Ever since Bayern’s generation of the Fabulous Four crowned their careers with the magical 2013 season, the club’s biggest task has been not to miss the rebuild. Recent history has provided us with numerous examples that have to serve as a warning. Clubs such as Milan, Inter, Man United or even the post-Zidane Real Madrid forgot to refresh their successful but aging squads with new talents to grow into leading roles of the next generation. While fans and media were busy worrying about this, the club silently took care of the issue and got the job done within two years. Bayern’s rebuild hasn’t started, no. Bayern’s rebuild is basically over.
Sammer Breeze and Depth Injection
How did the club manage to do this so quickly and efficiently? It’s another example of the remarkable management. Many still doubt the importance of Matthias Sammer. And while his actual tasks, aside from being the club’s official fire extinguisher whenever there are traces of complacency, still remain hidden for the public, there is no way that his outstanding record is a coincidence. Since he replaced Christian Nerlinger in 2012, the squad has been improved every summer.
Sure, it helped that the club changed its mindset after the lack of squad depth was identified as one of the main reasons for the Leverkusenesque 2011-12 season. Still, money and motivation alone don’t guarantee a strong transfer game. Let’s take a look at the signings since Sammer took over.
- Bayern sign Dante and Mario Mandzukic for a combined €18m. While neither is still at the club, their short eras were highly impactful, with both acting as key figures on the way to the Triple.
- A transfer as massive as it was risky, Javi Martinez arrives in Munich for €40m and only needs a few weeks to silence all doubters, being the main difference and an absolute force in midfield.
- Valuable squad depth is added for cheap as keeper Tom Starke and striker Claudio Pizarro join the club, both being serviceable for several seasons.
- Mitchell Weiser is signed for €800k, introducing a new part of Bayern’s transfer strategy that will only gain importance in upcoming years: signing young talents before their breakthrough. Weiser himself needed a lot of time but has developed into a useful and promising Bundesliga player.
- Maybe the biggest flop of the Sammer era, Xherdan Shaqiri is signed for about €12m. Sold for a profit a few years later, it’s difficult to call this a real flop.
- One of the bigger steals in recent football history, Bayern sign Thiago for €25m. Effectively, he costs a mere €9m as the club sells the clearly inferior Luiz Gustavo for €16m.
- A huge statement that shocked the football world, they also bring Mario Götze to Munich thanks to a relatively low buyout clause of €37m. If you include the money made by selling Mario Gomez, Germany’s biggest talent is signed for about €25m.
- Jan Kirchhoff is signed on a free transfer. He hasn’t panned out but the marginal costs made it a zero-risk deal.
- Probably the biggest regret of the Sammer era, Emre Can is let go for €5m, with Bayern not acting well enough to guarantee a cheap return to Munich. Meanwhile, Nils Petersen is sold without a loss.
- Two players, zero transfer fee: Robert Lewandowski and Sebastian Rode improve the squad in different ways. Nobody would ever doubt that this was great business.
- Pepe Reina is added for €3m, a bit of a weird move but an acceptable cost for a high-quality backup who unfortunately realized quickly that he’s too good for such a role.
- A steal is made as Juan Bernat joins from Valencia for €10m. A quality left-back who’d be a starter at almost every club, for backup money.
- Patience and negotiating allow Bayern to sign Medhi Benatia for €28m. Considering the other clubs in the race and the early statements made by Roma, it’s a very reasonable sum. A highly reliable defender who’s injury-prone.
- As Toni Kroos wants to leave for a new experience and a safer future, injuries eventually force Bayern to grab a replacement. More than a year later, €10m for two or three years of Xabi Alonso seems like a very fair price for a high-quality transitional phase.
- Joshua Kimmich for €9m is a no-brainer already. It only took him a few weeks to remove doubts, we would be highly surprised if he’s not the future.
- Finally addressing the big worry, Bayern attempt to add winger depth but “accidentally” sign players who look like a lot more than just stopgaps. Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman have convinced.
- Sven Ulreich’s quality as a starting keeper deserves to be questioned but the price is more than fair for a very serviceable backup who could last 5-10 years.
- Arturo Vidal adds a new quality to the midfield, being a type of player the squad has lacked. Maybe the first of those post-Arena payment signings that we’ve been waiting for. The money is there, the player is good, why not try?
To sum up, for a net spend of €145m (around €35m per year), Bayern under Matthias Sammer (and of course Michael Reschke) have turned their 23-man squad from this to this:
[table id=7 /]
Would anyone seriously say that this isn’t a huge improvement? Some might miss a few brilliant players such as Breno, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk or Danijel Pranjic (or Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez for non-hipsters) but the complete 23-man squad is a lot stronger now. Admittedly, that’s not really about the generational rebuild. However, it does visualize the outstanding work of the last few years.
The Four Horsemen
The big task of the rebuild was to replace the aging cornerstones of the Bayern team. Having carried the club on their shoulders for up to a decade, natural depreciation meant that these four key figures need to be replaced soon: Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben.
The Broken One
Franck Ribery’s depreciation was the most sudden and brutal one. Within a year, he went from a top 5 player to a part-time employee. Ribery’s desk has been moved to the basement where he receives his paycheck but isn’t expected to actually contribute anymore.
Replacement: for now, the team. Long-term, Kingsley Coman is too similar not to be mentioned. Is Ribery missed? Sure. Is Ribery still required? Absolutely not. Rebuild done.
The Breaking One
Of the four cornerstones, Bastian Schweinsteiger is the only one to have left the club. And it was about time. In heroic fashion, he sacrificed his body to win the Champions League in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014. At this stage, Schweinsteiger is a breathing corpse on the pitch. Almost 1.5 years after the World Cup, it still seems like an awful idea to rely on him for more than 60 minutes. Bastian isn’t unfit, he’s just old and worn down.
Replacement: Thiago? Martinez? Kimmich (with Alonso as tutor)? Pick one. The initial outcry was massive but a few months later, nobody talks about him anymore. Is Schweinsteiger missed? Sure. Is Schweinsteiger still required? Absolutely not. Rebuild done.
The Doubtful One
The least depreciated cornerstone is Arjen Robben. If his current run of injuries turns out to be a temporary thing, he could be a cornerstone for another 2-3 years. That being said, Robben also was the most important cornerstone for a few years. The team looked predictable and lost without him. It might be the biggest accomplishment of this current period that Sammer/Reschke/Guardiola have managed to make the team more independent from the Dutch winger. Finally.
Replacement: Douglas Costa. The ability to get past opponents, to shoot from distance, to be a force as isolated winger – Costa isn’t a copy of Robben and at least one tier below him but the style is similar enough to take over his role. Is Robben missed? Whenever he’s injured, ten kittens die. Is Robben still required? Not that much. Rebuild close to the finish line.
The Gradual One
Philipp Lahm’s depreciation is completely different from the one of the other three cornerstones. They all went (or are going) with a bang, while Lahm is slowing down as gradually and silently as he once moved to absolute world class.
This is an amazing career. An entire decade at the very top, underrated until recently, Lahm’s breakdown, that started with (maybe even caused by?) that major injury in 2014-15, is merely a regression to the second tier. Unlike the others who seem determined to continue until they’re completely broken, Lahm has already announced his retirement for 2018. Will he keep the quality to be a reliable starter for another three years? It’s questionable. But at least he won’t be broken.
Replacement: here’s our only big question mark. You could compensate with a tactical change, such as using a back-three that sees Costa as wing-back. But the true Lahm role is still to be revived. Rafinha isn’t even close to an option. Sebastian Rode doesn’t appear to be seen as an option. This is where Bayern need to act before it’s too late. Sign a right-back in 2016. Is Lahm missed? The old one is, as we finally see him weakened. Is Lahm still required? Totally. Rebuild still a work in progress.
If you reduce the rebuild to these four figures, it seems fair to say that the rebuild is 62,5-75% done, depending on whether you rate Arjen Robben as completely replaced or just kind of replaced. That being said, there’s more to a rebuild. Your entire squad ages. Has Bayern’s?
Same Old Age
For the squad analysis, I chose the numbers approach. Comparing the 22-man squads of the triple-winning team and the current squad, I’ve come to a positive conclusion.
Normally, you’d assume that the squad has gotten three years older. That’s what would happen if you didn’t change a thing. If someone’s age isn’t completely accurate, it’s just due to birthdays. Doesn’t change the general message.
[table id=8 /]
As you can see, the current squad is basically the same age as the triple-winning team. But, as I said, consider that everybody has gotten three years older, so this is actually a positive result. Bayern have added enough young players to balance out the aging process of the regulars.
Three of Bayern’s four oldest players? Ribery, Robben, Lahm. The fourth? Xabi Alonso, the inofficial Schweinsteiger stopgap. The aforementioned cornerstones are Bayern’s oldest players. Everybody else has been replaced by a younger player, meaning that the depth rebuild is clearly over. And since we’ve already discovered that at least 62,5% of the peak rebuild is done as well, that leaves us with only one conclusion: Bayern’s rebuild hasn’t just started, it’s actually almost over. At least until it’s time for the next one in 2019 or 2020…