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Bayern know only winning will soothe burn of Neuer saga

Immediately after a 10-man Bayern Munich defeated Wolfsburg 4-2 on Sunday, midfield leader Joshua Kimmich admitted the only true solution to the club’s off-field woes was to win games on it.

“There’s always more calm in the club when we win games. Our three draws (in a row) meant turmoil,” said Kimmich.

“The unrest around the club will lose importance if we win matches.”

The win, the club’s first league victory in 2023, came amid an ongoing saga surrounding injured captain Manuel Neuer, which could do the unthinkable and force the Bayern stalwart out of the club.

Neuer’s ‘tell all’ interview with The Athletic and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, published Friday, prompted several members of the Bayern hierarchy to hit back, publicly directing their ire at the once-untouchable goalkeeper. 

Despite the club’s unshakeable position atop the German football tree, things do not always go smoothly behind the scenes at Bayern. 

The current stretch of 10 straight Bundesliga titles may have seen unprecedented consistency on top of the table, but the side has gone through eight coaches—including two stints from Jupp Heynckes and one brief caretaker role—in that time. 

The major constant at Bayern during this period, and indeed throughout the Bundesliga era, has been that winning solves everything. 

Neuer, who broke his leg while skiing in December and is set to miss the remainder of the season, was critical of the decision to fire goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic in late January.

Neuer said he could not “comprehend” the sacking which “came out of nowhere”, saying it “knocked me down” at a time “when I was already on the ground”. 

A close friend of the two-time Champions League-winning keeper, Tapalovic moved with Neuer from Schalke to Bayern in 2011 and had been a key component of the coaching group since.  

The interview was not only unauthorised; the club did not know about it until moments before publication. 

The days after the interview saw CEO Oliver Kahn, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and manager Julian Nagelsmann all come out to criticise the injured captain. 

Salihamidzic said on Sunday that Neuer was “putting his personal interests above the interests of the club”, and said “as captain I would have expected a different attitude from him”. 

Nagelsmann complained that “15 of the 16 questions I got” at Sunday’s post-match press conference in Wolfsburg were about the Neuer saga. 

Irreconcilable ‘differences’

When announcing the sacking of Tapalovic, Bayern put out a short statement citing “differences about the way we work together” for the decision to part ways.

The sacking came days after goalkeeper Alexander Nuebel, currently on loan at Monaco and viewed as a future No.1, publicly criticised Tapalovic for ignoring him in favour of Neuer, revealing that he had not spoken to the coach at all during his time in the principality.

German media speculated that the sacking of Neuer’s close friend may have been a Nagelsmann decision, forecasting a showdown between the two which could end in Neuer’s exit.

Neuer called the sacking “the most brutal thing I have experienced in my career”, implicitly pointing the finger at Nagelsmann, saying “in all these years I have never heard any coach say anything negative about Toni… ask Pep (Guardiola), Carlo (Ancelotti) or Niko (Kovac)”. 

Former Bayern coach Kovac, now at Wolfsburg, sat alongside Nagelsmann at Sunday’s post-match presser and told the media “I always had a strong relationship with (Tapalovic)” during his 15-month stint at the club.  

Speaking with Bild on Sunday, Salihamidzic said Neuer risked a fine for his unauthorised interview, which could be as high as the reported 50,000-euro penalty levied on then captain Philipp Lahm when he defended under-fire coach Louis van Gaal in an unauthorised interview in 2011. 

Nagelsmann said he was now “choosing not to speak publicly about the subject” but added “I wouldn’t have done the interview”.

The club’s winter purchase of Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer has also been viewed as a provocation, with the 34-year-old — two years younger than Neuer—given a deal which expires in 2025, a year later than the Germany keeper. 

Ultimately, whether Neuer is seen back in a Bayern shirt may depend on whether it is necessary from a sporting perspective. 

At a club where winning is everything, Neuer’s return to the field—and return to top form—may be the only thing that heals the rift with the club. 

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