Why it's Champions League or bust for Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich started their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with a victory and a clean sheet over Anderlecht at the Allianz Arena. The basic facts don't lie, but the result against the inferior 10-man opposition wasn't settled until late in the second half, and there will be more questions than answers from the performance as the club continue to paper over the expanding cracks.
It is the trophy that has defined a glittering managerial career, but for Carlo Ancelotti, achieving a record fourth success in the Champions League is all that stands between success and failure at Bayern Munich. These are testing times for the Italian, and while his credentials are rarely ever doubted, it is the desperation of the German giants to bring European glory back to Bavaria that will dictate his eventual downfall.
Because quite simply, despite Tuesday's 3-0 victory, Bayern Munich are not currently equipped for success in Europe's premier club competition, and not even domestic domination will give Ancelotti time to repair the damage. Pep Guardiola was the heralded successor to the last manager to bring the famous trophy back to the Allianz Arena when he replaced Jupp Heynckes in the summer of 2013, but he failed to match his achievement and left with regret.
Domestic titles failed to protect Guardiola from criticism, and the fact that the man regarded at the time as the best coach in the world could not deliver the one trophy that Bayern craved has set the standard for others to follow. Ancelotti was appointed purely for his unrivalled success as a manager in the competition, winning three of his four finals, but the club no longer have the patience to sit through a rebuilding programme when other European heavyweights are spending their way to the top.
Ancelotti has been tasked with achieving success without adequately replacing the retiring duo of Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso, and coupled with the earlier departure of Bastian Schweinsteiger, means that Bayern Munich have not only lost significant footballing talent, but players that captured and defined their identity and DNA. Now a largely ageing squad lacking in belief, Bayern Munich have appeared never less equipped for an assault on the Champions League than they do this year.
Although they are only three games into the Bundesliga campaign, the shock 2-0 defeat at 1899 Hoffenheim has set the alarm bells ringing amongst the clubs hierarchy, and rumours that Ancelotti has already agreed a contract to join a club in the emerging Chinese Super League in December has served only to add to the unrest. Ancelotti has denied the claim, but should the season be one of confirmed decline, an early exit already seems inevitable.
There are systemic problems at Bayern Munich that have existed for a number of years, and they stem from the domestic domination that has given the club unrealistic expectations. Failure to lift the Champions League trophy from a position of domestic strength is considered failure, when in reality it is purely down to the fact that Europe's other leading clubs are superior to both Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga as a whole.
In addition, the pressure of the presence of former greats in the directors' box serves only to remind the club of bigger and better times when they did, in fact, rule Europe for three consecutive years during the 1970's. However, this era is now over 40-years old and must be confined to history, as it can now longer be held as an example with which to judge the players and managers representing the club in the modern game.
Make no mistake, Bayern Munich are a sporting institution renowned across the world, and their status commands success. Their problem is implementing a programme and structure to achieve such glory, and having the belief and patience to allow a manager the time and resource to build a team in his vision. Ancelotti was brought to the club last summer for a particular purpose, but his previous success has been achieved by having the right players at his disposal.
And of course, the pressure increases as new money floods into their rivals pockets, and out of it just as quickly. Clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are creating legacies, not living off the back of them, and their quick-fix transfer policies highlight the inadequacies that exist in this current Bayern Munich squad. Few clubs can compete against the unprecedented wealth of City and PSG's respective owners, and while others try to deny them European domination, they can only sit on their coattails for so long.
But there are some positives for Ancelotti and Bayern Munich. Striker Robert Lewandowski remains one of the most talent goalscorers in Europe and has started the season in fine form, while young French duo Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman can form the basis of the side for a number of years to come. Renato Sanches failed to hit the ground running in his debut season, but a year on-loan at English Premier League club Swansea City will assist the clearly talented Portuguese product in both his personal and tactical maturity.
Couple this youthful exuberance with the experience of the likes Manuel Neuer, Franck Ribery, Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben, and there remains significant talent in the ranks of this Bayern Munch side. However, any long-term ambition sits firmly in the shadow of Champions League success, and until the club claim the famous trophy once again, it will remain the elephant in the room.
Bayern Munich are an interesting case study of a club in the modern game. Their proud history is celebrated, and they should be commended for having such close ties to the traditions upon which the club was built upon, but equally, it is their history that increases the modern day pressure to achieve European success. They spend big, but not big enough to compete with the clubs now chasing Champions League glory. They achieve domestic domination, but rarely really celebrate it, such is the level of expectation.
Carlo Ancelotti is a good fit at Bayern Munich, and his Champions League knowledge and experience can make up for the elements of the team that leave them short in the competition. But in order to succeed with such a project, he needs time, patience and support, and it is the overwhelming desperation to again become the kings of Europe that means the club will not achieve this particular dream anytime soon.