Squab­bling Bay­ern has a hitch in its get-along

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - KEVIN BAX­TER ON SOC­CER kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

For the last five years Bay­ern Mu­nich has viewed its com­pe­ti­tion the same way Joey Ch­est­nut views a hot dog: as some­thing to be de­voured as quickly and com­pletely as pos­si­ble.

Over that time Bay­ern has lost just 12 of 170 Bundesliga games, outscor­ing op­po­nents by more than 52 goals a sea­son. It won three do­mes­tic ti­tles and a Cham­pi­ons League crown, a level of dom­i­nance un­matched in Ger­man soc­cer his­tory. And it did so with a ros­ter that read as much like a Hall of Fame bal­lot as a start­ing lineup.

But four games into this sea­son that dy­nasty is be­gin­ning to show signs of crum­bling, some­thing even Satur­day’s 4-0 de­mo­li­tion of Mainz can’t hide.

In re­cent weeks some of the team’s top stars have en­gaged in open re­bel­lion against both man­age­ment and the lax lead­er­ship of coach Carlo Ancelotti. And the in­ci­dents have so em­bar­rassed the club, long held up as a model of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and suc­cess, that former Bay­ern leg­end Lothar Matthaus warned the team is close to “to­tal chaos.”

“It has been a long time,” Matthaus told the Ger­man news­pa­per Bild, “since there was this much un­rest at FC Bay­ern.”

Warn­ing bells be­gan sound­ing late last month when for­ward Thomas Muller lashed out at Ancelotti over a lack of play­ing time.

“I don’t know what qual­i­ties the coach wants his play­ers to have. I just know that mine aren’t on the list,” Muller said af­ter spend­ing the first 73 min­utes of a win over Werder Bre­men on the bench.

Then last week­end star striker Robert Le­wandowski shared his dis­sat­is­fac­tion over a num­ber of is­sues in an “unau­tho­rized” in­ter­view with Spiegel On­line.

Both play­ers put their trou­bles aside Satur­day, with Muller scor­ing the first goal and Le­wandowski adding two more in the win over Mainz.

Le­wandowski has a record 83 goals in 100 ap­pear­ances, but it was likely a bit­ter­sweet per­for­mance. Not only is the player ru­mored to be seek­ing a move to Real Madrid, but he’s in the midst of a feud with Bay­ern CEO Karl-Heinz Rum­menigge, one touched off by Le­wandowski’s crit­i­cism of Bay­ern’s ap­proach to both the trans­fer mar­ket and its glo­be­trot­ting sum­mer ex­hi­bi­tion tours, which have be­come de rigueur for Euro­pean clubs com­pet­ing to grab the al­le­giance and cash of for­eign fans.

“He is em­ployed by us as a foot­baller, he earns a lot of money and I re­gret his state­ments," Rum­menigge said, ac­cord­ing to Agence France Presse. “If you pub­licly crit­i­cize the coach, the club or the other play­ers, you will get stress from me per­son­ally.

“It must not be harm­ful to the club. We need to be more ef­fi­cient and se­ri­ous . . . . Ar­ro­gance is not ap­pro­pri­ate; the league ti­tle is not in our lap.”

As if that wasn’t enough, while those con­tro­ver­sies were brew­ing thou­sands of Bay­ern sup­port­ers turned their backs on the team, ei­ther sell­ing or giv­ing up their tick­ets to last week’s sold-out Cham­pi­ons League game with An­der­lecht. Then winger Kings­ley Co­man was ex­cused from prac­tice Thurs­day to re­turn to France and an­swer charges of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence against his former girl­friend. (He pleaded guilty and was fined roughly $6,000).

None of th­ese in­ci­dents is enough to top­ple Bay­ern on its own, but to­gether they have the po­ten­tial to open wide chasms in the club’s tight-knit team fab­ric — some­thing mid­fielder Ar­jen Robben picked up on last week when he re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­cern over the team’s lack of “to­geth­er­ness.”

At the cen­ter of the mael­strom is Ancelotti, one of only two man­agers to win three Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles and a coach uni­ver­sally praised for his skills at manag­ing big per­son­al­i­ties.

Ancelotti, who fa­vors a hands-off manag­ing style, re­port­edly has not rep­ri­manded play­ers for trans­gres­sions such as late ar­rival for prac­tice or bad body lan­guage on the bench. That, in turn, has led to an ero­sion in dis­ci­pline.

So when Franck Ribery — at 34 the old­est player on the ros­ter — was subbed out near the end of the win over An­der­lecht, the mid­fielder walked slowly off the field, avoided the oblig­a­tory hand­shake with his coach, then threw his jersey into the bench.

Suc­cess, iron­i­cally, could be at the root of Bay­ern’s tur­moil: The team is so good, so dom­i­nant, it may be turn­ing on it­self in search of a chal­lenge. And given re­cent re­sults, it’s not ab­surd to con­clude the only Ger­man team strong enough to top­ple Bay­ern Mu­nich is Bay­ern Mu­nich it­self.

Still, the split be­tween the locker room and the coach­ing staff — and, by ex­ten­sion, team man­age­ment — is real. And it’s grow­ing deeper, likely ex­ac­er­bated by the in­sta­bil­ity of hav­ing three big-name coaches — with fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent styles — run­ning the show over the last five sea­sons.

Bay­ern has been through this be­fore, of course. Mid­way through Pep Guardi­ola’s lame-duck sea­son in 2016, af­ter talk of an un­happy locker room and a brew­ing mutiny went public, Bay­ern lost only one of its fi­nal 19 games en route to a league ti­tle and a semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance in the Cham­pi­ons League.

It’s early, in both the mutiny and the sea­son, this time around. And de­spite its wob­bles, Bay­ern en­tered Sun­day just a point off the top of the Bundesliga ta­ble af­ter four games while Le­wandowski leads all scor­ers with five goals. That gives Ancelotti and his deep, vet­eran team some breath­ing room as they search for com­mon ground.

“The pro­cesses on the pitch are not work­ing and you can't be sat­is­fied with the per­for­mances this sea­son,” Matthaus said. "Ancelotti must be hard now. Harder than he has been over the last one and a half years.”

There are still nine months to find out whether or not he will suc­ceed.

Lukas Barth Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency/EFE/REX/Shut­ter­stock

E V E RY B O DY looked happy when Thomas Muller, left, and Robert Le­wandowski cel­e­brated a goal Satur­day against Mainz, but Bay­ern Mu­nich has been in tur­moil.

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