Reality sometimes defies fiction or logic, and the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer to Juventus shows us that overinflated player prices are there to stay. FC Bayern cannot sit on their hands anymore.
Before diving into the Bavarians’ possible take on the situation, let’s quickly examine what Ronaldo’s move to Italy means for the market itself.
Aged 33, the megastar is most likely to slow down. His last season was a highly productive one, but he had to move to a striking position instead of handling the full workload of a left winger. How much value will Juventus get for the Portuguese? He is most likely to have another strong season or two, but the human body’s slow decline cannot be reversed.
In my opinion, Ronaldo’s €100 million fee confirms a trend established by Neymar’s 222 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017. By flashing this much cash for a veteran, Juventus demonstrate that we have entered a new era regarding player value.
What does this mean for Bayern? Relevance in Europe may be at stake.
The club has broadly ignored other clubs’ spending sprees. The transfer of Corentin Tolisso for €41.5 million remains the biggest in its history, just over the €40 million paid for Javi Martínez. Top dogs have cast severe doubt over the idea of making a mega transfer. Investing in youth may be a bigger priority.
There are excellent reasons behind that approach, chiefly because building from the academy makes sense in the long run. The Bavarians are also excellent at sniffing transfer opportunities where other clubs do not stick their noses in. Borrowing the out of favour James Rodríguez from Real Madrid last year was pure genius. Even if buying him costs the reported €42 million, FCB found an underused asset and have made it strong again.
Prudent management is at the core of FC Bayern’s business model. Combined with aggressive commercialisation and success on the pitch, finding the next star in the bargain bin makes the club highly successful and profitable. However, ignoring emerging realities is extremely dangerous when the price of talent is subjected to high inflation rates due to extreme competition. That talent becomes less accessible with time when you refuse to spend.
FCB should be one of the first clubs to realise it. Do you remember the spring of 2007? Back then, Felix Magath was already out of a job in Munich. The team finished fourth in the Bundesliga, unable to qualify for the 2007-08 Champions League campaign. Much CL revenue was lost.
At the time, Bayern’s management would either buy players from Bundesliga clubs (Lúcio, Lukas Podolski, Daniel van Buyten), promote guys from FC Bayern II (Michael Rensing) or get someone from another league at a low price (Mark van Bommel, Barcelona, €6 million).
FCB often had the strongest team in Germany, but it was not a Champions League contender. It usually went out by the Round of 16 or quarters.
The following summer marked a radical change. The Reds acquired nine players, including Franck Ribéry, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni for a total of €93,2 million. Uli Hoeness admitted that the aggressive summer of shopping was a necessary change.
That philosophy prevailed for years. Die Bayern kept buying costly players such as Mario Gómez (€30 million) to boost the squad. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummennige decided to pull the trigger on the Javi Martínez transfer when Jupp Heynckes guaranteed that he would bring the extra bit of quality needed for a Champions League win.
There are apparent differences between the 2007 and 2018 editions of FC Bayern. The club’s six straight Bundesliga titles and ability to make it to the Champions League semis are reassuring. However, when you watch the matches closely in the final stretch of a season, you can see a glass ceiling over the players. At the same time, the management’s approach has reverted to the mid-2000’s mode.
The squad is deep enough to field two Bundesliga teams, but there are holes in it. Only Kingsley Coman can be considered as a successor to the Robbery duo. There is uncertainty regarding his right-wing counterpart. There is no serious backup at left-back and no solution in sight.
Last year, FCB finally bought Sandro Wagner to deputise for Robert Lewandowski at striker. That hole in the squad was evident and left unplugged for two years.
The central midfield and defence have members who boast excellent reputations, but many have underperformed last season although coached by Jupp Heynckes. Examples? Jérôme Boateng, Thomas Müller, Thiago Alcântara and Arturo Vidal come to mind. A new coach’s work could help some to regain their mojo. In other cases, transfers might be the only short-term solution.
Other big clubs are more active, or at least aggressive, on the transfer market. Does that guarantee glory? Of course not, as PSG and Manchester City have found out on the European stage. However, a mix of talented players costs money to put together. Although lucky on many occasions, the Zidane edition of Real Madrid has proved that over the last three seasons. Without asking for a Galacticos policy, I believe that this should be food for thought in Munich.
Why do I say this now? Because many of Bayern’s stars are riding on reputation more than on performances. FCB stagnates while European competitors work hard to improve. One day, they may blow past the Bavarians with ease. If that happens, attracting talent will become more difficult.
Are football players overpaid due to their scarcity? Hell yes. Are their transfers ridiculously expensive? Yes. Would it be risky to invest €50 to 100 million on a single player? Yes. Will it be necessary for the near future? Maybe!
The best possible solution to that sticky problem would be to “manufacture” champions in FC Bayern’s new academy, but football is an inexact science. Schooling stars is excellent, but even the best academy in the world has dry spells. Transfers are necessary at times.
Unless the academy cranks out superstars all the time, FC Bayern may have to put large sums of money on the table to remain relevant.