FC Bayern’s signature signings episode 1: Seasons 2011 – 2015

Maurice Separator April 26, 2020

Of course the novel coronavirus has not stopped the football rumor mill from churning at full speed. Sometimes it even seems that the quieter the action on the pitch, the more intense the controversies outside of it – yes, I am referring to the Manuel Neuer contract extension travesty. In this article, however, we will take a look back and elect the single most outstanding signature signing for each of the seasons between 2011 and 2015.

The criteria

It is difficult to define exactly what constitutes a top transfer, as such things often tend to be, not least because of a certain inherent subjectivity of the matter. Everybody has their own personal preferences. Nevertheless, we will try to make our selection as objective as possible based on the following four criteria:

  • Length of club career: How many games did the player play for Bayern and in how many different positions was he used? Douglas Costa, for example, was without a doubt a key player during his first season at Bayern, but he only collected 50 appearances.
  • Titles: How many titles did the player win with Bayern and how substantial was his part in gaining them? Tom Starke, for example, won six Bundesliga championships with Bayern, but his overall influence was lower than Dante’s, who only won three championships during his time at the club.
  • Transfer fee: How much money did Bayern have to part with to sign the player? While Corentin Tolisso, for example, was the club’s record transfer at the time, Serge Gnabry cost only €8m in the same season. A smaller transfer fee translates into a better grade.
  • It factor: This is surely the most subjective criterion of all. With this, I try to take into consideration whether the player was already a star when he signed for Bayern or whether he was just another signing amongst many others in the eyes of the international media. The transfer of James, for example, was given much greater attention abroad than that of Niklas Süle in the same season.

There are a few further constraints. Players who joined Bayern on loan initially and were signed on a permanent basis only later like Kingsley Coman, for example, are evaluated based on the time of their initial arrival at the club. Winter transfers are included as well. The evaluation in this article covers the period from seasons 2010/11 to 2014/15. Only signed players count. Loan returnees are not included, the same as youth players.

Season 2010/11: Luiz Gustavo

€17m from TSG Hoffenheim, stayed with Bayern from 2011-2013, 100 games, 6 goals, 5 assists, 3 titles, highest market value: €18m

Other signings: none

Luiz Gustavo is a relatively easy pick here as he was in fact the only signing FC Bayern made in the entire season. The Brazilian arrived at Bayern coming from Hoffenheim in the winter. Under van Gaal and Heynckes, he was an important defensive shield in front of the back line, who stood out for his special strength in one-on-one duels. His limitations on the ball were often compensated for by his teammates Schweinsteiger and Kroos. In the vice-treble season, he featured as a regular starter, but missed the Champions League final due to a second yellow card. In the summer of 2012, he was replaced with an improved update of himself in Javi Martínez. A year later he left the club, having made exactly 100 appearances for Bayern.

Season 2011/12: Manuel Neuer

€30m from FC Schalke 04, has been at Bayern since 2011, 373 games, 266 goals conceded, 191 clean sheets, 12 titles, 1x German Footballer of the Year, 4x world goalkeeper, highest market value: €45m

Other signings: Jérôme Boateng for €13.5m from Manchester City, Rafinha for €5.5m from FC Genau, Nils Petersen for €2.8m from Energie Cottbus, Takahashi Usami for €300k from Gamba Osaka

This is the first difficult decision as I have to make the choice between Manuel Neuer and Jérôme Boateng, who both joined Bayern ahead of this season. Both have been key players for the team since 2011 and both have won numerous titles. Both played their way into the hearts of the fans with their tremendous performances over the years. In the end, however, the choice can only be Neuer who was already world class when he arrived and has since gone from strength to strength. When he is in form, he is an accomplished outfield player as well as a world class goalkeeper and to this day has to be considered the most complete keeper in the world. Unsurprisingly, he has won four world goalkeeper awards since he joined Bayern. His game also ages much better than that of Boateng, whose performance levels have slowly but steadily decreased over the years. Neuer, who has been team captain since 2017, will go down in the club’s annals as one of their greatest goalkeepers ever.

Both joined Bayern in the summer of 2011 and became world stars: Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer.
(Image: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Boateng should nevertheless get a honorable mention here. The center-back joined coming from Manchester City in the summer of 2011, where he did not play consistently well and never quite accomplished to make his breakthrough. At Bayern, Heynckes, who was able to improve his positional sense, and Guardiola, who turned him into Europe’s best passing defender for a while, managed to enable Boateng to realize his tremendous potential. The extreme ambition that Boateng has developed over the years plays a major role in this. The former German international had his best season in 2015/16 as a all-round center-back combining athleticism and vision like few others. To date, Boateng has garnered 310 appearances for the record champios and won 12 titles, the same as Neuer.

Season 2012/13: Javi Martínez

€40m from Athletic Club Bilbao, has been with Bayern since 2012, 232 games, 25 goals, 6 assists, 12 titles, highest market value: €40m

Other signings: Mario Mandžukić for €13m from VfL Wolfsburg, Xherdan Shaqiri for €11.8m from FC Basel, Dante for €4.7m from Gladbach, Mitchell Weiser for €800k from Cologne, Tom Starke on a free transfer from TSG Hoffenheim, Claudio Pizarro on a free transfer from Werder Bremen

All in all, this was a strong transfer summer for Bayern, as they were able to add many important squad players to their ranks. In addition to the two aging but always reliable substitutes Starke and Pizarro, Shaqiri arrived as a high potential alternative for the wing positions. In addition, Mandžukić and Dante arrived, both of whom would leave a lasting impression on the club during the next two years and have a significant role in Bayern’s later treble win.

Nevertheless, the nomination for the most important transfer of the season has to go to Javi Martínez. The Basque was the first Bayern signing to break the €40m barrier, which send a signal to the international competition. However, his achievements on the pitch turned out to be of much more lasting value than his price tag. Without his immense strength in one-on-one duels and his seemingly inexhaustible drive, the 2013 treble would not have been possible. In the following seasons, he was not any more able to quite match this season’s high standard of performance, partly due to a series of injuries, but he has stayed a reliable and highly appreciated option both in defense and defensive midfield under all his coaches throughout his time at Bayern. As of April 2020, Martínez has 232 games for Bayern under his belt, winning seven championships. While the curtain call on his time at Bayern seems to draw ever closer, one can hardly overestimate what the congenial Basque has achieved for the club.

The fight for second place behind Martínez, however, is much more open. Will it be Dante or Mandžukić? Dante, the Brazilian, has worn the Bayern jersey 133 times in three years, while Mandžukić, the Croatian, has played 88 games in two years. In the end, according to our set of criteria, Dante narrowly edges out his contender, because he was significantly cheaper and a regular player in more important games over a longer period.

Season 2013/14: Thiago

€25m from FC Barcelona, at Bayern since 2013, 227 games, 31 goals, 37 assists, 9 titles, highest market value: €70m

Other signings: Mario Götze for €37m from Borussia Dortmund, Jan Kirchhoff on a free transfer from FSV Mainz

“Thiago or nothing” – the much-cited quote from Pep Guardiola is also highly incumbent here. When Thiago joined FC Barcelona in the summer of 2013 as a player rotating between bench and starting eleven, he was met with scepticism by Germany’s football media, a scepticism that still lingers to this day. Nevertheless, the Spaniard, often knocked as a show pony by the media, quickly became the central linchpin in Bayern’s build-up game, especially after the end of Philipp Lahm’s career. Since then, Thiago has taken a significant step forward, shining both offensively as a creative playmaker, and defensively as a skilled interceptor of the ball. He could only be stopped by injuries, on of which cost him almost the entire 2014/15 season. Without a doubt, he is a contender in the running for best Bayern signing of the decade.

Mario Götze deserves a mention here as well. He joined Bayern after the Champions League title at Wembley. He had the opportunity to hone his skills for three years under Pep Guardiola. However, theirs was a relationship that did not prove as productive as many people hoped. The two did never quite warm to one another. There seemed to be no uncontested place in Guardiola’s system for the German World Cup idol. In 114 games for Bayern, a few highlight performances are accompanied by a lot of  mediocre ones. When Guardiola left Bayern, Götze’s time at the club came to an end as well. His remains one of the great “what if” stories in the history of German football.

Season 2014/15: Robert Lewandowski

Joined on a free from Borussia Dortmund, at Bayern since 2014, 275 games, 230 goals, 52 assists, 7 titles, 3x top scorer, highest market value: €90m

Other signings: Mehdi Benatia for €28m from Roma, Juan Bernat for €10m from CF Valencia, Xabi Alonso for €9m from Real Madrid, Pepe Reina for €3m from Liverpool FC, Sinan Kurt for €3m from Gladbach, Sebastian Rode on a free transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt

Despite the departure of Toni Kroos after Germany’s World Cup triumph in the summer of 2014, Bayern’s squad for the 2014/15 season can without a doubt be described as one of the strongest in the club’s history. For his second shot at winning the treble, Guardiola was joined by Robert Lewandowski, a striker whose goal scoring record of 103 goals in 187 games for Dortmund outclassed all previous Bayern attackers, apart from Gerd Müller. Besides Lewandowski, Bayern also signed Benatia and Alonso to add even more firepower to the squad. Bernat, Rode and Reina joined as important squad players.

Two transfers whose story could not be more different: Xabi Alonso and Mario Götze.
(Image: Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The nomination of Robert Lewandowski is virtually a no-brainer. Not only is he the only signing of 2014/15 who is still on the team in 2020, but he has succeeded in doing the impossible: he has managed to improve on his already excellent goal scoring record at Dortmund. In 275 games for Bayern, he has scored a staggering 230 goals. Along with Neuer and Lahm he has been one of the few undisputed world-class players during the last decade. While the signing of Lewandowski in 2014 was a statement of intent regarding Bayern’s international ambitions, it was all the more important to secure the services of the Polish striker, who had repeatedly been linked with a move away from Bayern, until 2023. Another underestimated factor: Lewandowski was almost never injured for any length of time until the spring of 2020. 

The pretender to the throne in the summer of 2014 is Xabi Alonso. The world and European champion joined the squad at the last minute with a view to replacing Toni Kroos, who had previously signed for Real Madrid. His debut against Schalke a few hours after his arrival in Germany was enough to win over most fans and the football media for good. Alonso may no longer have been the dynamic and energetic player he had been at Liverpool, but he exceld with his imperturbable composure and brilliant vision, especially during the first two seasons. During his three years at the club, he played in 117 games and featured in all big games, except for the 2016 DFB-Pokal final. 

This has been the first part of our multiple part series “Signature Transfers”. Of course I am interested as always in your opinion in the comment section. If this first installment is well received, I will continue with a second article charting the years from 2006-2010.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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