Why Julian Nagelsmann turned down Bayern Munich to extend Germany contract

Julian Nagelsmann described his contract extension with the DFB as a “decision of the heart”.

In Friday morning’s DFB press release, which announced he will remain Germany’s head coach until after the 2026 World Cup, the 36-year-old said that he had been “touched by the supporters’ euphoria” during and after the two friendly wins against France and the Netherlands in March.

Understandably so. Those back-to-back victories have dramatically changed the mood.

From being a directionless side, distanced from their public, Germany suddenly have a purpose and an identity. Nagelsmann has brought intricate, attacking football recognisable from his time at RB Leipzig, and a selection policy that has rewarded form over reputation. From dreading Euro 2024 and fearing embarrassment at their own tournament, the Germans are now quietly optimistic.

That is the context for this decision. Not that it was necessarily straightforward, or the only option available to Nagelsmann. It was no secret that Bayern Munich were working on bringing him back to Saebener Strasse having identified him as their leading candidate to succeed Thomas Tuchel in the summer.

Nagelsmann was sacked by Bayern in March 2023 with the team a close second to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and in the quarter-finals of both the Champions League and the DFB-Pokal, the German cup. He was immediately replaced by Tuchel, whose time at the club has been even more challenging.

Despite the signing of Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur for a German record €100million (£86m; $106.5m), Bayern failed to defend their league title for the first time in 12 years. They have reached the Champions League semi-final for the first time since 2020, but Tuchel’s only full season in charge has been blighted by inconsistency, marked by stinging media criticism and punctuated with public arguments about recruitment.

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Bayern Munich have struggled for consistency under Tuchel (Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images)

To succeed his own successor must have been tempting for Nagelsmann. There’s no question, either, that Bayern’s would have been the more lucrative offer. Tuchel is reportedly on €10million plus bonuses per season. Nagelsmann earns a little under half of that at the DFB.

Bayern have also revamped their technical departments since March 2023. Oliver Kahn and Hassan Salihamidzic, the former CEO and sporting director respectively, were part of the decision to both hire and release Nagelsmann, and both have now left the club.

And yet the awkward dynamics were still there. As were the doubts about the extent of Nagelsmann’s support at board room level.

Max Eberl, board member for sport, and Christoph Freund, the new sporting director, were united in wanting Nagelsmann. Reports in Munich, however, suggested that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness, the club’s highly influential elders, were not entirely sold on the idea, having seen some of the coach’s problems in Munich first hand.

As a source close to the German FA — who, like all sources in this article, have been granted anonymity to protect relationships — suggests, Nagelsmann had further reason for rejecting a return. Bayern are in need of a dramatic squad overhaul and that will likely concern players he will coach this summer at Euro 2024. Nagelsmann, the source says, was unsure whether it would have been possible to do both. His every decision with Germany would have had repercussions for his work with Bayern from July onwards.

At the very least, it would have been an endless source of media speculation and ongoing distraction.

It might even have been a political problem. Nagelsmann has been able to reawaken some interest in the national team partly through his selection policy. Leon Goretzka, for instance, was omitted from the squad for the France and Netherlands games, demonstrating the kind of tension that Nagelsmann might have arrived into at Bayern.

In that instance, Goretzka’s team-mate, the 19-year-old Aleksandar Pavlovic, was preferred. It was exactly the kind of uncomfortable mechanic that could have destabilised any second reign.

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Nagelsmann and Goretzka during Germany’s friendly defeat to Austria (Sebastian El-Saqqa – firo sportphoto/Getty Images)

It is a question of timing, perhaps. Whatever the case, it is certainly a better moment to be coaching the German national team. The consecutive group stage eliminations at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups damaged the country’s football ego, but the supporters’ relationship with the team had been in decline for far longer — since winning the World Cup in 2014.

Bad results have multiplied the ill-will generated by the perceived over-branding of the team, a series of DFB tax scandals and a succession of tone-deaf moments, typified by the One Love armband saga at the Qatar World Cup.

Around 25.9million Germans watched their country’s first game at the 2018 World Cup. For the equivalent match in 2022, that audience had shrunk to under 10million.

By the time Hansi Flick was dismissed in September 2023, Germany had suffered further humiliating results, with defeats to Poland, Colombia, Belgium and Japan. When Nagelsmann was originally appointed, initially to the end of Euro 2024, there was really a perception that things could not get any worse.

Strange as it sounds, the German job did not come with that much expectation. Not then, at least.

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Flick was sacked by Germany in September 2023 (Federico Gambarini/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Initially, there was little improvement — and perhaps that is where it’s wise to sound caution. The “supporters’ euphoria” Nagelsmann refers to in his statement is recent and based solely on those results against the French and Dutch.

But there were significant positives. The use of Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz as tandem No 10s was one. The debut of Maximilian Mittelstadt was another. The return of Toni Kroos was an obvious third. But it is not so long ago that Nagelsmann’s Germany were being outclassed by Turkey in Berlin. Three days after that game in November 2023, they were outmuscled by Austria in Vienna.



Kroos’ sublime return suggests Nagelsmann’s decision might be a masterstroke

The mood is certainly better now, but some of the issues have not gone away. There remain question marks against the defence, which is still porous. Kai Havertz is still a riddle. There is still no recognised or trusted No 9.

Nor is there any certainty that this will go well.

However, unlike at Bayern, Nagelsmann can be sure that the entire DFB hierarchy is united behind him. Having such a young, high-profile coach in charge of the national team will be seen as a coup and a much-needed “win” for the organisation. National team director Rudi Voller, who played a key role in persuading Nagelsmann to stay, proudly said that “the two successful internationals showed how much joy Julian and his team could bring to Germany”.

Nagelsmann, he added, was “an outstanding coach (and) a tactics boffin who doesn’t just bring great football knowledge to the table but can get every player going with his passion”.

Time will tell. But according to a source close to the DFB, the federation have still hedged their bets: they were able to insert a clause that limits their financial exposure should they wish to part ways with Nagelsmann if Euro 2024 was to end in disappointment.

Neither the DFB nor Nagelsmann’s representatives responded to requests for comment from The Athletic.

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Nagelsmann celebrates Germany’s second goal against the Netherlands last month (Mika Volkmann/Getty Images)

Certainly, there is no reason to be negative. Germany’s progress might be tenuous, but it has still been real. To claim a fever ahead of the European Championship would be overdoing it, but there is certainly anticipation and interest. That is a big improvement. And while the obstacles and difficulties Nagelsmann faces are substantial enough, Germany have shown more progress under him in five months than they previously had in years.

So, a vote for stability over risk. A job he knows and is secure in, rather than a return to a club in transition. Staying with the DFB sounds like it was a decision of the head, as well as one of the heart.

(Top photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

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