Burst of high-profile coaching departures leaves 3 iconic European clubs scrambling for replacements

AP , Thursday 22 Feb 2024

First, it was Jurgen Klopp making the bombshell announcement he is leaving Liverpool. Then it was an exhausted Xavi Hernandez declaring his intention to quit his beloved Barcelona. This week, Bayern Munich and Thomas Tuchel made it known they’ll be parting ways.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp celebrates at the end of the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Luton Town, at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Photo: AP


That’s three of Europe’s iconic soccer clubs needing a new coach at the end of the season.

And that’s three high-profile soccer strategists soon to be joining the ever-growing list of acclaimed, title-winning managers out of work.

Forget the upcoming summer transfer window, when Kylian Mbappe will likely be making his move to Real Madrid and Manchester United might be initiating a squad overhaul under its new soccer leadership.

The biggest offseason intrigue might just center around the movements of a bunch of unemployed super-coaches in an unusually turbulent period at the top end of the European game.

Indeed, it’s not just Klopp, Xavi and Tuchel who’ll be without a job. The past month also saw Jose Mourinho fired by Roma, which hired an interim coach in Daniele De Rossi on a six-month deal and is expected to appoint a more experienced leader in the summer.

Zinedine Zidane is waiting for the right job to tempt him back into the game, nearly three years after the end of his second spell at Madrid. Antonio Conte, a league title winner in England and his native Italy, is plotting a comeback in the summer after more than a year away from the dugout. Former Bayern coach Hansi Flick has been out of work since getting fired by Germany in September. Julian Nagelsmann, Flick's replacement on the national team, only has a deal through this year's European Championship so will also be on the market.

Just imagine the chaos if Pep Guardiola announces he is done after eight years at Manchester City. Who knows, if City successfully defends the Champions League and wins an unprecedented fourth straight English Premier League, Guardiola might think he has little more to achieve.

Meanwhile, spicing things up even further is the growing status and reputation of Xabi Alonso, widely regarded as the next big thing in soccer coaching.

Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen team has been a revelation this season and appears ready to wrest the German title from Bayern, which has won the Bundesliga for 11 straight years. That’s made him a wanted man, with Liverpool, Barca and Bayern all reportedly interested in his services. One thing's for sure — it's highly unlikely Leverkusen will be able to keep hold of him.

It appears to be just happenstance that three of Europe’s leading teams find themselves in the same predicament with their coaches, with three months still to play this season.

The pressures of the job have taken their tolls on both Klopp and Xavi, but in different ways. Klopp said he was worn out after such a long time (nine years) in the role — he compared himself to a sports car whose tank needle has gone down — while Xavi, who has been in charge at Barca for only a little over two years, cited mental fatigue and an "unpleasant" atmosphere at a club that has been weighed down by financial turmoil.

Tuchel is less than a year into his time at Bayern and his departure seems to be mostly down to bad results, which have raised the prospect of the club’s first season without a trophy in 12 years.

Klopp, the oldest of the trio at age 56, is the only one leaving fully on his own terms and says he won't return to soccer management for at least a year. That would be the same length of sabbatical taken by Guardiola after leaving Barcelona in 2012.

“Sometimes you feel you need to breathe," Guardiola said. “You need to take a break, take a step back.”

The City manager knows exactly what Xavi is going through.

“We cannot compare the pressure in England to Spain, in my experience. It’s a thousand times higher and tougher there than here," he said.

“Here, for the managers, it’s a real place to be, of course. A lot of games, six press conferences a week, every three days you have a game, it’s a lot. But the pressure you feel in Barcelona is not comparable to another club.”

Given the financial situation at the Camp Nou and Bayern's struggles this season, Liverpool might be the most alluring destination. Klopp is bequeathing a deep and richly talented squad, with a number of youngsters starting to blossom. He could yet leave Liverpool as the Premier League champion, which would be some way to go out.

As it stands, Xavi and Tuchel are unlikely to be departing with such a flourish and they'll be eager to make amends at new clubs to repair their slightly damaged reputations — unless, of course, one of them wins the Champions League.

Where they wind up is anyone's guess, with the competition for the biggest coaching jobs in European soccer having rarely been so fierce.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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