A summer without club football can often feel like a very long three months. Fans sit by their calendars, ticking off the days as they get closer and closer to watching their side in action again. Even a preseason friendly can seem like a godsend.
Transfer sagas can help make a football-less summer pass quickly or drag unbearably, depending on your tolerance level for them. Often, they extend over months, as supporters face agonizing waits to see whether a player will be lining up for them by the start of the new campaign.
Sometimes, though, they spring upon supporters out of the blue.
One deal seeming to materialize at breakneck speed was Bayern Munich’s capture of Arturo Vidal. The pace of the transfer development is perhaps fitting, given the Chilean’s own relentless playing style, the move was rumoured as a possibility, before being confirmed as a reality in but a very short space of time. Those who have watched Vidal in action will know that he is clearly not a man who likes to wait around. This move has typified that.
But what exactly does the transfer mean for Bayern?
Initially, there may be some concerns. One criticism of Bayern’s midfield (especially in the centre) is that it is aging rapidly, with little thought for the future. Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm are each on the wrong side of 30, while the likes of Sebastian Rode and Pierre Hojbjerg, though young, do not yet appear to have convinced Pep Guardiola of their abilities as starters for a club of Bayern’s stature.
Then there are the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez, who bring us to the second issue with Bayern’s central midfield options: their inability to stay fit.
Likely among the reasons behind Bastian Schweinsteiger’s exit from the Allianz Arena was that he begun picking up niggles at an alarming rate, meaning he could no longer be relied upon to feature for the majority of a season.
When it is considered that both Thiago and Martinez have only just returned from serious lengthy injuries, it must be a worry that, in Vidal, Bayern have signed another central midfielder who seems to have issues in maintaining his fitness.
There are fears that the 28-year-old’s knees can not take much more of a battering. Such is his aggressive style of pressing play that the wear and tear on his body must now be starting to impact his durability. At 28, it is also possible to argue that he has enjoyed his best years, especially given his aforementioned combative style.
Has Bayern therefore made a mistake in signing a player of advancing years and debatable fitness levels in a position where they already have numerous options?
There are also additional questions regarding the capture from Juventus. What does it mean for Bayern, and perhaps more importantly, Guardiola’s philosophy?
The former Barcelona manager is famed for building his sides around nimble midfielders who slot-play together and dance their way through a game. If the likes of Xavi and Andreas Iniesta are ballet dancers, Vidal is a bull, crashing around in a very expensive china shop. He is neither nimble, nor a producer of dainty touches. Instead, he is a bulldozer of a central midfielder with a penchant for getting himself in trouble.
The Champions League final against Guardiola’s former side provided evidence of this. Having been booked early, Vidal could consider himself extremely fortunate not to have been sent off within the opening quarter of the game. This, on the back of a spell in Italy in which he has averaged a yellow card nearly every three games. How does that suit a Guardiola side?
Surely, at a fee rumoured to be around £28 million, the Chilean was not signed to fill space on Bayern’s bench. Does this mean we can expect a different approach from the team this season?
Perhaps Guardiola has realised the need for a combative midfielder in certain games. Lord knows he could have done with one in Bayern’s Champions League tie with Barcelona. A different school of thought is that this is a signing not sanctioned by Guardiola, and that Bayern are preparing for life without him come this time next year. The manager suggested as much when questioned on the subject at a press conference in China. “I’m not the right person to answer these questions . . . I’m the coach and I coach the players I get.”
While there are certainly questions over the signing, it should not be underestimated how good a piece of business it could potentially be for Bayern. While they have dominated domestically over the last few seasons, they have fallen short on the continent, often displaying an inability to adapt to different circumstances. Signing Vidal goes some way to rectifying those issues.
As has already been mentioned, he is not a ‘tiki-taka’ player. He is a forceful presence expected to drive his team from box-to-box. This is an ability he has displayed on countless occasions throughout his career on both club and international stages.
The deal that first brought him to the Bundesliga at Bayer Leverkusen is testament to just how well-regarded Vidal is, and has always been. Having been persuaded by his displays for Colo-Colo, Rudi Völler travelled to Chile to convince the 20-year-old to sign for the club for a national record of $11 million.
His time at Leverkusen put him on the shopping list of numerous European outfits. Vidal was the driving force in Leverkusen’s rise up the table as they finished runners-up in the league, with the midfielder contributing 11 assists, the second highest in the Bundesliga.
In the end, it was Juventus who acquired him, and his time in Italy has been nothing short of a roaring success. In 171 games for The Old Lady, Vidal has found the net 48 times, while he has also laid on a further 26 for his teammates. Goals and assists, though, have just been a statistic representative of his entire impact at the club, a spell which has seen him secure four consecutive Serie A titles, two Supercoppa Italiana triumphs, a solitary Coppa Italia success, as well as playing a major part in Juve’s return to Europe’s top table as they were narrowly defeated in last year’s Champions League Final.
Individually, he has also won Juventus’ ‘Player of the Year’ award once and been named in the Serie A ‘Team of the Year’ twice. Last season, arguably his best to date, also saw him named on the shortlist for 2015 ‘UEFA Best Player in Europe’ award, while also playing a starring role in Chile’s success in the Copa America.
Put simply, Vidal has been on an upwards trajectory ever since he left his native Chile, and while Leverkusen fans will recognize glimpses of his play on his return to the Bundesliga, they will also notice that since then he has come on leaps and bounds.
His tenacity and relentlessness have seen him labelled “Il Guerriero” (The Warrior) and “Rey Arturo” (King Arthur) by the Italian press. In his time at the Bianconeri, he really has become one of the best and most complete midfielders in the world.
There will certainly be fears that he has enjoyed his peak years and that injuries and temperament may curtail the amount of time he spends on the pitch in Germany, but if the move pays off as Bayern will hope, then he could be one of the signings of the season. Such is the potential of Vidal that if he lives up to expectations, he could be a bargain, despite arriving with a relatively high price tag.
Time will tell whether this is the case, but Bayern fans can be sure of one thing: it certainly won’t be boring with King Arthur about.
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