FC Bayern München may break the bank for transfers in the summer of 2019. The upcoming splurge will be warmly welcomed by many, but it does not mean that the club should forget its values.
On December 20, Spanish newspaper Marca published what could have been nothing but a rumour or hearsay. Marca wrote that the Bavarians could trigger Lucas Hernández’ release clause at Atlético de Madrid and pay €85 million to acquire him in January.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern CEO, could have quickly extinguished what were just embers with a denial. Instead, he promptly sprayed fuel on them, igniting a wildfire. Atlético have denied a move, but they do not have the last word. Spanish labour law makes releases clauses mandatory. It is the employer’s responsibility to establish the price, and the competition can come in to nab the employee.
Typical questions arose within minutes. A natural left-back, Hernández also plays regularly at centre-back. He has pace, defends like a madman and delivers crunching tackles from behind. Left-backs of this calibre are few and far between. However, the price tag and the presence of David Alaba in the Bayern squad can make any reasonable observer pause. Is bringing Hernandez on board overkill? Would it cost too much?
In football terms, the transfer makes a ton of sense. Alaba currently has no competition at left-back. Should he pick up an injury, only Rafinha could deputise. Jérôme Boateng is not reliable anymore in central defence. Mats Hummels isn’t as strong as he was in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season. Niklas Süle is solid, but he cannot anchor the back line alone.
Buying Hernández and adding Benjamin Pavard would bring serious reinforcements to the back four. It would also signal crossroads for a couple of veterans. Pavard can additionally play at right-back, Alaba can drift inside and Joshua Kimmich can either be on the right or in central midfield. In such a setup, Bayern defenders would be more flexible than in the past.
The main barrier between such transfers and the current reality is, however, financial. FC Bayern have never spent more than €42 million on a player, when they acquired Corentin Tolisso. Javi Martínez cost €40 million himself. Given FC Bayern’s known frugality, going bonkers on the transfer market would have the effect of thunder and lightning.
Can FC Bayern afford it? Yes. The Reds have a war chest. They have been profitable for the last 26 years and it’s commonplace for yearly operating profits to be between €50 and 150 million. As of June 2018, the club held a massive €211 million in receivables and reserves.
Although the Bavarians are not bankrolled by a foreign billionaire or using a dodgy sponsorship to funnel money from an investor group, they have spending firepower due to decades of good management.
Club president Uli Hoeneß has already taken a psychological step in that direction. At the last annual meeting in November, he said the following about the summer of 2019:
“The club will then have the room as well as the necessary capital to reinforce the team, so that we will be more than a match for every opponent in the Bundesliga and most international opponents. That must be the ambition.”
He left room for interpretation by promising to invest “in grand style”. The media speculated that Bayern could spend 200 million, an amount that is very close to the club’s financial reserves.
Nothing is cheap
Considering the state of the transfer market (an ageing Ronaldo cost Juventus €100 million) Bayern would still have to get value for their money and consider promoting youth. The squad’s needs are great if enduring success is the goal to achieve. Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Javi Martínez are underperforming. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are on their way out. Rafinha has lost a step. Sandro Wagner doesn’t fulfill expectations. We have yet to find out if Alphonso Davies will be a hit or a miss.
Dumping €80 million on a single man in January could help, but it would punch a large hole in the budget without addressing that many concerns. Selling players could add breathing room, but how much can you get for players who are no longer world beaters, and that you must sell?
Therefore, a Bavarian summer spending spree is conceivable and certainly achievable, but it should not be unbridled since not all transfers give the desired result. Gambling too aggressively usually leads to losses.
I trust that the club’s management understands this. As Der Spiegel points out in its speculative piece on transfer business, FC Bayern have a good track record at fixing what is broken. The spending spree of summer 2007 put the club back on track in Europe. Jürgen Klinsmann proved to be a coaching disaster in 2008-09 but his successor Louis van Gaal brought the team to the Champions League final the following season.
Those examples remind us that the executives know how to manage a football team after a downturn. Their sporting expertise is almost unrivalled.
The top dogs will probably set a new record for the most expensive player in club history (currently Tolisso) and exceed the €116.5 million spent in the summer 2017 window. Based on pedigree, the spending spree could have satisfying results.
However, the Bavarians should not consider that flashing cash guarantees success. For every coup such as Corentin Tolisso, there is an expensive failure such as Mario Götze or Medhi Benatia. Footballistic expertise, whether you shop in the luxury district or the bargain bin, remains essential.