FC Bayern – Miasanrot Advent Calendar, Door 2: Sandro Wagner
What happens if Robert Lewandowski gets injured? This question has been one of the most frequently discussed among Bayern fans in the past decade. In 2015, for example, the Pole injured himself in the decisive phase of the season. He played against FC Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League with a face mask.
FC BAYERN: THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON
Lewandowski made himself indispensable with his goals. When he was unavailable, things got complicated for Bayern. Then, in the winter of 2018, the club came to its senses: They finally realized that Thomas Müller was not a number 9. And so Sandro Wagner came back to Munich. The prodigal son, of whom FC Bayern did not even know for a long time that he could actually be a loss.
Wagner’s career is remarkable. From the youth academy at FC Bayern, his path led him to Duisburg, Bremen, Kaiserslautern, Berlin, Darmstadt and finally Hoffenheim. There the attacker met Julian Nagelsmann. The current Bayern coach eventually transformed a thoroughly talented footballer into an eight-time international (five goals).
For a long time, Wagner was regarded as a big talker whose self-confidence was clearly greater than what his skill with his legs. That’s why his breakthrough at Hoffenheim came as a surprise to many – despite previously good performances at Darmstadt 98. But Nagelsmann obviously was able to connect with Wagner, get through to him. To this day, the two have a good relationship.
At first glance, the Munich-born striker was a stark contrast to what Hoffenheim brought to the pitch. But with his robustness and good understanding of the game, Wagner became the best wall player in the Bundesliga, at least for a while. “Steil-Klatsch” experienced a renaissance at Hoffenheim. Wagner held up the balls, distributed them cleverly and reappeared in the penalty area in time to score the goal himself. He was thus the lynchpin of an up-and-coming Hoffenheim team.
ONE SCORER PER 90 MINUTES, MORE THAN SOLID
So it seemed almost natural that he came back to FC Bayern – and continued his performances there. For his boyhood club, he was involved in a goal every 87 minutes. Of course, he was not the world-class striker Lewandowski was. But he was an adequate replacement. A real option when the Pole was missing or needed a break.
In the second half of 2018, Wagner scored eight times in the Bundesliga and had two assists. The fact that he was subsequently not nominated for the World Cup is a very questionable decision, even in retrospect. At the time, many explanations made mention of his character.
The fact that his breakthrough was so long in coming shows that Wagner was not always easy to coach. At the same time, it is remarkable that with Nagelsmann, the youngest coach in Bundesliga history was able to properly challenge and promote him at all levels. His resignation from the DFB team, in which he almost seemed insulted, fitted the image of the “difficult” Sandro Wagner. But maybe the team needed just such a guy back then.
With his self-confidence, his easy-going manner and his witty quips, but above all with his performances, he played his way into the hearts of many Bayern fans. Above all, however, he showed that he was able to subordinate his ego to the needs of the team. When he left for China in 2019 to supercharge his bank account, there were times when he was sorely missed. Bayern were again without a backup.
Today they have Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. A different type of player to Wagner – yet similar on many levels. It would probably be fair to say that Wagner has set a benchmark at FC Bayern.
AFTER HIS ACTIVE CAREER HE REMAINED TRUE TO HIMSELF
Wagner remains a controversial figure. Today he tries his hand at TV punditry – where he cuts just as ambivalent a figure as he did as a player. On the one hand, there are his professional qualities, when he precisely analyses moves, and his relaxed, not infrequently witty and charming manner. On the other hand, moments when he gets carried away and thinks too little about the possible implications of his words and actions.
Stories in football are often made about the big names. But it is often the faces behind the big names that contribute just as much to the team’s success. Wagner, even if he has not been part of the team for long, is certainly one of them.