Transfer market strugglers Bayern no longer one of Europe's very elite clubs
It’s been a summer more notable for the talent they are losing rather than attracting and it could mean Bayern slipping further from the top table
Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, James Rodriguez, Mats Hummels and Rafinha have all walked out of Bayern Munich this summer. That’s a hell of a lot of experience and a hell of a lot of success to lose in one window. Very soon you will be probably adding the names of Jerome Boateng and Renato Sanches to that list.
It would be one thing if Bayern and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic were getting much in return. But as it stands, they are not.
So far they have added Jann-Fiete Arp as a back-up to Robert Lewandowski from Hamburg, Benjamin Pavard to cover right-back and centre-back and Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid, their only blockbuster signing.
Hernandez won the World Cup alongside Pavard but will be a much more important player. He will add some much-needed technique and aggression in a defensive line now without Hummels and very soon to be without Boateng too.
To get him, Bayern had to activate an €80 million release clause and had to send the defender immediately for knee surgery. Bayern did not intend to splash a world record fee on a fixer-upper but that’s exactly what’s transpired.
And elsewhere in the market there has been frustration and failure; Salihamidzic – or Brazzo as he is commonly known – has questions to answer.
The now-retired Robben and Ribery were past their sell-by dates but nonetheless need replacing. Player of the year Serge Gnabry is dependable but needs more support than he gets from Kingsley Coman, electric when fit but woefully injury-prone.
That is why there was such interest in Callum Hudson-Odoi stretching back to the winter transfer window. Bayern have thus far been unable to get that deal done and the combination of his big injury, Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid and a Chelsea transfer ban means it is unlikely to happen now or in the near future.
The other main option for the wide attacking positions has been Leroy Sane. While Lewandowski put the feelers out in an interview a few weeks back, Bayern’s publicly-acknowledged pursuit of the Manchester City wide man is at a standstill. There was a time not so long ago that prime German talents would jump at the chance to play for Bayern but Sane at this stage would prefer to tough it out under Pep Guardiola.
And while the Spaniard was a chief draw for players like Mario Gotze, Thiago Alcantara, Xabi Alonso and Lewandowski during his time at the club, Bayern are having a hard time of it recruiting elite talent these days.
Whether it’s a question of finances or attractiveness, top players appear to be turning Bayern down in their droves; no queue is forming to work with Niko Kovac, a much-maligned coach who was lucky to hang onto his job having been pushed so close in the Bundesliga by Dortmund and eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League.
“It’s no longer the case that FC Bayern calls a player and then he climbs right on board the plane,” the former Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Reiner Calmund told Bild this week.
“Today, the really big stars have more opportunities to sign attractive contracts with top clubs.
“In economic terms, Bayern Munich has to fight with clubs in Europe that are even stronger financially.”
They have been linked with prime talents like Nicolas Pepe – the Ivorian winger who is taking Ligue 1 by storm with Lille – and Ousmane Dembele but the Barcelona winger has as yet given little to no indication of any willingness to return to Germany.
It is known that Bayern were also interested in recruiting Rodri from Atletico but he delivered the ultimate snub by opting for City and Pep instead.
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Matthijs de Ligt, meanwhile, will probably opt for Juventus and there is a whole host of players who Bayern have either missed out on or are unable to convince.
Ozan Kabak – a promising Stuttgart defender – went to Schalke. Timo Werner of RB Leipzig is staying put as is Kai Havertz, the promising young German international at Bayer Leverkusen. There was a time when these pick-ups were Bayern’s bread and butter but it appears that these players are content to wait it out these days and see what else materialises.
Instead they have been linked with Bundesliga filler like Hoffenheim’s Kevin Vogt and Niklas Stark of Hertha BSC. These are not superstar signings and by no means game changers. To get back to the top level requires an awful lot more. But Brazzo has been unable – throughout his two years in charge of Bayern’s transfers – to conduct anything like a successful market assault.
His record is mixed; Leon Goretzka has been a bright spot having been recruited for free from Schalke but elsewhere the squad has been allowed to stagnate.
The only attacking signing of note that they’ve managed this summer is a 20-year-old New Zealand international by the name of Sarpreet Singh. He will go first to the B team. Their landmark winter arrival – the Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies – has looked off the pace and provides more ammo for those who remain sceptical of Salihamidzic’s ability to get good deals done.
And, worryingly, it’s not like they have an academy graduate or two to fall back on. The German run to the UEFA Under-21 European Championship final was notable for the fact that not a single Bayern player made the squad.
These are difficult days for Bayern, whose progress on the European scene was measured in runs to the Champions League final in 2010, 2012 and 2013 – the latter of which they won – and to the semi-finals in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. There was a quarterfinal appearance in 2017 but last season Bayern were nowhere.
They have been unable – in the post-Neymar, post-Mbappe landscape to go out and rectify things by landing massive signings in the market. Since the summer they broke their transfer record to sign Corentin Tolisso for €41.5m from Lyon, that sum has been bettered in no fewer than 42 deals.
It’s no secret that their revenues are beneath those of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, for example, but Bayern would appear to be in the process of being usurped. How long will it erode? How far down will they slide? Will there ever again be the kind of investment needed to remain at the top table of European football?