The Champions League Ventures Down Memory Lane

Bayern Munich will not take this well. It is less than a month since the club fired Julian Nagelsmann, a manager it had paid more than $25 million to hire, at least in part because he went skiing at a time deemed inappropriate. The club is unlikely to shrug its shoulders at being eliminated from not only the Champions League but the German cup, too, in the space of a few days.

Thomas Tuchel, freshly installed as Nagelsmann’s replacement, should be safe for now, but all around him will be a blur of change. Oliver Kahn, the iconic goalkeeper turned chief executive, is under scrutiny. Hasan Salihamidzic, another former player and now Bayern’s sporting director, will not be resting easy. Herbert Hainer, the club’s president, already has hinted that there will be churn in the squad, too.

Whether any of this will have the desired effect is a different matter. There was a sense, watching Manchester City hold Bayern at bay on Wednesday evening, of two clubs moving in opposite directions. An era that belongs to City, and to its fellow avatars of the new soccer, is doubtless beginning. The one dominated by Bayern and its ilk is slipping into the past.

And yet the whole picture is much more complex, and substantially simpler, than that.

No, Bayern cannot compete with City, not in the long term: The combined forces of Bavarian corporate culture are no match for that particular blend of Premier League wealth and nation-state resources. The days when Bayern could function essentially as a Bundesliga All-Star team — plucking the finest players from its rivals to perpetuate its domestic dominance and its European relevance — are over. Like Juventus and Barcelona before it, Bayern Munich will at some point bow to, or be bowed by, England’s economic primacy.

But decade-spanning macroeconomic trends are not easily distilled into roughly two hours of soccer. Even in a game that seemed to define the direction of the whole sport, the margins were impossibly fine. In this case, it came down to the fact that City has a fearsome goal scorer — Erling Haaland, you may have heard him mentioned — and Bayern, essentially, does not. Tuchel’s team created half a dozen good chances before Haaland scored in Munich. It just did not take any of them.