Quo vadis, Juan Bernat?
As silently as he arrived, he left the club. Just moments before the end of the infamous deadline day FC Bayern and Bernat have agreed to end the joint endeavour after four years. This came as little to no surprise as it was speculated on by the media for a long time.
Especially the latter half of the past season was too streaky by the Spaniard. After a truly unfortunate outing in the quarterfinals of the Champions League against Sevilla, which was prematurely ended after just 45 minutes by Jupp Heynckes, he was out of the rotation and seen as only the third option on the left flank. In the first leg of the semi-final against Real Madrid Rafinha, a trained right-back, took his role – with a similarly unfortunate outcome.
Ever too often it became clear, that Bernat had trouble with his role as a substitution player. In unexpected appearances the 25-year-old was too timid and seemed out of place. Delaying the game on offense and a weak link on defense – basically the opposite to the proven option Rafinha, whose skill-set is well defined but has a low ceiling. After all one can understand, why Heynckes rather chose the Brazilian in April.
Still, the evaluation of the Bernat era should not be so negative. Especially when David Alaba was injured for long periods of time he was a reliable backup. For vast stretches of the 2016-17 season he even outperformed the Austrian in both creativity and level of play – his personal peak under Coach Ancelotti.
At Bayern he was thrown in at the deep end to start his tenure. Bernat wasn’t given an easy introduction under the ever-challenging Guardiola. In his first year in Munich the Spaniard played 49 of 52 possible games, with 90 percent of this games as a starter. The claim, that the inexperienced then 22-year-old made crucial mistakes on the highest level at Camp Nou, rather shows the biased views of Bayern supporters than the lack of class from the left back.
Sadly, Bernat failed to raise his certainly present basics as an on-ball defender to the next level. While he is agile, good in dribblings and has a very good radius of action, the much hoped for development of these skills never happened. He remained a useful and maybe even a little overqualified backup to Alaba, instead of taking the next step and rattling on the throne of the Austrian.
However, judging Juan Bernat as a failed transfer would do him injustice and should be seen as an exaggeration. Not only was the 10 million Euro price tag rather modest on an international scale, but he was also an important piece of the Bayern team for the last few years. After all, Bernat took the field in 57 percent of the games during his four years at Bayern. Without the injuries, especially the tear of the syndesmosis ligament last fall comes to mind, this number jumps to over 70 percent.
Now the 25-year-old has set sail for Paris. But is this move the right one for all parties involved? From the players perspective this does not seem like an obvious improvement of his situation. Even though PSG got rid off one left-back in Yuri Berchiche they still have a well-proven option in Layvin Kurzawa. Not before long the 19-year-old Stanley N’Soki might turn out to be a tough challenger as well.
The only advantage for Bernat seems to be a better chance of succeeding. The way past David Alaba at Bayern was tough because of performance and prestige. Kurzawa, however, is not undisputed at PSG and did not make the French squad for the world cup. It seems like a more realistic challenge for the Spaniard. Nevertheless the thought remains, whether it would have been better for Bernat to join a little less ambitious club and be a starter on a regular basis.
Bayern’s take on this decision has to be questioned as well. Apparently, the club came to the conclusion, that Bernat’s development reached an impasse and further improvement was not on the horizon – an understandable judgement. It is honorable that the club won’t place unnecessary obstacles in the way of a dissatisfied player. But the mutual doubts about the joint future were known for months.
Still, Bayern chose not to react. While one of the big goals for the squad building this season was the reduction of personnel, the cutting of an important substitute without a backup seems like a bold decision, which could come back to haunt them. Now Rafinha is the stand-in on either side. If at one point of the season – god forbid – both Alaba and Kimmich should go down injured, one of the two positions would be left vacant. Especially now that the most obvious solution for the right back position in Sebastian Rudy was sold as well.
Therefore there is a hole in Niko Kovac’s squad. Should the outlined worst-case actually occur, the Croatian would have to either change his system – which he hasn’t tested so far – or had to settle for a compromise at the wing back position. Whether Süle, Tolisso, Goretzka or an unversed youth player would sub in, each of these solutions would cause some stomach ache.
The well-known wish for a change of teams by Juan Bernat left the bosses enough time to search for a backup without any pressure. But without any actions until the last moment, the departure of Berant came as a little surprise. Now the club is left without an alternative for the position. A situation they may have even got themselves in on purpose. A situation that they have tried to avoid since 2012, which ultimately led to the surprisingly silent signing of Bernat in the first place. Only four years later the Spaniard leaves through the back door. We say “Servus” and have to thank him for a great time!