Bayern Munich have long had one of the most famed academies in football and for good reason; the club have produced some of the most important figures in the game’s history, including, among others, Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller and, more recently, the likes of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller. Products of the academy have come to embody the club in popular view; in years gone by, thinking of Bayern would bring to mind one of these legendary figures at the club.
However, the club’s recruitment policy seems to have changed somewhat in recent years, especially since Matthias Sammer replaced Christian Nerlinger as the club’s sporting director in 2012. Nerlinger himself had been a product of the system at Bayern, joining the club as a thirteen year-old and graduating from the amateur side in the 1990s, eventually making 156 appearances for the senior team. Now, while the club’s squad does still feature some youth products: Müller and Lahm remain at the club while Austrian international David Alaba and injury-troubled Holger Badstuber also emerged through the club’s system.
However, since Alaba made his debut for Bayern in 2010, no youth player has made a lasting impression at the club. Emre Can, now a German international and a central figure under compatriot Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, only made four appearances at Bayern, mostly in dead-rubber, post-title winning games, before being shipped out to Leverkusen in 2013. Mitchell Weiser, although not actually a youth product of Bayern’s own making, having made the grade at Köln before moving to Bayern as a 17 year-old, fared slightly better at Bayern, making sixteen appearances over three years at the club; but the wide man was eventually found surplus to requirements by the club, moving to Hertha BSC last summer.
Meanwhile, a similar situation befell the one-time exciting prospect Sinan Kurt, who in 2014 threatened to ruin relations between Mönchengladbach and Bayern after forcing his way out of his original club, also, at the age of 17. Kurt managed to pick up only one appearance for Bayern – against Hertha – before being sold to, you guessed it, Hertha in this season’s January transfer window.
Furthermore, the likes of Diego Contento and Alessandro Schöpf have been shown the door, and Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg and Gianluca Gaudino have been sent on loan (both could still make it, but given that Gaudino is playing in Switzerland at the moment, it’s hard to see what the club believe the loan will reasonably gain him). Even prospects still at the club, including Julian Green, Patrick Weihrauch and Ivan Lucic aren’t really threatening to make a push at the Bayern first team squad.
Why is this? Well, for many reasons. Firstly, for a while now Bayern have been picking up the best of established German talent to fill up their squad. This has of course always happened, with accusations that Bayern have strategically bought players to weaken opponents commonplace since the 1990s, but in recent years the purchasing of readymade German talent appears to have become more important than actually developing youngsters at the club itself; since Alaba’s debut in 2010, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Sebastian Rode, Joshua Kimmich, Mario Götze, as well as the now-departed Jan Kirchhoff and back-up goalkeepers Tom Starke and Sven Ulreich. Not all of these players are Sammer signings, but the intentions of these moves are clear; with the exception of Kimmich, who had only played 2. Bundesliga, these players were all established top level players – in many cases already internationals – made to strengthen the team or squad immediately.
As well as that, Sammer has also signed foreign talent to improve the squad; Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandžukič, Dante, Javi Martínez, Thiago, Mehdi Benatia, Juan Bernat, Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Arturo Vidal, Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman have all made their way to Munich during his tenure, and were all signed with the intention of making an immediate impression; something which, in most cases at least, they did. Bayern’s team has moved onto another level during Sammer’s tenure; his signings in 2012 were key figures in the treble-winners of 2013 and, having also brought Pep Guardiola in as manager, the club have found an incredible consistency in recent years, barely troubled as they stroll to a fourth consecutive title.
While at Barcelona, Guardiola was hailed as a manager who would blood young players frequently. After all, the side with which he won the 2009 Champions League featured an incredible eight La Masia graduates. Excellent management aside, though, Guardiola certainly benefitted in being able to do this by having a home-grown group of players including Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué, Pedro, Sergio Busquets – the list goes on. For all the will in the world, Bayern’s current youth ranks, and the ranks which Guardiola inherited in 2013, are just nowhere near that level – not a criticism, because barely anybody has been on Lionel Messi’s level in the history of the game – and it’s difficult to see more than a handful of the current Bayern II squad making more than a smattering of appearances for the senior side.
A Look to the Future …
However, this seems to be something the club have noticed in recent years and in the Autumn of 2015, BILD reported that the club will be sinking €60m worth of investment in the youth academy to build a new development centre for the club, alongside a clubhouse and a small arena for 2500 fans to watch the youngsters take their first steps in the game.
Will that help? Well, further investment can’t exactly harm Bayern’s chances of producing their next Müller, Beckenbauer, Lahm or Schweinsteiger; and fans of the club can hope that, finally, for the first time since 2010, a new youngster from the youth ranks can grab their imagination in the way that their most recent graduate, the now top-class David Alaba, who is a few appearances short of 200 in a Bayern shirt, did six years ago.