The first question comes from Sam in our comment section. “Who do you think Bayern need to buy for the upcoming summer/January and how will they contribute into making Bayern a dominant European team? On the contrary who do you think Bayern needs to say farewell to and why?”
Maurice: If Kovac sticks with his plan of playing Kimmich in the midfield as part of a double pivot, Bayern needs a full-back and they will need him quickly, like this winter. Rafinha can’t give you the performances needed in May on a nightly basis. The question remains who will be available during winter break.
I think a farewell is due in the summer for a number of players including Bayern’s legendary winger duo Ribéry and Robben, who deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame right away. Also one of Hummels and Boateng should be let go, if you can provide at least one, or even better, two suitable replacements. For central defense the name Matthijs de Ligt has been mentioned quite often in the past and could be very interesting. However, the youngster is on the watchlist of numerous teams throughout Europe.
Lastly we could see some current backups moving out next summer. Here Rafinha and Wagner come to mind. Both have had their share of good moments in Munich, but aren’t getting younger or better.
Tobi: Let’s start with what Bayern certainly need: a center back, at least one full-back and two or three wingers. Not all of those will be in the world class category, both due to costs and due to deciding that some positions need backups more than improvements. Actual names? Pick whatever you like, as long as it’s not some random flavor of the Bundesliga month – one Ante Rebic scare was enough.
Who should leave? That does depend on how drastic of a rebuild you want – more so for the team hierarchy than on the pitch (where only Thiago, Lewandowski, Kimmich and Coman look irreplaceable these days). Robben and Ribery are pretty safe assumptions, Rafinha on the other hand looks like he could handle another year as a bench filler. The central midfield area needs some declutter, with Javi Martinez surely being the main target (now you know why I wanted to keep him in the back line). One interesting question will be whether James Rodriguez should be kept. It seems like he doesn’t get along with Kovac, on the other hand he looked like a high quality addition during the last campaign. Might be worth a gamble, probably won’t happen.
Dennis: Let’s put together a starting line-up with players that will be under 30 next season and judge them based on the “Champions League semi-final question”. Would I be ok with these players starting in a Champions League semi-final?
Starting XI: Neuer – Kimmich, Süle, XXX, Alaba – Thiago, Tolisso – YYY, Rodriguez, Coman – ZZZ
Yes, I’ve included Neuer, because goalkeepers tend to age slower. That leaves us with three open spots for the first eleven. For these positions I would keep the following older players: Hummels, Müller, Lewandowski. Thus letting go of Boateng, Martinez, Wagner, Robben, Ribery and Rafinha.
In that scenario only three players would be left for the bench: Goretzka, Gnabry and Sanches. Include Alphonso Davies and I would be fine with that midfield set-up, leaving room for either a youth player or Kimmich to step up and fill a vacancy. If the rumours are to be believed, one of the defensive back-up positions will be filled by Pavard and another one would go to Lasse Mai in my Football Manager vision. Thus two full-backs and a new back-up striker are on the immediate shopping list, but with a focus on young players with development potential.
Opening the war chest would only make sense to me, when trying to fill the three above mentioned vacancies for the starting eleven: a centre-back, a winger and a striker. Based on Bayern’s transfer history I don’t believe Bayern will buy one of the currently discussed “wet dreams” for these positions in the summer. Transfer fees are one thing, destroying the team hierarchy with the necessary wage explosions for such players is something else completely. Bayern has typically had more success with finding that “former” world class player, that is currently going through a tough time at a new club or under a new coach.
Rick: The biggest problem is the defence, and it is clear that changes need to be made. There have been far too many errors, usually with the same root causes. Lack of pace being the most significant.
Niklas Süle is not the finished article, but will surely make himself a fixture in this Bayern side as he continues to develop. However, he too is not the fastest around. He will need somebody not just to work alongside, but complement him.
It has been a while since Jérôme Boateng has been at his best, and in all honesty I was expecting him to go at the start of this season. The numbers that had been thrown around back then made perfect sense, and it might have been a better idea for the club to let him go while the going was good and seek out a younger replacement.
What I did not expect was a similar deterioration from Mats Hummels, who has also been something of a liability. The problem is whether the club can find two suitable long-term replacements, when getting even one has proven to be quite a task. Then there is the need for a suitable right-back, necessitated by Kimmich’s shift to the midfield and Rafinha being no more than a very short-term option.
With Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry set to call it a day at the end of the season, there will be a need to replenish the armoury out on the wings.
We have Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, but looking at a simple transition between the old and the new is not ideal. Coman is still a massive injury risk, while Gnabry is far better suited to playing a more central role. Ergo I would look at bringing in two replacements, one where the club could splash the cash, and another from more off the beaten track.
Marc: Of the players Bayern have been connected to thus far, Pavard makes the most sense to me in terms of both structure and in financial viability. As the others have pointed out central defense has become an obvious area of need and Pavard and Sule would be a good pairing. By next season, those in charge need to determine if Lukas Mai is going to be in their plans for the future. If he is going to be a first team option, then the team should be set in this area assuming they retain one of Boateng or Hummels, if not then they should look to invest in another center back.
The other obvious area of need is on the wings, assuming they remain in a wing based system, or in the attack in general. Robbery’s time appears to be coming to an end after this season and the production from this area needs to improve. Bayern are far too reliant on Lewandowski for goals. Arp is a player Bayern have been linked to in the past and especially if Wagner leaves, he would be a good backup for Lewandowski. I don’t have any specific names to toss out for the wings, though my preference would be for younger players that we can develop and keep at the club for the future.
Our second question comes from @SuedkurveTO on twitter. “We’ve seen so, so much about potential transfer targets for the squad this summer given some impending departures but what about changes at the management level? Who do you want/rate to take over in the next few seasons and for what role?”
Maurice: The horizon for a bigger change in management seems to be the year 2021, which is another three years down the road. A lot can change between now and then. Right now the safest bet seems to be bringing in Bayern legend Oliver Kahn as chairman of the board as a direct replacement for Rummenigge. I would very much welcome adding a proven sporting director like Max Eberl as a substitute for home-grown Salihamidzic.
Filling the shoes of Hoeneß will prove to be the tougher task. As Bayern’s acting president one must be a man of the people and master of the press while having a contact net throughout Europe’s football elite at the same time. Right now I can’t think of a single name suited for this job as there is not a single candidate who checks all of the boxes. This will be the hardest challenge for Hoeneß right up until his retirement.
Tobi: Lahm and Kahn are the boring, obvious choices. But why not? The political mind and the emotional leader – sounds like another leadership duo that worked out pretty well for about two decades. Add some technocratic transfer man behind the scenes (does Reschke have any kids?) and roll with this.
Dennis: The clock is ticking. The current contracts of Hoeness and Rummenigge will end in the second half of 2019 and both have hinted that by 2021 the leadership of the club has to be put into a new set of hands. I’m not going to discuss names. I’d rather point to the importance of finding a new set of faces (and brains) that can develop a new vision for the club. According to that vision decisions regarding the economical and sporting development will need to be made. Does Bayern want to continue to collect money from the highest bidder, even if that means working with the likes of Qatar? Does Bayern want to be at the spearhead of the discussion of a Super League? Does Bayern need to step into the transfer price whirlwind to compete for the top talents, at every age level? What fundamental style of play does the team stand for? Possession based or counter-attacking? The positions at the top of the board, the sporting director and the coach will need to share the same vision on these topics, to maximize the potential of another golden generation in the new decade.
In the current discussions I see two major risks. The first being the criteria by which the current bosses evaluate potential candidates. It seems like they need to have both a strong FC Bayern background and that they should not pose a big risk to fundamentally change the way how things are currently done. Oliver Kahn seems to fit both criteria, Philipp Lahm only meets the first. The potential of external candidates is overlooked, even though Reschke and Sammer did have a positive impact during their time at the club.
The second risk is the willingness of the current bosses to actually hand over the reigns to new personnel, especially if things will be done differently in the future. I think the successors of Hoeness and Rummenigge can learn a lot from these two, but they also need to find their own style and make their own decisions. Maybe FC Bayern has cultivated the idea of a company run by family a bit too much here. As in many family run companies, the transition from one long lasting generation to the next can be a bigger challenge than most externally managed competitors.
Rick: I have always believed in the idea of “keeping things in the family”, and would always look close to home as far as the higher management is concerned. These positions can only really be filled by those who can truly claim to be part of FC Bayern München.
I will be boring and churn out the familiar prospective candidates, Oliver Kahn and Philipp Lahm. The real issue is how the process will take place. Time is running out for Rummenigge and Hoeneß, and it will be something of a task to provide the two younger men with a suitable foundation. Both Hoeneß and Rummenigge had been involved with the club for a significant time before taking the top two roles, and the same cannot be said of Kahn or Lahm. Clearly, there needs to be some sort of transition period.
Of course, family can only go so far. Most fans will not want an outsider running the club, but there will be a need for a counterbalance. First would be finding a sporting director of the calibre of Matthias Sammer.
I also believe that the club needs to remain in tune with football’s ever-changing world, but without selling out its fundamental values. For me, the relationship with Qatar has gone way too far. Any fresh faces will need to bring with them a fresh approach.
Marc: This is a tricky question. As everyone else said, there are the people I’d like to see come in Kahn and Lahm, however I don’t anticipate either happening any time soon. I believe both will likely be at the club in some form in the future but 2021 appears to be the earliest that would happen.
In the short term I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Brazzo. If the club moves on from him at the same time as Kovac, then there could be two very important roles suddenly available. The final few games of the Hinrunde could provide a bit of clarity in regards to Kovac and Brazzo’s situation. If the club finishes strongly and perhaps closes the gap, they will both most likely stay on until the summer at the very least. If however, they were to implode and/or bomb out of the Pokal, the heat would suddenly be turned up again.
I think the ideal candidate for sporting director, outside of the competency qualifications, would be someone who could bring a slightly different approach and perspective but who Uli respects enough to listen to. Most likely we’ll have to settle for a compromise, so I will at least hold out hope that it’s someone who has enough stature to make Uli listen.
Our third question comes from @M_Friedrichs on twitter. “Here’s a quick one, but one to which Kovac seemingly doesn’t have the answer: What’s wrong with Bayern’s defense? Is the problem tactical, is it because of ageing/out-of-form players, or is it a combination of both? What can be done to improve the situation fast?”
Maurice: The defense right now seems to be struggling due to a number of reasons. The one I want to focus on is individual errors. Last year’s mistake by Ulreich, which ultimately led to elimination in the Champions League, seemed to be a once in a lifetime occurrence. This current season on the other hand has been littered with individual errors. More alarmingly, nobody seems to be immune to these mishaps, neither long-time players like Neuer or Boateng nor youngsters like Süle. But what can Kovac do about it? It will be critical to improve the confidence level and focus of every single player in the back four. With the right mindset, the individual errors will eventually fade away.
Tobi: Yes. A lack of form does play a role, with Hummels struggling to reach the world class status of previous years, while Boateng struggles to find his groove and Süle faces a bit of a sophomore slump. However, none of them have been awful enough to justify such a general instability. Simply put, the defense is positioned like under Guardiola yet structured like under Klinsmann. The easy solutions would be to either move the entire team back a little or to add a third center back. The proper solution would be to hire someone capable of rebuilding a team’s tactical structure.
Dennis: Unfortunately everything is connected. Players age, tactical “handcuffs” wane, the competition learns. I don’t want to single out any aspect or player, but the decline of the performances of Jerome Boateng over the last seasons has demonstrated these effects. Due to repeated injuries and his slowly regressing top speed, in combination with the team’s declining counter-pressing ability to support the defensive high line, Jerome Boateng and also Mats Hummels do find themselves in a lot more 1v1 duels against younger and quicker opponents. The club can counter that development with players closer to their physical prime (Süle) and coaches that can adapt the tactical “handcuffs” to these issues (not Kovac, unfortunately).
Rick: The defence has been a considerable source of pain this season. Despite what some critics may say about the coach, I believe that this is nothing to do with tactics and everything to do with individual errors which are themselves brought on by a lack of fitness and form.
Last season, I argued that club should have let Jérôme Boateng go. The offers were more than reasonable, given that we would be looking at half that now. What I did not expect was that Mats Hummels would mirror Boateng’s decline. Having one error-prone centre-back is one thing, but two is a problem. When you then add to that the fact that Niklas Süle is not the finished article and has also been prone to gaffes, we have an even bigger problem.
Then there is Manuel Neuer, who has not been the same player since his long spell away. He has at times looked that crucial fraction of a second too slow.
Compounding the issue is that opponents can now smell blood, and have been a lot bolder in their approach. This in itself can discombobulate players who have had it pretty easy, leading to even more errors.
There is not too much a coach can do about this, save throwing in an extra man and making the team play like the 2017/18 Frankfurt side. The alternative is to remain patient and hope that problem goes away.
Marc: I think the honest answer here is that it is a combination of the two and much more on top. As others have mentioned, age, issues in counterpressing and individual errors have played a huge part. Additionally, Kovac is trying to play a system that doesn’t match the players he has. Hummels and Boateng are possession based defenders who play very advanced roles and have played this way for quite some time. Kovac’s wish to play more directly compromises their greatest skill set.
On top of all that, Bayern now lacks a midfield to complement that style of play. Thiago is really the only midfielder whose style is suited to possession based football, unless you count Kimmich, and that has hurt the center backs tremendously. Both ball distribution and coverage have caused significant issues when they have push forward this season. All of those factors coupled with an appreciable decline in athleticism has led to disaster too many times. Since I can’t imagine much of anything happening in the winter regarding player personnel, the only possible quick fix is a shift in system. Playing a back three could help them to both stabilize things and patch over some of the issues mentioned above before truly addressing the issue in the summer.
Our fourth question comes from @mOehlschlager on twitter. “Why have we not seen more world class talent coming out of the academy? Nothing since Lahm, Müller, Schweinsteiger, and Alaba. Green was promising, but they gave up on his development. Why not grow Bavarian talent rather than buy talent off the shelf?”
Maurice: Having a good youth program is a tough task even if you are not Bayern. In Munich you are faced with the additional challenge that the level of play in the first team is far beyond anything a youth team or a second team in the fourth division can prepare you for. Nevertheless, Bayern had some success a few years back with loans to other Bundesliga teams where the step from the academy is smaller. Currently, Bayern has three players on loan: Friedl to Bremen, Tillman to Nürnberg and Fein to Regensburg in the second division.
Friedl has only played three games so far as he is stuck behind Augustinsson at left-back. For Tillman things are even worse as he has been sent to Nürnbergs second team. However, Fein is a regular starter for Regensburg in the second division and has even assisted one goal so far. Even though the results are mixed at best I still think it is a good idea to send out players on a loan deal. This first step in adult football will help them catch on quickly. As for next season second teamers Evina and Mai could be the logical options for a loan, if Bayern II fail to qualify for Germany’s third division.
Tobi: The academy was in bad shape for a while. Any adjustment/improvement you make at that stage doesn’t bring results until five years later. The structural problems seem to have been worked on (although it might turn sour again soon enough if certain people extend their power).
Of course there’s also the other issue of coaches not putting these guys into promising situations. Van Gaal just went all in with several people, as the squad was in a similar shape as it is now. Heynckes and Guardiola worked with well-filled squads that offered little space for any projects (not that Guardiola didn’t still try with players such as Gaudino, Højbjerg or Weiser, let alone Kimmich). Ancelotti seemed too busy getting the old grumps under control. Kovac has been facing a perfect situation of throwing talents in there but he doesn’t appear confident enough for this step.
All that being said, at Bayern you can never bet on a talent’s success. The integration must take place independently of any transfers.
Dennis: Because generational talents don’t pop out of the academy every year, the first team squad has been as deep as it has never been before, and there hasn’t been a coach that emphasized bringing out youth players since van Gaal. And honestly, it doesn’t look like the club is willing to sacrifice short-term team success for long-term player development. Even with the reduced squad and the piling injuries, no youth player has received significant minutes. Either the mindset has to change, to give the likes of Mai or OBM a chance, or we will have to wait a couple more years for the next Alaba/Schweinsteiger/Lahm.
Rick: The dream was that the academy would turn into a conveyor belt, which has been proven to not be the case. The 2010 intake was phenomenal and it was always going to be hard to match, but it would be fair to say that what has emerged since has been disappointing.
I would blame the coaches for this. Younger players need to be given the time and space to develop, but that time and space needs to be at the optimum level. In this regard I do not believe that loaning out potential talent works; these players need to be part of the FC Bayern environment, with all that entails. They need to be blooded at the highest level, and for this the coach needs to be prepared to take risks.
In discussing this, I will throw a question of my own back out there. If Thomas Müller had been carted off to Bremen or even into the 2. Bundesliga back in 2009, would he have developed in the same way? I seriously doubt it.
There should have been a policy to follow in the footsteps of Louis van Gaal. Younger players should have been given a proper opportunity, and thrown in at the deep end. While some may have drowned, others would have caught their breath and accelerated their development.
The rot really set in when Pep Guardiola took the helm. His approach to youth development at Bayern was little more than lip service.
Marc: I think there are a few factors at play here. First of all I think the club was not focused on the academy for a few years before attempting to remedy the situation. A youth academy is something that requires constant attention and scouting to bring in the best players. By all accounts the coaching has been spotty at best as well, which also hurts player development.
Then there is the issue of playing time and opportunity. It has been proven to be difficult to break into the first team at Bayern and players need to gain first team experience to really advance to the next level. Loans seem like the simple answer but you have to find the “right” situation for each player. Sending a player into a volatile environment or to a team that doesn’t fit can cause more problems than it solves.
In the end it will be difficult for a club the size of Bayern to grow from within. Expectations and an unwillingness to compromise results in the short term hinder the clubs ability to develop their own players. The vast majority of the “big” teams in Europe have very few home grown players because of these issues and only a very well thoughtout plan that is given extraordinary attention will change this.
Our final question comes from @me_unplugged20 on twitter. “What are your takes on the drama going on at the moment? Was it all put to rest by the comments from key players or were the players instructed to come out and show support for the coach? I found it peculiar that everyone who gave an interview made a point to do so.”
Maurice: It seems like a media stunt that all four players, who had private meetings with the upper management just last week as a German newspaper reported, came out after the game and publically supported Kovac. However, if this is the opinion that they also present while talking to teammates, this can still be a good move and help the mood in the locker room. Also the way the team has played against Dortmund or Lisbon for that matter showed that the players are still willing to give their everything for the club and therefore for the coach as well.
Tobi: This team has been poorly managed (not only by the coaches, but by everyone involved) for years so there’s a distinct lack of cohesion. I’m pretty certain that’s why the club bosses decided to make the squad smaller – fewer stars means less potential drama, even though that’s a backwards treatment for this issue.
There certainly is a lot of truth in the positive comments, otherwise such players wouldn’t have made them. Guys like Robben or Lewandowski are experienced enough to criticize with subtlety, yet they didn’t. Surely it also helped that they not only had to defend the coach but also their own asses.
Two losses later and none of this will matter anymore, of course. In Bavaria, warm words are temporary, only cold beer showers matter.
Dennis: It’s a good sign that players have demonstrated solidarity with the coach. It’s a bad sign that we have to take notice of something like that. Individually every player wants to earn money and be successful. If the coach can help him with maximizing his talents and turning his performances in silverware and Euros, he will love that coach. What we are currently seeing rather looks like a practical work relationship in which you know that you are in it together, at least for a couple of months and that you have to find a way out together.
Rick: A lot of what has taken place in recent months has been fermented by the media, who love a scandal. There is nothing better than takes of unrest at Bayern to garner additional clicks, and lurid FC Hollywood tales to sell the toilet paper they call newspapers.
Numerous sources have suggested that the stories of player unrest are genuine, and given the number of big names in the dressing room it is hard to rule this out completely. There will also be dissent, especially when things are not running to form. But the first thing one should ask is how much is true, and how much has been exaggerated.
It was a good thing that the players came out in support of the coach, and boldly too. While some may argue that this a calculated front, logic suggests otherwise. If you really are harbouring doubts about anything, you will never make such bold statements. At best, any comment will be ambiguous or even slightly barbed.
Compare the recent comments with those that came out before Ancelotti was fired. There was the same yellow press gossip, but nothing to counter that from the players – or at least the players whose voices mattered. When the best the players can offer is “meh”, on the other hand, you know the coach is trouble.
Marc: This felt very much like media pandering. That’s not to say that the players who came out in support of Kovac didn’t mean it, but it seems obvious that they had agreed to support him given the opportunity. It’s amazing to me that Kovac appears to be coming out of the first half of the season unscathed given where we were a week ago. If he can genuinely win over the players, there may still be hope for him at Bayern. That being said, I don’t think that any of us can honestly say that the issue has been put to rest. The team has taken a few steps in the right direction, yet they have miles ahead of them before we can say things are truly back to normal.
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions this month. If we didn’t answer your question this month, please submit it again for next months roundtable.