Scores of FC Bayern fans called the club’s board out of touch for its discipline in the summer 2018 transfer window. Their greed does not justify reckless spending.
Looking over our shoulder, we see that the Reds had an unusually quiet summer. They offloaded Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa, Sebastian Rudy and Juan Bernat for €88.5 million.
Marquee signings? Leon Goretzka joined on a free transfer. Teenage sensation Alphonso Davies, from Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS, signed for just €10 million. His fee represents total spending for the window. The last time the Bavarian invested less was 2008-09, when they went for loans (Massimo Oddo, Landon Donovan) and free transfers (Tim Borowski, Hans-Jörg Butt).
The Bayern board of management made coach Niko Kovač’s mission clear: you must do a great job with the squad at hand in the first season. The territory is familiar to Kovač, who was dealt this hand at Eintracht Frankfurt. With the Bavarian riches at his disposal, he may win more than the DFB-Pokal.
Nervous by nature, many Bayern fans were agitated throughout the summer. Many complained about real or perceived holes in the team and blamed the board for not reacting. Those fans had an eye on transfer activity at other major clubs. PSG splashed €135 million for Kylian Mbappé. Juventus invested €100 million in Cristiano Ronaldo. FC Liverpool nabbed Naby Keïta for €65 million. FC Barcelona got Malcom for €41 million.
Although such transactions were not as astronomical as Paris Saint-Germain’s purchase of Neymar for €222 million in 2017, this summer’s action gave many the impression that the competition was improving while Die Bayern did nothing.
Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben are reaching their mid-30s. Kingsley Coman is sidelined once again after picking up a ligament injury in the first Bundesliga matchday. This weakens the attack for “several weeks”, to use the club’s language.
Calls to sign a winger before the end of the transfer window immediately popped up. There is an ounce of logic to such short-term thinking, but making signings as a knee-jerk reaction doesn’t make sense in the long run. FC Bayern have the weapons to weather the storm.
First, Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben can still play fine football. They are on the decline, not the dominant duo from their prime years, but they are not done. Defenders still struggle to contain the pair, which comes up with brilliant combinations to create chances and score. Sometimes they play better than the team does overall.
Would I start both in a Champions League semi-final? No. I would at least have Coman on one of the flanks. However, the two old grumpy men will make a solid contribution to the team.
Coman hasn’t been ruled out for the season. Kovac also has loan returnee Serge Gnabry available to help man the wings. Alphonso Davies may join the senior squad as early as January 2019. Recent youth signings Franck Evina and Meritan Shabani have potential.
Of the five, Serge Gnabry is the oldest at 23 years of age. If all five are competitive, how do you give them playing time? Adding a signing to the mix would be a farce.
Is there even a debate regarding the central midfield?
FC Bayern can already count on Javi Martínez, Thiago Alcântara, James Rodríguez, Corentin Tolisso, Leon Goretzka and Renato Sanches. Kovac could field a 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 on a regular basis, with a healthy rotation, with this kind of depth. Besides, the Reds only relieved a ridiculously overloaded position when they sold Vidal and Rudy.
What about goalkeepers and strikers? There are two starters in each position. The defence has three top performers and a promising fourth man if you include Lars-Lukas Mai. Everything is in order at both ends of the pitch.
The only remaining question mark is left-back. David Alaba has no competition, Juan Bernat went to PSG and Rafinha can only be considered as a stopgap. It’s the only position for which I would have shopped.
Besides that, beefing up the squad would have meant making Niko Kovač’s selection headaches greater. Right after the 3:0 win at Stuttgart last weekend, the coach defended a lack of rotation since the season kicked off in a post-match interview on Sky Deutschland. He reminded commentators that “English weeks” are coming soon and that the squad will be utilised.
An eye on Europe
In the circumstances, why are Bayern fans shivering so much? It certainly isn’t for the elusiveness of the Bundesliga title. FCB have six consecutive wins in the back pocket. Most observers see a seventh straight title as a given or a strong possibility.
European competitiveness is what’s on people’s mind. The Reds have hit a glass ceiling in the Champions League semis in recent years.
Is spending a magical solution to that problem? Ask PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City since they are partly responsible for transfer market excesses in the last decade. Together, they have one CL title won by Chelsea in 2012… because Bayern had a meltdown at home.
Spending has served these clubs well domestically, but it didn’t go beyond making teams contenders in Europe. There is more to football science than transfer market aggression.
Even chronic big spenders Real Madrid have had “frugal” years such as 2017-18 (€40.5 million) and 2016-17 (€30 million) in their golden three-year run.
A matter of values
To top it off, raiding the transfer market goes against FC Bayern’s core management values. The club is run to be profitable and to avoid going into debt to buy titles. Spending wisely is the local motto. Bargains and free transfers round the occasional large deal.
Despite their influence, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have to justify their decisions to a supervisory board that’s used to prudent management. Good luck explaining why you spent €150 million in one summer to fail to win the Champions League.
Pretending that the board is out of touch with reality screams entitlement from the greediest part of FC Bayern’s fan base. Part of that fandom seems to think that the club should do anything for an extra title, even though it is one of the most elusive in professional sports.
Thankfully, seasoned managers are at the helm in Munich. They know that financial cautiousness coupled with a deep understanding of football are pillars of FCB’s enduring success. The most impatient fans will not change that.
There is some rebuilding to do in Munich. Part of the answer comes from coaching, and Kovač’s methods have shown promising results. Hopefully, the youth ranks will make a strong contribution to the squad in the future. Transfers will always be necessary, but not at any price.
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