Paris Saint-Germain's demolition of Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday night didn't just spell the end of the road for coach Carlo Ancelotti; it has also thrown up more existential questions over the future direction of Bayern Munich and German football as a whole.
What went wrong tactically under Ancelotti? Is Bayern's transfer policy to blame? How can Bayern compete with Qatari-owned PSG? Indeed, how can any German clubs match the financial might of a sovereign state while the 50+1 rule continues to discourage outside investment?
By most clubs' standards, 13 points from six league games is a more than respectable balance but, for Bayern Munich, it represents the worst Bundesliga start in seven years. Furthermore, the quality of the team's performances has decreased noticeably from the three years under Pep Guardiola.
If the Catalan was the progressive thinker whose revolutionary ideas fired Bayern to three straight Bundesliga titles, Ancelotti was seen as the consolidator, the calm after the storm, a man whose immense experience would help Bayern scale the one height that Guardiola couldn't – the Champions League. It was a tactic Bayern had employed before when the composed, collected Jupp Heynckes replaced the abrasive Louis van Gaal.
But while Heynckes led Bayern to the treble, Ancelotti's stabilizing influence also stripped Bayern of the intensity which had pushed them to such extremes under Guardiola, Arjen Robben complaining in kicker in September about the quality and intensity of training sessions under the Italian.
So is it time for another innovator in Munich? Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann has long been on Bayern's radar but, at just 30-years-old, lacks experience and has lost all four of his European matches so far. Thomas Tuchel is the more likely option but is just as intense, controlling and tactically demanding as Guardiola. He would not tolerate interference from CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge or president Uli Hoeness – not that those two see eye-to-eye either, as exemplified by disagreements over the club's transfer policy.
While superstars Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, signed by PSG for a combined fee of close to €400 million, ruthlessly exposed Ancelotti's passive tactics, recent Bayern arrivals such as Sebastian Rudy, Niklas Süle, Corentin Tolisso and Renato Sanches are clearly not considered to be of sufficient caliber to compete at the very top. The fact that European champions Real Madrid were willing to allow James Rodriguez to join Bayern suggests that they no longer consider the Bavarians direct rivals.
"Bayern Munich have never spent more than around €40 million for a player,” Robert Lewandowski complained in a recent interview with Spiegel. "Bayern will have to come up with something if they want to keep bringing world-class players to Munich."
Yet while Rummenigge believes that Bayern will one day conduct a 100-million-euro transfer themselves ("Only the ten commandments are set in stone," he told kicker), Hoeness has insisted that Bayern are neither able nor willing to spend such sums, preferring instead to invest in infrastructure, including a 70-million-euro youth academy. It's an admirable but brave position to take in a game increasingly dominated by nouveau-riche clubs with sovereign and industrial backers.
There is another way
After a week in which all six German representatives lost in Europe, there have been renewed suggestions that German football is unnecessarily handicapping itself with its continued adherence to the 50+1 rule, discouraging the outside investment which would enable Bundesliga clubs to compete internationally – but at what price?
Bayern Munich's membership controls 75 per cent of a club which turned over a record 627 million euros in the last financial year. In contrast, PSG are owned by an undemocratic sovereign state with a questionable human rights record using football to exert soft political power. Is that the price German football is willing to pay in order to compete internationally?
It's been a tough week for German football but Bayern Munich's decision to part company with Carlo Ancelotti may not be the kneejerk reaction some suggest. Rather than moving the club forward by bringing stability, his management alienated senior players and performances suffered as a result.
But the solution, like the problem, could easily be found on the pitch and not in huge amounts of outside investment. Whether by appointing and supporting Tuchel, Nagelsmann or another progressive candidate, Bayern now have the chance to return to being innovators and show that there is another way.