FC BAYERN: “WE’RE GOING WITH SABITZER”
Oliver Kahn recently described the FC Bayern squad as “excellent”. It was obvious that this was a rather euphemistic exaggeration. Nevertheless, Bayern’s new CEO has a point. Even if the quality of the squad has been hotly debated of late: Anyone in the Bundesliga who can afford to bring on players like Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Kingsley Coman or Leroy Sané off the bench cannot be in a position to complain. Especially since Marc Roca, Lucas Hernández and Benjamin Pavard are not even available at the moment.
Sometimes the discussion seems to suggest that FC Bayern can not be really competitive with their current squad. That is by no means the case. At the top, the Bayern team has eleven, maybe fourteen players who as a team can beat any opponent in Europe or the world.
Behind them, the quality decreases a little, especially if there should be longer injuries or a protracted loss of form by too many of the first team players at once. And that is why, despite all the compliments and displays of self-congratulation, anyone who wanted to could read between the lines that FC Bayern were prepared to put up some money and sign another player.
There have been many rumours, but while others have waxed and waned, the one that kept crystallizing further and further was the one about Marcel Sabitzer. The captain of Leipzig only had one year left on his contract, and even the financially powerful Red Bull Group does not have money to burn in times of COVID-19. They were unwilling to simply let him go on a free transfer a year later – especially since Sabitzer himself had already made his transfer request known a few days before.
According to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano, there were three clubs on the player’s shortlist. However, for Sabitzer, who had already made it known that he was and is an FC Bayern fan, Munich was always the preferred destination.
Sabitzer, as was again made abundantly clear in Germany’s main football talk show “Doppelpass” on Sunday last week, is a criminally underrated player. He may not be a “star star”, as Sport1 pundit Stefan Effenberg put it. But he has been showing for years that he is a very good player capable of performing at the highest level. He is a goal-scorer, technically adept, accepts responsibility, and can almost always be entrusted with the ball without fear that he could give it away carelessly. His precise passing fits perfectly into Julian Nagelsmann’s philosophy and he is also a valuable player in pressing without the ball.
In 2017, Sabitzer was named Austria’s Footballer of the Year after six years of dominance by David Alaba – a minor sensation. His consistency has been remarkable in recent years. He has developed into a leader at Leipzig and was their pivot in midfield.
Sabitzer can lead a team, and he can create goal scoring opportunities from deep positions – with long-range shots, pinpoint through balls, and deep runs. A big plus for FC Bayern should be that he can be used very flexibly. He does not come just as a number six or eight, but as a versatile midfielder who can do both, and more.
Sabitzer has even played more often as an attacking wide player, although his strengths clearly lie in the centre. In terms of playing style, the Austrian can be compared to Luka Modrić. At first glance, that might seem too tall an order for him, but Sabitzer does not have to hide behind the Croat, despite the small differences in quality. Both are known for pulling the strings from deeper positions in midfield and providing moments of genius with short dribbles.
At FC Bayern Sabitzer should be part of the first 13 or 14 players right away. His competition in midfield is fierce, but in Nagelsmann he not only has a staunch advocate, but also a coach who can be trusted to find tactical setups in which everyone will get enough minutes. Sabitzer can play as a six, eight, ten, withdrawn ten and much more, which gives the coach the opportunity to use a midfield diamond or another centre-focused shape.
In any case, Sabitzer is not someone who will sit on the bench contentedly and wait until the Kimmichs and Goretzkas get a break – and that is a big positive for FC Bayern because it needs this quality of player to lift the squad to the next level. It is certainly an important aspect of the transfer that the usual suspects in midfield get a chance to take a breather from time to time, but Sabitzer looming large in the background will also ensure that his teammates have to put in top performances for their spot in the starting XI to remain undisputed.
With this transfer, Bayern are ensuring that their midfield is indeed “excellent”, as Kahn put it. And Sabitzer, that much is certain, has enough quality to quickly silence the doubters of his signing. Those who believe that the 27-year-old is not a top transfer could soon stand corrected. Sabitzer has often been the unsung hero in Leipzig and for Austria.
However, Sabitzer’s quality is also why the transfer can be seen as a blow to the Bundesliga as a whole, of course. Because it shows once again what the league has come to. It is certainly not reprehensible that FC Bayern are feeding on their direct competitors. That is how the transfer market works and how the entire system works. Dortmund buy from Gladbach, Bayern from Leipzig and Dortmund, and all of them from Frankfurt. But the fact that it is so easy for FC Bayern to bring in three mainstays from last year’s runners-up in the title race is a remarkable indictment on the state of the league. It is understandable that from a neutral point of view this must be a very sobering assessment.
Perhaps this circumstance also contributes to the fact that Sabitzer is publicly not widely regarded as a first grade player. However, this says more about public perception than about the player himself. To sign a footballer of his quality and age (27) for around €15m in transfer fees (plus salary and add-ons) – lesser players have been transferred for similar amounts, and they were publicly celebrated as “steals”.
Without exaggeration, Sabitzer is a giant boon for FC Bayern. For the competitiveness of the championship, however, it is another setback. That, however, would be an issue deserving of an article of its own. For the criticism should not be directed at FC Bayern, but should focus on the question of how the Bundesliga as a competition could be strengthened without the corollary of a weakened Bayern team on the European stage. A championship that can only become exciting when Bayern are weakened should not be in the interest of the DFL, nor of the German football fan.