing-room wall makes him the fairest of them all.

The curious part of his reign at Bayern is that it defied the usual stereotyping of a manager whose modus operandi is perceived to be, so to speak, that he generally pats the cushions on the sofa rather than rearranging the furniture. At Bayern, Ancelotti wanted to make big changes and oversee the phasing out of the great side of the early part of the decade in favour of something else, but even at a club as pragmatic as this one, he met resistance.

Robert Lewandowski's recent outspoken attack on Bayern's underwhelming summer transfer window reflected Ancelotti's thoughts. They had lost Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm to retirement and there did not seem to be the appetite to replace them with similar big names. Ancelotti wanted to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal but the board were not of the same mind and in the end they settled for the compromise of James Rodriguez on loan from Real Madrid, a strange kind of signing for a club of Bayern's scope.

As for the anti-Ancelottis on Hoeness's list, it would not be a stretch to put Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Müller among them. It was Ancelotti's feeling that Ribery, 34, and Robben, 33, were at the age where he could not justify picking them every week, and that was a point of difference with the club's most powerful figures that kept coming back to haunt him. Both players wield enormous influence, and so too Müller.

Ancelotti also had a difficult relationship with Boateng. In the end it was the players who won the day, very much backed by the club's board. Ancelotti has been around long enough to know that if you do not win the big games then you had better hope you are on the right side of the politics. After all, when his Chelsea career came to an end in May 2011, he was sacked in a corridor at Goodison Park by Ron Gourlay and was not even sure of a seat on the flight home.

Ancelotti had lost Manuel Neuer to injury, a key part of the team, and the replacement was below the standard of Germany's great sweeper-keeper.

Bayern's biggest single summer outlay was on Corentin Tolisso from Lyon for €41.5 million. There were others too, including the Hoffenheim pair Niklas Sule and free agent Sebastian Rudy. Rummenigge is the leading critic of the explosion in transfer fees, and while at times he has a point, Bayern's expectation is also that they will compete with the clubs paying big money.

On the day of the game in Paris, Rummenigge and Hoeness made it clear that they were in the Robben and Ribery camp when they were around the squad, which was unfortunate given neither were to start. Ancelotti stuck to his guns and in doing so raised the stakes considerably. He knew that the Bayern bosses wanted the pair in the team and leaving them out brought matters to a head, although much of the subsequent justification for the sacking centred on a belief that Bayern had failed to develop tactically from the side Guardiola left behind.

Against PSG they did look leaden in defence, while dominating possession - a stodgy sort of possession it should be said, which contrasted sharply with the home team's ruthlessness on the counter-attack.

Ancelotti has not been able to disguise an aging side's shortcomings against PSG but it has been convenient to blame the regression on him alone, when the Italian made it quite clear that more radical action than the board were prepared to authorise was needed in the summer.

Bayern would like their next manager to be Julian Nagelsmann, the 30-year-old coaching phenomenon whose Hoffenheim side beat Bayern this month, although the time-scale could be tricky given that he is unlikely to come mid-season.

Quite some task awaits this young man who will have to rebuild the Bayern team as Ancelotti had himself hoped to do, and now Nagelsmann will know that there are more than a few figures at the club, on the pitch and in the boardroom, who have their own ideas about who stays and who plays.


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