Leon Goretzka has extended his contract, staying till 2026
Over the course of this year, Bayern have undergone a change that may have been too subtle for some to notice: The way and manner of communication about the future of the club has altered quite dramatically. What we have been witnessing here in recent months may be the first major perceptible effect of Oliver Kahn’s appointment as the club’s new CEO earlier this year. Words like “future”, “era”, “strategy”, “planning”, “creativity”, “shape”, “coin”, “philosophy”, “energy”, “efficiency”, “further development”, “potential”, “structure”, “radar” and a few more show what Kahn has brought in – a corporate language that aims to convey a lot of competence, calmness, forward orientation, and a passion for new ideas. Not that such words have not been used before at Bayern, but they have become quite the fashion lately.
The main characteristic of this language is that is is both deliberately vague and limited in what exactly it actually is able to convey at the same time. It sounds extremely meaningful and important, but without really giving anything away. The “how” combined with a persuasive and self-confident attitude is what counts, not the “what”: “We want to shape an era”; “We have to be creative”; “Our strategic radar has to be switched on all the time.” Sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić as well as president Herbert Hainer and Kahn are trying to please all sides with this style, without showing their cards.
Of course. Why should FC Bayern reveal their strategic plans for the future in detail, or continually comment on ongoing developments such as contract talks? In the end, the fait accompli should be the yardstick that gives the words their value. Kahn already manages this kind of communication very well, while others yet struggle to express their emotions and thoughts the same bland yet important sounding way he does. But what we are witnessing here may only be early indications of a fundamental change in the club’s communication strategy.
Looking to the future of FC Bayern, many fans nevertheless feared that the team could fall apart because it took the club plenty of time to secure the future services of several key players on contracts that had been soon to expire. And even now, when at least the integrity of the midfield axis of the record champions has been secured, many questions remain unanswered.
The contracts of Niklas Süle and Corentin Tolisso, too, expire at the end of the season, and those of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller do so a year later. And yet the extensions of Kimmich and Goretzka may well have a signaling effect: the heart of this team has decided to stay together and remain at the club long-term. So the conviction is there that FC Bayern as a club and team will continue to play a role in the fight for the Champions League title in the coming years. This may have a cascading effect on the other key players to follow their example when their extensions are due.
Goretzka, a cornerstone in this development, has turned into a key player in recent months. Between Müller and Kimmich, he has become something of a fan and pundit favourite. He interprets his number eight role with great flexibility and breadth. The term “box-to-box player” is often used in reference to players like him, a hybrid of uncompromising tacklers in defence and powerful offensive runners with a decent finishing ability, sometimes even including outright playmaker qualities. Goretzka, who used to be seen more as a dynamic but not very physical link-up player in between the two penalty areas, has grown to incorporate all these qualities and more at a very high level, and can be used in several roles in midfield.
The last game before he finally signed his new contract is perhaps the best example of this. For many, Goretzka’s physicality has become his major trademark in the game. Against FC Barcelona, he won seven of the twelve tackles he fought on the ground and also his sole aerial duel. He constantly appeared in midfield to stop Barça’s attacks – with a high success rate.
His deep runs are also feared throughout Europe. Time and again, Goretzka manages to overload the last line and with his presence augment his team’s goal-scoring threat. With his movements, he creates free spaces for Lewandowski and Müller, but also relieves Kimmich, who is responsible for setting the pace of the game.
Goretzka is a pressing and running machine. But now he is even more. If there is one criticism he had to face early on during his time at FC Bayern, it was that he did not take part in the ball circulation of his team regularly enough. He often did not see enough of the ball. Under Hansi Flick and now Julian Nagelsmann, however, he seems to have developed in this respect. Against Barcelona, he touched the ball 73 times – only four times fewer than Kimmich.
Having said that, this was also partly due to the opponent’s approach to the game that focused primarily on limiting the involvement of Kimmich to disrupt Bayern’s midfield play. That this did not really succeed was also thanks to Goretzka, who worked with great effort in linking up with Müller, always making himself available in open pockets of space, taking part in combinational play, and thus being a crucial factor in Bayern’s midfield structure. The 26-year-old may not be a star playmaker with silky technical skills, but he integrates perfectly into Bayern’s midfield with his very unique interpretation of the number eight role, striking almost the ideal balance between offensive drive and the ability to provide relief for the central build-up players when needed.
When Thiago left the club about a year ago, many wondered how he could be replaced. However, the Spaniard is now rarely missed – and when he is, it is rather regarding a lack of strength in depth than an additional flavour on the pitch. Goretzka has grown rather than faltered under the challenge of following in Thiago’s footsteps. Kimmich, Müller and he are currently one of the best, if not the best midfield trio in the world.
Their skills in some areas differ greatly from one another, but that is probably why they fit together so well. What they have in common, however, apart from their tremendous quality on the ball, is their hunger for winning the ball. They are the triangle shaped, beating and pulsating heart of FC Bayern’s midfield. And the fact that they will remain at the club in that composition at least until 2023, when Müller’s contract expires, is an asset for the team that can hardly be overestimated.
On the one hand, the club from Bavaria’s capital is showing that they are still an attractive destination for top players. In this respect, some of the expressions that showcase the special dynamics within the team are interesting to look at. Both Kimmich and Goretzka have spoken several times about the fact that they want ro be successful at the club as a group of friends. This special team spirit and sense of cohesion is not only valuable from a sporting point of view, but also a good argument for the club when it comes to contract extensions or attracting new players.
In addition, as Kimmich’s and Goretzka’s reportedly very generously remunerated new contracts have shown, the club, despite the pandemic, is not doing as badly financially as they would sometimes lead us to believe. Anyone who can decide to buy a player like Sabitzer shortly before the end of the transfer window, and at the same time elevate two of their key players to near the very top of their salary pyramid still must have some reserves left.
But that is also something that FC Bayern have always managed to do well: set economic limits for themselves, spend sensibly, and still remain successful on the field. As banal as this may sound, it perhaps encapsulates the open secret of this club’s success better than anything else – while at the same time remaining just as vague as Kahn’s communication. But as worried as some fans were a few months ago, they will be relieved now. With Goretzka’s extension, another central piece of the puzzle in the strategic planning for the coming years has fallen into place. And for once the highly professional yet ultimately unsatisfactorily hollow business language that those in charge at the club have seen fit to adopt has been filled with a little substance.