Leroy Sané signs for FC Bayern – all is well that ends well?
When I wrote a first draft of this article in late summer of last year, it was a virtual certainty to me that Leroy Sané’s transfer to FC Bayern was imminent. It was only a matter of time and I wanted to be prepared. Then his injury came and the transfer fell through at the last minute. Since then, a lot has happened. It all began with the injury, which did not only thwart his move but surely a good deal of pre-produced articles as well, then Bayern sacked their coach, and then – coronavirus struck. We live in a different world now, parameters have changed, priorities have shifted. Football clubs everywhere are fighting for financial survival, nine-figure transfers like Sané’s would probably have become last summer seem a distant memory.
Yet despite all these developments, the Sané transfer to Bayern was never really off. It is moot now to recount all the shenanagans, the rumors, the speculation that went on in the run up to his move last summer before his injury brought everything to an abrupt hold. Suffice it to say that in all likelihood Leroy Sané would have already become a Bayern player 10 months ago for a lot more money than the club is paying now.
In an odd way, Sané’s injury and coronavirus might have been a blessing in disguise for the whole transfer project. Bayern are now effectively saving €70m in cash on signing a player whose intention to leave City and join Bayern seems not to have wavered over the past 10 months.
Financially, Bayern seem to have made a tremendous deal. They are one of the few clubs in Germany who appear to come through the coronavirus crisis rather unscathed. For them, a transfer fee just shy of €50m for a player of Sané’s quality is a steal, and they will find his alleged annual salary somewhere in the €20m range a lot but acceptable given his talents.
€70m less in transfer fees, 10 additional months to cure his injury, and perhaps a slightly lower salary than he might have commanded in a non-coronavirus market, so all is well that ends well with Leroy Sané joining Bayern – or is it?
The timelines and the financials might have changed, but Leroy Sané the player and Leroy Sané the personality are still the same as they were 10 months ago. The same questions and issues relating to his Bayern move that were true back then are still true now.
What does his arrival herald for Bayern? How many of the great expectations tied to his name are really warranted? Will he be, can he be the final puzzle piece that will bring Bayern the one decisive step closer to their long overdue Champions League title?
Yes, Leroy Sané indisputably is a brilliant footballer. He is a player who would improve almost any team, no matter his teammates, the coach, the tactics or the system. In pure footballing terms, it is hard to imagine a squad where his pace, his technical abilities, his skills in taking on opponents one-on-one, his finishing ability, and his youthful courage and imperturbability would not make him a valuable addition – including Bayern’s.
But there are some reasons to be cautious, too. Above all, there is the question of his character. Jogi Löw did not select him for Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad in Russia, a decision which caught many experts and pundits by surprise at the time. Löw certainly did not leave Sané out because of doubts about his qualities as a footballer. But there was no shortage of rumors casting in doubt the quality of his character before the tournament. There were media reports questioning his commitment in training and his willingness to make compromises on the pitch. Some of his teammates even implied between the lines in public statements that they had not always been best pleased with his overall conduct as their teammate in the national team.
Then there is his standing at Manchester City. Even before his injury, Sané had long stopped being one of Pep Guardiola’s regular starters. He had only 21 starts and played 1480 minutes in the entire 2018/19 Premier League season, which put him in 10th place in his team (just ahead of John Stones and Olexandr Zinchenko and behind Fernandinho and Ilkay Gündogan), although he was at no time seriously injured or suspended. This is not a stellar record for a player who had been named the PFA’s “Young Player of the Year” just the year before. To be left out by Pep Guardiola on a fairly regular basis, a coach who is not only a tactical mastermind but also has a very astute sense of which players he can rely on and work with, may rightfully plant the seeds of doubt in some fans.
It also does not appear that Pep Guardiola was overly concerned with the prospect of Sané leaving. Pep Guardiola is a manager who is apt to heap exceeding praise on his players and does hardly ever miss an opportunity to publicly state their exceptional value to him and his club. He has been fairly quiet on Leroy Sané. Yes, whenever he was asked about his possible transfer to Bayern he responded by saying something to the effect that he really liked Leroy Sané as a player and that he did not want to see him leave, but demonstrations of deep affection and high esteem sound different coming from the mouth of Pep Guardiola.
Last but not least, there is his ACL injury. A torn ACL is not as damning a verdict on a player’s career as it used to be, but it is still not something to be taken lightly. Many players recover from an ACL injury never to have any medical problems on this front again. But for some, the first time they tear an ACL just marks the beginning of a chronic, career long litany of health and fitness problems. Bayern already have quite a few players of a a delicate physical nature, the latest addition being Lucas Hernandéz, who has been struggling with his health on and off all season. The club can hardly afford to have one more, especially one as expensive as Leroy Sané.
As far as his fitness is concerned, Sané resumed regular team training at the end of January after a break of nearly five months. He has been on City’s bench for all four of their games after the coronavirus break so far but only got a run out for 11 minutes against Burnley on Monday. He is not allowed to play for Bayern in the Champions League, which in the circumstances is probably a good thing. So with him, all eyes are on the beginning of next season. This should give him enough time to fully recover and become fully match fit again. Perhaps the long delay before his first competitive start for Bayern might ultimately even prove a boon to his prospects of staying largely injury free during the rest of his career.
Having said all that, it speaks for Sané that he has been fairly quiet all the while despite all the hubbub surrounding his possible transfer, especially before his injury. He has not taken to Twitter or the tabloid media to force a departure from City. He and his agents have been working quietly behind the scenes to complete the move. Sané has seen his stock as a footballer decline at City and drawn the consequences accordingly. His move seems to have been an above board affair all around.
He is also lucky that his signing for Bayern now does not come with the great expectations that it would have carried last summer. Back then, despite just having won the double under Niko Kovač, the team was not in a particularly good shape. There was latent dissatisfaction among the players with their coach, and although Kovač’s football looked fine in the statistics department, the on-field performances were often somewhat disappointing. There was no real rhythm to Bayern’s game, the team’s ambitions and the coach’s tactics did not seem to gel. The quality of the team’s performance was too erratic. Dazzling performances one day were followed by indifferent ones the next. The players never warmed to Kovač’s defensive-minded system at all, and so salvation on the pitch often came by way of glorious individual performances or a momentary spark of genius. In this climate, Leroy Sané would likely have been seen as a savior who was able to single-handedly see Bayern all the way through to the long awaited Champions League title.
Fortunately for him, such worries have completely lost their foundation by now. Niko Kovač has been replaced by Hansi Flick, who has no less than transformed Bayern’s football. The team is in excellent shape. They do not just win consistently, they perform in style. Tactics, system, players and coach all look like a harmonious unit. Sané joins a healthy system in what is currently a very content environment. There is not the one star, there is a team full of perfectly synced actors every one of which has his important role to play. Sané will not have to bear all the club’s and fans’ hopes and expectations all by himself. This will greatly facilitate his settling in period at the club. And the fact that the focus of attention will not be exclusively on him may even accommodate his personality – and all my worries will have been a non-issue in the end.
Welcome, Leroy Sané.