Only a few weeks ago Uli Hoeneß was quite optimistic that a top-class player will be added to the squad, which caused the media to speculate more and more about a move of Alexis Sanchez to Munich. However on Tuesday FC Bayern announced their new signing.
Back to the top with his favourite coach?
In summer 2014 at the World Cup, the Columbian midfielder made a name of himself with dynamic dribbling’s and spectacular goals. He mostly played as a number 10, but also appeared in the half spaces from time to time. After the tournament he moved to Madrid for a fee of 75 million euros. There he continued to deliver top performances as you can see by his stats.
His coach at the time was Carlo Ancelotti. James made 44 of 46 possible appearances as a starter, scoring 17 goals and assisting another 18 as well. He primarily played in centre midfield but sometimes moved to the wings, where he also used to perform consistently.
After the dismissal of Ancelotti, James started to struggle. Under the reigns of Benítez and Zidane he had more and more problems. In his second year at Madrid he only made 32 appearances followed by 33 in the following season. With a total of 3682 minutes in two years he managed to participate in 42 goals after all (19 goals, 23 assists).
The consistency shows that offensively James is incredible dangerous. Considering the imminent move of Douglas Costa, Rodríguez as his replacement may be contributing a trait FC Bayern has missed out on in the previous season.
Despite those qualities he has other strengths as well. His is not the fastest in comparison to other wingers, which often makes him shift over into the centre, but his in-game intelligence is outstanding. He knows when and where to position himself and how to execute a dribbling successfully.
Another incredible trait is his passing ability. Looking back at his assists at Madrid you may see passes that only a few players on this planet are able to do. Those are highly due to his technical skillset he brings to the table.
James can be compared to the young Mario Götze, who also used this kind of explosiveness to gain advantages over his opponents. The Columbian is not a typical winger like Arjen Robben or Franck Ribéry. However he may be the perfect fit in Ancelotti’s system, if only because it should be the time to reduce the dependency on the wing-play.
At Madrid Ancelotti played in an asymmetrical 4-3-3 formation, where both wingers covered the half spaces. The same approach was noticeable in his early stages at FC Bayern, which might be a clue for James role in the upcoming season.
In addition to that it is quite obvious that Robben and Ribéry are near the end of their careers. Both are expected to perform less and less, with the risk of injuries at hand. Having James in the team to compensate for their decline seems to be an incredible option.
There are many positions James can cover at FC Bayern. It is possible that he plays as a number 10 in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, which may cause Thiago to succeed Xabi Alonso as a skilful number 6. Another possibility might be that Thiago and James both act as a number 8 with Tolisso or Vidal behind them. Vidal is also able to play in a more offensive role quite well, like we saw in the Confederations Cup this summer.
Consequences of the James transfer
All of the possibilities above show that this transfer strengthens the midfield tremendously. Ancelotti now has players to adapt perfectly, to every opponent. Even injuries should not really count as an excuse anymore in the upcoming season.
However the transfer has some effects on the current players as well. Depending on where James plays, some established teammates might need to fight for their spots. We are not talking about young talents such as Coman, Sanches or Gnabry, who is likely to go on loan this summer, but players like Thomas Müller.
The German international had some struggles last season, which cannot be explained with low form. He simply did not adapt to Ancelotti’s play-style. Whether the team played in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, Müller had no secure spot because Ancelotti preferred a more playful approach.
His qualities are one of a kind and maybe rotating players more frequently might be a solution for the problem. All players, especially on the bench, need to be able to perform on the highest level, whether it is to have an impact or to push the starters.
Either Müller looses even more playtime or he shows that he is irreplaceable. If this is the case, the competition between Ribéry, Robben, Coman, James, Thiago and him will be extremely exciting.
Doing transfers the Bayern way
The signing not only gives Ancelotti more options, but also shows that FC Bayern sticks to their previous approach of building their squad. A good example to explain the success is the Champions League title of 2013 and the team who has won it.
At the time, the squad consisted of home-grown and successfully scouted talents (Schweinsteiger, Lahm, Müller, Alaba, Kroos, Badstuber…) as well as smart transfers, which can be distinguished into different categories as well. On one hand they made moves for outstanding Bundesliga players, who were on the edge to take the next step (Neuer, Mandzukic, Gomez, Dante…).
On the other hand FC Bayern acquired players like Robben and Boateng, who had already failed on an international top-level. Finally you can open another category for Ribéry and Martínez, who represent big-money signings that worked out perfectly.
This approach has proofed itself to be fitting, because realizing transfers of the biggest stars in European football was and will be very unlikely considering the competition of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The players we mentioned improved consistently over the years and managed to accomplish the treble in 2013. All of the key players, right now, are under contract until 2021. With a similar development over the next few years they might be able to repeat the success.
All of the transfers of the current summer break fit into this approach and the success of the youth teams also speak for themselves. James Rodríguez is in a similar situation as Arjen Robben was when he joined FC Bayern in 2009. He struggled to get into the first team at Madrid and now has the chance to show his qualities on a regular basis.
The risk at hand is very low. The fee to buy the player after two years is, regarding several media reports, between 35 to 60 million euros. The option also appears to be not mandatory. Considering this and the pending transfer of Douglas Costa the deal seems to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.