We are nearing the end of the summer transfer window. Bayern seem to have completed their part in it, having spent exactly nothing. A perfectly double-edged sword.
Ever since PSG set off an earthquake with the €222m signing of Neymar, the transfer market exploded. Indeed, that transfer only exacerbated a trend that was ongoing. As a result, we are now knee-deep in an inflated market. Juventus confirmed this a few weeks ago when they offloaded €100m for Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, he is by and large one of the top five or so players in the world. However, he is also nearing his 35th birthday. It is by no means normal to spend that much on a player who is entering his late thirties.
An all-consuming fad
Ludicrous sums are hardly limited to big-name players. Everton signed Yerry Mina from Barcelona for about €30m. That is almost as much as Bayern paid for Arturo Vidal in 2016, but for a player who was relegated to the bench for most of his eight-month stint in Can Barça and whose worthiness in Europe is still not confirmed. Mina boosted his value with his remarkable performance at the World Cup, but is far from being at Vidal’s level when he signed for Die Roten.
Real Madrid did their bit as well. They signed Vinícius, an 18-year-old, from Flamengo in Brazil, for €45m. Madrid completed the signing at the end of last season, meaning that they agreed on the sum when the player was still sixteen.
I could continue listing signings that point towards what could be an irreversible trend. Indeed, such high sums for players are the new normal.
The Bayern resistance
Even if they lack the financial muscle of the likes of Manchester City and PSG, Bayern could play this game as well. The club’s finances continue to be in tremendous shape. Despite the downpour of cash upon the Etihad Stadium, Die Roten remain above the Citizens in Forbes’ football club valuation list. The club is remarkably debt-free. By comparison, Manchester United’s debt amounts to 18% of their value.
At least on paper, Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have said that the club would be ready to break the bank for the right player. But this did not happen. Bayern signed Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry on free transfers. And despite the lack of depth in a couple of positions, it looks as if that’s all the business the club will do.
Oversight, stubbornness or brilliance?
Admittedly, signing Goretzka and Gnabry for free is remarkable. Gnabry could just be the Arjen Robben replacement we have been demanding for ages. Goretzka is one of Germany’s most interesting midfielders and could explode when surrounded with the likes of Thiago Alcântara and Corentin Tolisso.
Still, Bayern need more reinforcements. And not signing them is a risk that Hoeneß and Rummenigge are taking with full knowledge. Hoeneß stated recently that the club is holding back and wants to make money to negotiate some important transfers next summer. And while it’s a relief that they seem to be coming to grips with the fact that they need to react to the megatransfer wave, it could leave the upcoming season up in the air to some degree.
To determine whether Bayern’s incomplete homework constitutes an unnecessary risk and therefore an oversight, we need to look at exactly where the team needs reinforcements.
The first position, and arguably the one in direst need of both depth and competition, is the left-back. Here’s the deal. Last season, Jupp Heynckes relied more on Rafinha than Juan Bernat when David Alaba was injured. This included the first leg of the Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid, no less. Heynckes decided that a reconverted right-back was a better option to deputise for Alaba than the only other natural left-back in the squad.
Indeed, Bernat has been subpar for more than a couple of seasons now. I myself was one of the Spaniard’s staunchest defenders after the 2014-15 season. However, his sophomore slump proved to be more than a sophomore slump. Bernat failed to return to the promising level of performance he displayed in his first season. As a result, he is rumoured to be on the way out.
Even if Bernat were to stay at Bayern, which in my opinion would most likely be due to a lack of offers for him, the team need someone who will provide healthy competition for Alaba. The Austrian has made a habit out of his inconsistency ever since he gifted Juventus that goal in the Allianz Arena in 2016. Signing a player who can really give him a run for his money not only adds depth. It would give Alaba a reason to work harder.
Jérôme Boateng came very close to leaving this summer. It appears that his deal fell through when PSG decided Thilo Kehrer was a better option. This would have left Bayern with Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle, and the very promising Lars Lukas Mai as natural centre-backs. Three people for two positions. Javi Martínez has played in defence but we all know that using him there is squandering our only natural defensive midfielder (more on that shortly). This is, by all means, less than satisfactory.
It becomes even worse when you take into account that Niko Kovač wanted to phase in a three-man defence at Bayern. The problem is that, as he has admitted, there are not enough centre-backs to do that. Add Boateng’s injury troubles and the picture is compounded in its direness.
Signing a centre-back would have the same effects I described before. It would bring some healthy competition and it would also add depth. As a bonus, it would potentially allow Kovač to tinker with the team.
If Sebastian Rudy ends up leaving the club, Bayern will have a worrying lack of balance in midfield. Rudy and Martínez are the only natural defensive midfielders in the squad. Tolisso and Goretzka can handle defensive duties but not at their level. And if Martínez winds up playing in defence, the lack of balance will become worse. However, even if Rudy does sign for Schalke or Leipzig, it is nigh on impossible that Bayern will sign another midfield. They are making a point of cutting the squad in this area.
I’m going to say it. Bayern’s low volume of transfer window activity brings some admiration, but just as much – or perhaps more – concern. I think the suits failed to bring depth where it was missing, and I’m not sure the signings they did make bring enough immediate impact. The whole season lies ahead of us for the team to make me eat my words, but this is the least hopeful I’ve been about a new campaign based on the squad.