What’s Julian Green capable of?
This summer is Julian Green’s fourth try at Bayern. Maybe his last. His last attempt at gaining a foothold in the team that has been his home since the age of 14. On the 8th of November 2013 Green signed a professional contract in Munich that runs out next summer. Just three weeks later he made his debut as a substitute in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow. It’s been almost three years since then. An eternity in football. In that time, he’s been played in just one competitive match for the senior team. In the meaningless Champions League match against Zagreb in 2015. 62 rather inconspicuous minutes.
Meanwhile, Green is 21 years old. Still young, sure, but in a time in which the hot prospects on the scene are already at a really high level at the age of 19 or 20, in comparison 21 is already slightly advanced. The loan to HSV, which was meant to give him game time in the Bundesliga in the 2014/15 season, went completely wrong. Before then he’d made a name for himself with 15 goals in 18 games for the Bayern U23s and a goal for the US side at the World Cup in Brazil. Following his unhappy time in Hamburg was a patchy-to-decent season in the Bavarian regional league.
This summer, Green, who on Bayern’s US tour is, like indeed in 2014, more in the spotlight, is saying all the right things. “I want to play at Bayern Munich. I know it’s hard. I’ve learned from my hard time in Hamburg. I’m working hard on myself. I can only do my work here every day and then I have to see how it goes,” said Green this week. On the pitch, too, he’s made some splashes with goals against Inter Milan and Lippstadt. But is all that enough for a place in Bayern’s first-team squad?
At the very least, the opportunity is there right now. 19 outfielders are left in the squad after Mario Götze’s exit. 20 to 21 should be it for the season. Should the decision-makers in Munich decide against any more new arrivals, that’d be a chance for Benko, Dorsch, Tillman, or indeed Green, who of all the youngsters are certainly the most advanced in their development.
Green’s biggest problem is that there isn’t really a clear position in which he can fully use his skills. From my point of view he’s been misunderstood as a player so far. Like any reasonably quick and technically-strong young player, Green has been seen as a winger so far. There his dribbling and his acceleration are anything but outstanding. Particularly when the yard-stick is Robben, Ribéry, Coman or Costa. He has a good top-speed when he gets a few yards. In a counter-attacking team that could be useful, but that deadly explosiveness, so important right now to FC Bayern on the wings against opponents who sit deep, is missing. The same goes for his physical assertiveness. A more direct game with more counter situations than have been suggested under Ancelotti so far might however be in Green’s favour.
In general Green is passable in every aspect of his game, but he lacks that something special. His dribbling isn’t good enough for the flanks, his passing not creative or consistent enough for the centre. Green is good in the box. He has a very good instinct and in principle too is a very level-headed finisher. Had Julian Green come to the Bundesliga of 2005, full of two-striker systems, he would perhaps be something like a smaller version of Halil Altintop or Cacau. A strong, supporting striker, also capable of scoring goals, complementing a rather angular striker like Sanogo (Altintop) or Gomez (Cacau). Today this role is rather rare. A current example is Chicharito, who can fulfil this role at Leverkusen with or without Stefan Kießling. That would be something like the absolute best case scenario for Green’s development and certainly another large step forward.
Does this role exist in Munich? Yes and no. Ancelotti could experiment more regularly with 4-4-2-type formations than Guardiola did, who mostly used one striker, out-and-out wingers and advancing central midfielders. Müller is here the suitable partner for Lewandowski – this, however, is not quite the classic division of out-and-out striker and strong support striker. If Green could find a place in the squad, then it would be as a back-up in one of these positions.
It has to command respect how doggedly Green believes in his chance in Munich. The least we can hope for is that he can utilise his good preparation so far to show himself worthy of another Bundesliga team. Whether he really has what it takes for a place in the team that consistently wants to make it to the Champions League semi-final, is still questionable. Even when we’re only talking about the 20th squad place.
Either way, the answer to the question “What is Julian Green capable of?” is, all said and done, probably best answered by “playing up front”, rather than on the wings.