Tensions at Bayern Munich between coach Hansi Flick and sports director Hasan Salihamidzic are providing an unwelcome distraction which threatens to derail the holders ahead of their crunch Champions League quarter-final return leg at Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
Bayern must overturn a 3-2 first-leg defeat with an injury-hit squad missing injured top scorer Robert Lewandowski.
The Bavarian giants have nine players sidelined by injury, suspension or, in the case of Germany winger Serge Gnabry, quarantined by Covid-19.
Flick resorted to fielding two reserve team players in Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Union Berlin.
Kingsley Coman picked up a leg knock and although Flick is hopeful the French winger can recover to face his former club, both midfielder Leon Goretzka and defender Niklas Suele are struggling.
“We are top of the Bundesliga and have a chance to reach the Champions League semi-finals, that’s my responsibility – everything else is not my thing,” Flick insisted Saturday.
However, the friction between him and Salihamidzic has certainly become a “thing” for Flick and an unwanted distraction.
In March, he revealed he had held clear-the-air talks with Salihamidzic, but tensions continue to simmer.
In a passionate monologue lasting nearly five minutes on Friday, Flick admitted being “fed up” with constant questions about his future and, from now on, will refuse to discuss the topic.
Before the weekend draw, Flick would only curtly reply “Next question” when asked about the obvious discord.
Bayern’s star-studded squad support Flick, but Salihamidzic holds the power due to his promotion to the club’s executive board last year.
As the team’s spokesman, Manuel Neuer has publicly voiced his backing for Flick.
“He is the right coach for us, we saw that in our results last year and we would be happy if he keeps going”, said the Bayern captain, before calling for “a bit more calm”.
Bayern fans are also behind Flick. In a poll by Munich-based paper TZ, 89 percent want the treble-winning coach to stay on.
However, despite winning all six available titles over the last 12 months Flick, whose contract runs until 2023, seems to be on rocky ground with Salihamidzic, his immediate boss.
Tensions flared when Salihamidzic confirmed last week that Jerome Boateng will not be offered a contract extension at the end of the season, while Flick implied he wants to keep the veteran defender.
In a thinly-veiled dig at Salihamidzic’s recruitment policy, Flick said last year’s squad “was better”.
Flick has not helped his cause by refusing to rule out replacing Joachim Loew as Germany coach after the Euro 2020 finals.
He is also running out of time.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a firm supporter of Flick within the Bayern hierarchy, will step down at the end of the year.
Rummenigge’s replacement Oliver Kahn, like Salihamidzic, has ducked giving a direct answer about whether Flick will coach Bayern next season.
Nevertheless, Rummenigge is losing patience with both Flick and Salihamidzic.
“This issue must come to an end,” Rummenigge told German daily Bild on Friday.
“We must all pull together, we must work together harmoniously, loyally and professionally.
“That is my clear demand to the sporting leadership.”
Bayern legend Lothar Matthaeus has even claimed in his Bild column that things have become so bad between Flick and Salihamidzic that their working relationship is no longer “fixable”.
Over the weekend, Bayern’s president, Herbert Hainer, took pains to de-escalate the situation, insisting Flick and Salihamidzic are just “two people with strong opinions” who both have “the same goal”.
“We want to continue working with both of them,” Hainer told Sky on Sunday.
“We are dealing with it in a relaxed manner – it is not the first or last time there has been a bit of excitement at FC Bayern.”