In Germany there’s a word for everything, including the peculiar predicament FC Bayern Munich find themselves in. Call it: the Nagelsmann-Falle.
Nagelsmann literally translates as “nails man”; Falle as “trap.” Put together, this compound noun sounds a little like a medieval torture instrument, which is rather apt. The German champions are stuck in a corner and torn in an agonising bind over the appointment of TSG Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann as Jupp Heynckes’ successor at Bayern Munich next summer.
Can the 30-year-old be entrusted with the team’s rebuilding process, or is he not quite ready to take his ideas from the sleepy Kraichgau region to the pressure cooker of the Allianz Arena, where only wins are tolerated?
These are the questions the leading figures at Sabener Strasse are asking themselves. The fraught decision-making process is not helped by a sense of disunity at board level, and there’s one more unwelcome complication: Borussia Dortmund’s likely need for a new coach in due course makes this a time-sensitive issue all of a sudden.
Bayern’s initial plan at the start of the campaign had been to adopt a prudent wait-and-see tactic. Everybody expected Nagelsmann might have a bumpy ride following the loss of influential figures Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy — to Bayern, coincidentally — during Europa League campaign. But with the safe hands of Carlo Ancelotti in situ and contracted until 2019, club bosses in Munich were not in a hurry to jump to conclusions.
Roping in Heynckes as an emergency measure after Ancelotti’s sudden dismissal two months ago was meant to buy Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness, the two squabbling power-brokers, more time to agree on a long-term replacement over the next three to four months. (A new coach needs to be identified in time for Bayern’s transfer activities, which tend to culminate in April and May.)
Hoeness’ recent suggestion that Heynckes could well stay for another season — angrily rebuffed by the 72-year-old — shone a light on the Bavarians’ persistent trouble in securing the next man on the bench. The board obviously need more time, still, to run the rule over the possible contenders — starting with Nagelsmann.
An at best half-hearted attempt to enquire about his immediate availability back in late September never went anywhere, thanks to Hoffenheim adopting a principled stand — TSG reportedly quoted Bayern an outrageous release fee to kill the move straight away — and a lack of conviction at Sabener Strasse.
Neither Hoeness nor Rummenigge were quite ready to anoint the wunderkind; Hoffenheim’s poor showings in the Europa League, where they’ve been eliminated in group stage, hasn’t done much to strengthen Nagelsmann’s case.
Ironically, Peter Bosz’s increasingly doomed tenure at Dortmund has had that effect. The club, whose approach to Nagelsmann turned down back in April, are preparing another offer to lure him to the Signal Iduna Park at the end of the season at the latest.
In light of Bayern’s uncertain stance, Nagelsmann is likely to be seriously tempted this time around. That, in turn, raises fears of missing out on the brightest coaching prospect of his generation in Bavaria. Can Bayern afford to let Nagelsmann slip the net and go to Westphalia, where he might have a similarly transformative effect as Jurgen Klopp had 10 years ago?
Borussia’s renewed push forces Bayern to take a look at Nagelsmann now, in a time-frame that’s not of their own making — an uncomfortable place to be for club accustomed to being at the top of the Bundesliga’s food chain.
If there’s no quick consensus on fast-tracking Nagelsmann, Bayern go back to square one. Thomas Tuchel expressed reservations about not enjoying the board’s unanimous support when Bayern sounded him out a few weeks ago, while Germany coach Joachim Low has a World Cup to worry about and might well continue until 2020.
Reports about Liverpool boss Klopp moving into pole position are so fanciful in light of the Swabians’ rock solid support by Anfield owners FSG that they could well be smokescreen, designed to obscure Bayern’s move for the only other viable German-speaking coach left on the market. Expect the buzz around RB Leipzig boss Ralph Hasenhuttl to become a loud louder in the coming weeks.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert. Follow: @honigstein