MSR awards season 20/21: players out on loan of the season

Michael Separator June 11, 2021

Top (successful loan or fulfilled promise)

Lars Lukas Mai – The consistent performer

The young, highly talented center-back was a regular at Darmstadt 98 under Markus Anfang in the 2. Bundesliga right from the start. Although he needed some time to get used to the demands of the 2. Liga at first, he settled in relatively quickly and was particularly convincing in the second half of the season. Especially his ability to intercept opposing attacks and his passing game stood out. In fact, the high quality of his passing game has been an outstanding characteristic of Mai’s skill set since his youth. The sharpness and precision of his passing helped him show some remarkable performances especially at Germany’s U17 level and thus made him known to a wider audience. Physically, too, he did well in this intense league and rarely let his young age show. Nevertheless, I still see three areas for improvement: firstly, there is his timing during tackling. This is still a little off at times and needs to become more precise. Secondly, there is Mai’s heading. He is a tall center-back and in my opinion should be able to assert himself more in aerial duels. The third and probably biggest shortcoming is his speed and agility. Against small and agile players, Mai keeps having difficulties. At least the first two points could probably be rectified through playing practice and good coaching. Whether he will be able to significantly improve his speed and agility, however, I am not so sure.

All in all, it was a good season for the young defender, in which he was consistently given many minutes and was able to gain a lot of experience. It was his first stop away from of FC Bayern and for that the talent did really well. Due to his well-balanced skill set, I can also imagine Mai playing at a club that primarily builds on a back three. Another loan spell in the 2. Bundesliga at one of the ambitious clubs would probably be a good idea. If we look at the playing style of some clubs, I feel a club like Holstein Kiel would be an ideal place for him to further his development. Again, though, it will all come down to playing time, playing time, playing time.

Chris Richards – the surprise

Chris Richards too was arguably one of the more successful FC Bayern players out on loan last season. He joined TSG Hoffenheim on loan in the winter, where he was reunited with his previous Bayern reserves coach Sebastian Hoeneß. The US-American immediately got frequent game time in the first team and mostly performed well in the three-man backline.

Richards celebrated his Bundesliga debut in the 19/20 season on matchday 33 against SC Freiburg, still playing for FC Bayern. He was also part of the first-team squad at the beginning of last season and was part of the starting eleven against Hertha BSC as a right-back on matchday 3. He made an assist in a game in which Lewandowski scored four goals. Then Benjamin Pavard returned and Richards was relegated to the bench or had to play with the Bayern reserves. In his few appearances, the defender nevertheless showed that he could compete at the Bundesliga level. At Hoffenheim, several central defenders were injured and Hoeneß needed reinforcements in defense. Therefore, at the beginning of February both clubs agreed on a loan deal until the end of the season and Chris Richards found himself straight in the starting eleven at Hoffenheim. Although he had to drop out the following weekend against Dortmund with an injury, Richards afterwards started in every game until the end of April and performed so well that Alexander Rosen contacted the FC Bayern officials about a permanent transfer according to reports by Sport1. Unfortunately, on matchday 31 the Bayern loanee injured his thigh and was out for the remaining three league games.

At Hoffenheim, Chris Richards was defensively stable and also actively participated in his team’s pressing as a wing-back. He stood his ground in one-on-one duels against many types of players and has notably improved his tackling skills. Richards was rarely impatient or unnecessarily aggressive without the ball. With growing confidence his passing game also steadily improved. However, there is still room for improvement. During set pieces, he has a tendency to lose sight of the player he has to mark. He also still needs to improve his ability to cover critical spaces in the defensive third when the opposing left-back pushes up high. The deficits in covering, however, may also be due to the unaccustomed system for him, as Richards previously mostly operated in a back four.

Due to the great interest in a permanent contract or an extension of the loan, Chris Richards’ stay at TSG Hoffenheim seems a realistic prospect. It is also possible that the defender will return to FC Bayern and become a permanent part of the first team squad under new coach Julian Nagelsmann, who, like Hoeneß, prefers a back three. The defender will certainly fight for his chance in Munich if the club want him back. If not, he would probably have the opportunity to stay at Hoffenheim, where he would probably have a good chance of getting plenty of playing time.

Question marks (unclear or verdict unsure)

Joshua Zirkzee – The unlucky one

In the winter, the talented striker left Bayern on loan to join Parma Calcio in Italy. The loan contract lasted until the summer of 2021 and included a €15 million option to buy. However, Zirkzee was of little help to the club in their relegation battle. 

The Netherlands U21 international caught the eye of the first team two seasons ago when he scored Bayern’s opening goal against Freiburg in stoppage time just moments after coming on as a substitute. In the following match against Wolfsburg, he also scored the all important winner just before the end of the game. Zirkzee needed just under eight minutes of playing time to score both goals. At the end of February, Robert Lewandowski injured himself and thus indirectly helped Zirkzee make his starting eleven debut against TSG Hoffenheim. He showed a good game and crowned his performance with a goal. In total, the striker played 269 minutes for Bayern in the Bundesliga and scored four goals.

These performances, as well as those for the Bayern reserves, aroused the interest of such Bundesliga clubs as 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt to sign him on a loan deal. However, in the end the player stayed at Bayern and played 91 minutes in the Bundesliga until the winter break. This called Parma Calcio onto the scene, who were in penultimate place in the Serie A table at the time and desperately needed a fresh impetus in attack. The two clubs agreed on a loan deal but unfortunately the young Dutchman was unable to assert himself in the relegation battle at his new club, losing out to Andreas Cornelius and veteran Graziano Pellé in the contest for game time. He made four substitute appearances (108 minutes in total) until March without scoring a goal and had to take several weeks off in between due to lumbago. Unfortunately, bad luck continued to court him and Zirkzee suffered a ligament injury in training in mid-March, ruling him out for the remainder of the season. Parma Calcio were ultimately relegated from Serie A. Due to the club’s stressed finances and the expensive option to buy, a permanent contract for the Dutchman at Parma is virtually out of the question. 

The talented striker will therefore most likely return to FC Bayern where at first he will have to fully recover from his injury. Then it is time for those in charge to sit down with Zirkzee and talk about his future. He is a fast, dynamic and big striker who could be a help for some Bundesliga clubs. There was also talk of a loan to Feyenoord Rotterdam last season. Joshua Zirkzee is only 20 years old and needs constant playing time, which at his age is indispensable for developing as a footballer. He could probably learn a lot from someone like Robert Lewandowski in training, but because the Polish international normally plays nearly every minute for his team, Zirkzee would spend most of his time on the bench again. 

Mickaël Cuisance – The (un)expected rollercoaster

After a mixed year at FC Bayern, Cuisance was let go to Olympique Marseille on loan. He was never really able to show his undoubted potential at Bayern and so tried his luck at a Champions League club in his native France. His sometimes questionable attitude and his lack of consistency, however, became the player’s major stumbling blocks in France as well.

Cuisance joined Borussia Mönchengladbach from AS Nancy in 2017 and immediately impressed with his skill in beating the press and his creativity on the ball. He was voted Gladbach player of the season by the fans in his first season. In the following season, however, the former French youth international only played 268 minutes in the Bundesliga. As a result, Cuisance pushed for a move away in questionable fashion after the 2018/2019 season. In the end, he ended up at the German record champions because his skills, despite all the concerns, were judged to outweigh the risks. In a squad that at the time had players such as Thiago, Kimmich and Goretzka in midfield, Cuisance was aware that he would get little game time but could learn a lot in training from those players. In an interview with “Eurosport”, the young Frenchman said: “I came to observe. When my time comes, I will be ready and show my qualities. Everything has its time.” After a year on the bench, FC Bayern loaned the midfielder out to Olympique Marseille including an option to buy of up to €18 million. Before this deal was made, Cuisance had been on the verge of joining Leeds United for a transfer fee of €20 million but the transfer fell through at the eleventh hour for a failed medical. Under Villas-Boas in Marseille, he was initially able to shine with good performances, but his attitude problems soon came to the fore again and Cuisance found himself on the bench more and more often. When Villas-Boas was sacked and Jorge Sampaoli became the new coach at the beginning of March, Cuisance thought it had finally “clicked” and expressed his desire to stay at Olympique. Barely six weeks later, he was part of a group of players banned from first-team training. It seems highly unlikely that Marseille will exercise the option to buy. 

We would wish for Cuisance to be able to concentrate on working on the pitch and that things really “click”. His strong first season for Gladbach was not a fluke and he also stood out in youth tournaments with France due to his great technique and instinctive style of play. One can only speculate how things will go for him after three comparatively poor years in a row. Will Julian Nagelsmann manage to raise Cuisance’s game to its inherent potential or is the path mapped out towards an eventual parting of the ways? A lot will depend on the player himself. If he falls back into his old habits, a permanent departure by 2022 at the latest would not surprise me. 

Flop (failed or unfulfilled promise)

Adrian Fein – The squad filler

After a good year on loan at Hamburger SV, Fein was supposed to take the next step. This led him to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where Roger Schmidt became coach at the start of the season before last. On paper, the move to PSV seemed like a good match for Fein in terms of the league’s style of football, as the Eredivisie emphasizes technically adept and pass-happy midfielders. Unfortunately, however, the calculation did not work out for Adrian Fein. 

He was rarely used in the league (404 minutes) and only made two appearances in the Europa League. In the cup, he made a 25-minute long appearance in the 2nd round as well as coming on as a substitute in the round of 16 for just under 12 minutes. His last appearance came at the beginning of May, when he played 20 minutes against Willem II. Fein did not manage to get past newcomer Ibrahim Sangaré and homegrown Pablo Rosario for a longer spell at any time of the season. 

Where does Fein go from here after a lost year? I still think he is a talented midfielder who could still have a solid Bundesliga career. I assume that there will be another loan and it should be chosen carefully by both parties. Fein only turned 22 in March, so all doors are still open to him, but he is at an age where playing practice is extremely important for his development. A loan to an ambitious team from the 2. Bundesliga seems sensible as he would have a much better chance of getting plenty of game time there.

Christian Früchtl – the involuntary onlooker

Finally, let us turn our attention to Germany’s second division for one last time with Christian Früchtl at Nuremberg. Unfortunately, however, Früchtl’s season is quickly outlined. 

With Robert Klauß, a young, fresh and very tactical coach took over at Nuremberg last summer. Quickly, he was looking for a strong competitor for the experienced but somewhat declining Christian Mathenia. The two Bavarian clubs soon agreed on a loan deal for Früchtl until the end of the season and the goalkeeper received some advance praise from Nürnberg’s sporting director Dieter Hecking: “Christian is the most talented and best German goalkeeper in his age group.” So he arrived at the club with high hopes. But at the end of pre-season preparations it became clear that, against all odds, the veteran Mathenia had won the race for the first place in goal. Thus began a season to forget for Christian Früchtl, who did not appear in a single competitive match. The loan went very badly and it is beyond doubt that all three parties had imagined the arrangement to work out completely differently. In favor of joining Nuremberg the goalkeeper even turned down offers where he could have played internationally, including a guarantee of being the number one goalkeeper according to his agent speaking to “Goal”. 

It is difficult to say what will happen to Früchtl now. If Nübel is going to leave on loan, as keeps being speculated by the media, he could move up the goalkeeping ladder at Bayern and join the first team squad. However, here too he is unlikely to get many minutes on the pitch. Another spell out on loan at a club where he is guaranteed to be the number one between the posts would make sense. At 21, Christian Früchtl is of course still very young for a goalkeeper, but playing time is nevertheless the be-all and end-all for further development.

And the winner is…

Lars Lukas Mai. While Chris Richards has no doubt performed well at a higher level, he only played just under 10 games over the full distance in the German top flight (1,035 minutes in total). “Lasse” Mai played almost 30 games for the full 90 minutes (2,470 minutes) in the 2. Bundesliga and is, in my opinion, the deserved winner of this award. The U21 international got better and better as the season progressed and was an important part of a strong second half for the Lilies.


FC Bayern’s numerous loan players had very mixed seasons. In most cases, all parties surely had different hopes for what the respective loans should bring. Only in the cases of Lars Lukas Mai and Chris Richards one can unreservedly speak of successful loans. Zirkzee also had a lot of bad luck with injuries and was therefore unable to prove himself and showcase his talent.

Of course it is always difficult to make any predictions for the next season, but I can well imagine that most of the players on this list will continue their fate as loan players at a perhaps more carefully chosen club next time. However, it is of course never that simple. You can never know whether the player will stay fit or there will be a change of coach whose plans no longer include the Bayern loanee. Only about Mickaël Cuisance I have doubts as to whether he has really changed his attitude, as he professes he has done. The young Frenchman certainly has the talent. Be that as it may, it will continue to be exciting to follow the paths of the talents from the FC Bayern academy in German and European football.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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