Miasanrot Awards: Signing of the season 2019/20
Looking back, it is interesting to observe the buzz surrounding Bayern’s announcement of their signing Benjamin Pavard in January 2019. If you take yourself back to the time, the general mood then seems to have been from another century from today’s perspective. That Bayern would go on to win the Champions League just 18 months later seemed inconceivable.
There was a great deal of criticism and doomsaying: Criticism of Hasan Salihamidžić, coach Niko Kovač, the club’s transfer policy – there was almost no thing at FC Bayern that was not thoroughly lambasted. After their later elimination from the Champions League against Liverpool and their befuddling transfer window in summer of that year, all of this criticism should become even more fierce.
Initially, the signing of Benjamin Pavard did not attract much attention when the discussion came to Bayern’s decisive players in the squad for the new season. He was regarded as a relegated player. Bayern were considered very audacious, to say the least, to sign a player who was seen as an also-ran in France’s World Cup bid and had not shown much of anything since for €35 million. Not everyone held this view, but a lot of people did. Many considered Pavard to become Bayern’s next expensive bench warmer and they called for more expensive signings of the caliber of a Lucas Hernandéz.
Now, many months later, many will have changed their view of Pavard, and some may even have deleted their Twitter or Facebook posts about him of early 2019. Even some journalists and pundits were under the spell of his relatively poor season following his World Cup success. They ignored or forgot that many a young player goes through a slump after an achievement like that. They ignored or forgot that VfB Stuttgart was swiftly declining into a shambles during the season and expected that the 22-year old would single-handedly plug the holes in their porous defense.
Perhaps this generally low level of expectations helped Pavard to quietly further his development in the shadow of other, more prominent players around him. Public discussion often revolved around Lucas Hernandéz and his exorbitant transfer fee, Leroy Sané and his endless transfer saga dominated the headlines even more often. But Pavard? Almost unnoticed, he evolved into a first team regular, continuously improving from game to game.
The Frenchman became the team’s anchor in defense and, especially since the arrival of Hansi Flick, stabilized the whole team. Still, even towards the end of the season, as Bayern’s chances of winning the Champions League became more and more real, other players still garnered most of the attention.
For this reason, Pavard is probably the player most qualified for the “unsung hero award”. He does not have Joshua Kimmich’s impact in attack, which will certainly play a big part in his relative anonymity. But he provides balance to the extremely risky playing style of his side.
Despite their ultimate success, this also showed in Bayern’s Champions League final tournament performances in Lisbon. In all three games, Bayern proved more vulnerable in defense than they had been in a long time. Of course, the higher quality of the opposition was one factor in this, but Pavard’s absence surely played it’s part, too.
With 3978 competitive minutes played, he collected the fourth most for Bayern in the 19/20 season. Without his unfortunate injury, he probably would have added another 270 to his tally, moving him into third place just behind Neuer and Kimmich.
If one were to describe Benjamin Pavard in just a few, concise words, terms like “reliable”, “stable”, “composed”, “eager to learn”, and “solid” quickly come to mind. Another apt description would be “anchor”. It was not too long ago that there was still a lively discussion at Bayern about how to further strengthen the team in the right-back position. Meanwhile, the discussion has changed to the question of whom to sign as a backup for Pavard in that position.
The Frenchman is not the world’s most technically gifted player. Perhaps he is not even among the top five in his team in this regard. But Bayern do not need a team consisting entirely of individualists and world stars. It is players like Pavard who provide the all important balance in a team. He is one of the most important pieces in Hansi Flick’s jigsaw puzzle.
Pavard is one of those players who tend to fly below the radar on the transfer market for a long time before they ultimately develop into a highly valuable signing. Consider eg. the cases of Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Süle, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka and Alphonso Davies. None of these players cost more than €40 million to sign and they were frequently suggested to either become a majority bench player or have an early ending to their career. In contrast, players like Contention Tolisso and Lucas Hernandéz were regarded as signature signings at the time of their signing, but have since had a difficult time at Bayern for various reasons.
This does not mean that there is the one clear lesson to take away from this. After all, Pavard did not cost much less than Tolisso. But other than Tolisso’s his signing was met with widespread indifference, perhaps even with a little tinge of negativity. But Pavard managed to thoroughly convince both as a player and as a character. Due to his versatility, he can be used equally well as a center-back or right-back. This is testament to the clever and provident turn FC Bayern’s transfer policy has taken under Hasan Salihamidžić in recent years.
However, if there is one clear lesson to learn from Pavard’s first season at Bayern, it probably is that, despite the odds, he has turned out to have become Bayern’s most important signing of the 19/20 season. If you limit the choice to the players, that is. Because otherwise, there would also be one Hansi Flick.