Don’t worry David Dickinson your title as the ‘Bargain Hunter’ isn’t in question, however, there has been some shrewd business conducted in the Bundesliga this summer. These are my top five so far as we head in to August.
Julian Baumgartlinger – Mainz to Bayer Leverkusen (€4m)
After five seasons at the Coface Arena, Bayer activated the truly ludicrous €4m buyout clause in Baumgartlinger’s contract. Rudi Völler said of the Austrian, “He’s a character player with leadership qualities. He’s ambitious, physically strong and has strategic skills; he will lift the level of our team, and increase the competition.”
Baumgartlinger’s last season with Die Nullfünfer was arguably his most impressive as Mainz reached the Europa League. The combative Austrian led the Bundesliga in completed tackles (115) and was in the top 25 in terms of interceptions (79). The tireless Baumgartlinger thrived under Martin Schmidt and his high-pressing, high-octane football; Bayer’s Schmidt reads from the same hymn sheet.
At Mainz the 28-year-old flourished in a double pivot but has the ability to play in a slightly more advanced role should Roger Schmidt opt for a 4-4-2 again this season. His industrious style of play and dogged pressing gives Bayer options and will give greater creative freedom to the likes of Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Kevin Kampl and Charles Aránguiz should he slot in to the starting eleven. Even at 28, Baumgartlinger represents terrific value and while the Austrian will not elevate Bayer to title contenders, he is an absolute steal at €4m.
Sandro Wagner – Darmstadt to Hoffenheim (€3m)
A year ago Darmstadt were preparing for life in the Bundesliga after 33 years away. For all of the miraculous rises to the top flight in the last decade – Paderborn, Greuther Fürth and Ingolstadt all fit the credentials- Darmstadt’s surge to the Bundesliga was the most unlikely. So who did they turn to as their saviour, the man to fire in the goals? Sandro Wagner, the then 27-year-old with seven top-flight goals, training alone at Hertha Berlin.
Well, in the most extraordinary circumstances both Darmstadt and Wagner defied the odds in tremendous fashion. The minnows survived as the big boys Hannover and Stuttgart succumbed to the drop and one man really spearheaded the survival charge. Wagner registered 14 Bundesliga goals – only five players scored more – and led the league in aerial battles won (233).
After seven years of frustration Wagner finally began to fulfil his potential last season. He was part of the 2009 side that defeated England 4-0 in the U21 European Championship final: Wagner scored a brace, the future looked bright. He will never reach the lofty heights of many of his teammates – Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil, Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels to name a few – but Wagner has earned his time in the spotlight.
World football is devoid of top quality strikers, if you want one you’re paying over the odds. Sandro Wagner isn’t at that level, of that there is little doubt, but €3m for 14 Bundesliga goals is good value by any measure. Kevin Volland has departed the Rhein-Neckar Arena this summer and was Hoffenheim’s joint-top scorer with Mark Uth (eight goals) — for Die Kraichgauer, a striker was certainly required.
If the season had started when Julian Nagelsmann was appointed, Hoffenheim would have finished 5th and the future suddenly looks promising, even with Volland’s departure. The addition of Sandro Wagner only boosts the striking department and while he may not reach the heights of lasts season; Wagner is worth the gamble at such a low price.
Alen Halilović – Barcelona to Hamburg (€5m)
It may finally be time for optimism on the Elbe. Hamburg have flirted with relegation for three seasons now, only to just about jilt it at the altar each time. The indications, from their transfer activity at least, are that they may be turning a corner. Bobby Wood is a shrewd acquisition after a 17 goal season with Union Berlin and when I saw the news that Filip Kostic was heading north I did a double take; it really could be one of the signings of the season. Another player with true star potential is Alen Halilović, once dubbed the ‘Croatian Messi’
The youngest goalscorer in the Croatian top-flight at 16 years and 109 days, Halilović was brought to Camp Nou in 2014 for a modest €2.2m, of course with the standard future add-ons. After just one senior appearance in the Cup Halilović was loaned to Sporting Gijon and with the platform to do so, Halilović proved his quality. His form dipped towards the back-end of the season; however, the diminutive Croatian thrived at El Molinon. His three goals and five assists is a respectable return and only Lionel Messi and Neymar completed more dribbles than the 20-year-old. Come on Alen, it was barely stiff competition.
Even after his impressive season, Barcelona decided it was time to sell, but it isn’t for a lack of talent. Halilović cost Hamburg just €5m but there is a €10m buyback clause in the contract.
Regardless, Alen Halilović is player that oozes quality at a bargain price. He has taken the no.23 shirt in Hamburg –Rafael van der Vaart’s former number and Halilović said of the no.23, “This is the biggest number at this club, I know what it means and I want to give my very best.” If he does just that he has the talent to do the 23 shirt proud.
Marc Bartra – Barcelona to Borussia Dortmund (€8m)
The most expensive player on this list but one with real pedigree, Marc Bartra has swapped Barca for BVB in an €8m move. While he was never a regular under any of his four coaches in Catalonia, he does bring five La Liga medals and two Champions League medals to place on his mantelpiece in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Replacing Mats Hummels was always going to be a tough task for Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc but in Bartra they do have a centre-back built in the same mould. He isn’t as adept as Hummels in playing out from the back (few players are) but is potentially a better defender than the German. In the 2013/14 season – the one where Bartra clocked up the most league minutes (1590) – the La Masia graduate made 89.9% of his passes and led Barcelona in interceptions per game (2.9).
This is a crazy transfer market; the mind boggles at the fees being paid for some players, Bartra is included in this category but for all the right reasons. Considering the largely unproven Eric Bailly cost Manchester United €38m and Bartra’s replacement at Barca, Samuel Umtiti, went for €25m, this deal represents tremendous value for BVB.
Playing time has been limited for Bartra in the last two seasons but at 25 years old he is entering his prime and the talent is undeniable. Losing Hummels is a blow, he was the captain and is one of Europe’s finest defenders, but Bartra has all the attributes to perform consistently at the highest level. Who knows, give it a year and it might be a case of Mats who?
TRANSFER FEES COURTESY OF TRANSFERMARKT.CO.UK, STATISTICS COURTESY OF WHOSCORED
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