SADIO MANÉ TO FC BAYERN: POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES
Mané’s class as a footballer is undisputed. Nevertheless, opinions on the transfer differ at Miasanrot. Justin explains why the transfer makes sense and how Mané will help FC Bayern. Georg expresses his reservations.
By Justin Kraft (positives) and Georg Haas (negatives)
At the press conference to announce the signing of Sadio Mané, FC Bayern never tired of emphasising that they had brought a real “world star” to Säbener Straße. Regardless of how one defines “world star”, it is indisputable that they have at least acquired one of the best footballers on the planet.
Champions League winner, Premier League champion, various other trophies – when was the last time a player who has won such laurels as a key player of a top club moved to the Bundesliga virtually at his peak? Transfers like those of Xabi Alonso, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Raúl all took place towards the end of their careers. Others like those of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry were completed before the players’ peaks.
In this respect, the transfer of the 30-year-old is a real statement. With this move, Bayern with a bang underlined their ambitions to maintain a squad of the highest quality able to contend the Champions League. With the impending departures of Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry, it was important to sign a player with the experience and quality of Mané.
While there are many players at U25 level who are rightly said to have a similar development, with Mané Bayern know what they are getting – and it is unlikely that he will not be able to prove that at least until the end of his contract. In this respect, one should not put too much emphasis on age.
There is something to the claim that age is only a number. Robert Lewandowski shows how well footballers can age. The departing superstar became even better as he passed the 30 than he was before. Deservedly, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year twice in a row at the age of 32 and 33. Nevertheless, it should not be ignored that Lewandowski is the exception rather than the norm.
For most footballers, the performance levels after 30 trend in only one direction: down. Faster for some, slower for others. Even those players who still perform well after 30 generally no longer come close to the performance levels they had during their best phases. Did Jérôme Boateng still perform well from 2018 – the year he turned 30? Quite. Did he come close to the performances of “peak Boateng” from 2013-2016? No.
The example of the two biggest stars of recent times, Messi and Ronaldo, illustrate the phenomenon. Both still show world-class performances even in old age.
But their level of performance belies the fact that their performance began to decline after 30. They were simply better in their twenties. On average, in their early thirties, the years Mané will play in Munich, they both scored twelve fewer scorer points per season than in the six years previous.
The ageing process looks very similar for FC Bayern’s two legendary wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. From 30-32, they both collected an average of ten fewer scorer points than in the years before.
The question is not whether Mané will decline beyond 30. The question is when and by how much he will decline.
Georg rightly points out that in most cases things go downhill after 30. I would like to temper Georg’s assessment with two counter-arguments: Firstly, Mané is repeatedly praised for his professionalism. He is a model professional who attaches great importance to nutrition and fitness.
The fact that he has hardly ever been injured in recent years and has rarely experienced dips in form even though he has been working in the game schedule hell that is the English premier league, speaks for him. Ultimately, a player is always as good as the last impression he makes – and that has now been consistently favourable over a long period of time.
Jürgen Klopp recently stated that Mané’s performance had improved even more this year. Even if Mané were to decline now, I still see him performing consistently at a very high level and, if everything goes right, he will be able to maintain that level for another two or three years.
Secondly, the transfer fee plays a role, of course. In the end, according to various media reports, we are talking about a €32 million transfer with the fee rising to €41 million if certain performance-related bonuses take effect. In terms of salary, he is reported to earn less than Leroy Sané and Kingsley Coman, taking home a gross salary of approximately €15 million.
Of course, Mané has no resale value, but from a purely sporting point of view, he can be an important cornerstone in an offence that is threatening to run out of top players. If I were Hasan Salihamidžic, I wouldn’t have hesitated at these conditions either.
All things told, to me this is a top deal.
In his article at Spox, Justin described Mané’s signing as a prestige transfer. An appropriate assessment. Because from a sporting point of view, the Mané transfer raises more questions than it answers.
As of now, it is completely open which system FC Bayern will play with him and in which position the newcomer will be deployed.
The procedure is reminiscent of the transfer strategy denounced by Philipp Lahm in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2010. “You can’t just buy players because they are good,” the then future captain said at the time.
“For example, we got Arjen Robben because he is a very good international player. But we didn’t get him because we said: Okay, we’ll play in a 4-3-3 system in the future. We don’t have something like that: that the club develops a strategy and then everything is built on it,” Lahm specified and called for a more planned approach to conducting transfers: “Because that’s exactly how it has to be: You say, okay, we’re going to play 4-3-3 in the next few years, and then I think: Which three players do I get for that in central midfield?”
The same questions are now highly pertinent once again: Was Mané simply bought because he is good? Or what search profile does he suit? Which missing piece of the puzzle is Mané?
Unlike Noussair Mazraoui, for example, who was signed for the clearly defined vacant position of a strong offensive-minded right-back, this clarity is lacking in Mané’s transfer.
Sadio Mané brings experience and scoring ability and can play in almost all offensive positions. However, the squad is not lacking in experience. On the contrary, especially the offensive line with Lewandowski (33), Müller (32), Choupo-Moting (33), Coman, Gnabry, Sané (all 26) has extensive international experience.
One of the best offensive teams in Europe, which scored 97 league goals last season, is not lacking in goals either. Moreover, with Serge Gnabry the squad already contains a player with a very similar profile. As a winger, the German international is also more of an enforcer than a provider. And he is even more efficient than the Senegalese. For example, Serge Gnabry scored a goal every 172 minutes for FC Bayern, while Mané needed 180 minutes per goal at Liverpool FC.
In the end, he is also out of the question as a like-for-like Lewandowski replacement. Even if Mané can play in the centre, he hardly fits any profile that would have been reasonably defined for a Lewandowski successor.
Sadio Mané actually seems to have appeared on FC Bayern’s radar rather coincidentally during a casual conversation with a few player agents in the garden, as sporting director Salihamidžić hinted at in Sport Bild.
Now, the transfer that fell into his lap can nevertheless become a sporting bull’s eye. Perhaps Mané’s signing will lead Julian Nagelsmann to change his system to a flexible three-man forward line, which could give FC Bayern more stability in the medium term. But then there is still some homework waiting for the sporting director, because the current squad is not put together for a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3.
However, even if that should take place, the signing does not speak for a particularly stringent process in squad planning, such as Lahm once demanded and which FC Bayern implemented for the most part in the 2010s.
Basically, I agree with all the arguments Georg has put forward to stress the fact that this transfer was not planned in advance – although Bouna Sarr is said to have spoken to Mané. Long-prepared masterclass by Hasan Salihamidžic?
But all joking aside, there is a fair amount of coincidence involved. Would Mané have been brought in if at least one of the wingers had played an outstanding season? Or if it were not for the Lewandowski drama? Or if Serge Gnabry had long since extended his contract? The tendency is rather that it would not have come to that.
At the same time, coincidence does not have to be a bad thing. Often enough in the past it has led to necessary change at FC Bayern. Jürgen Klinsmann’s failure and the signing of Louis van Gaal were also a complete coincidence in the way the whole story went down. The signing of Arjen Robben was even a chain of several coincidental events.
Bayern are unlikely to complain about that today. There have been lucky coincidences in the past, there will be others in the future: Random transfers are an essential part of business even at the biggest clubs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they do not.
Real Madrid won the Champions League five times in the past nine years and yet I was unable to detect a coherent plan that was strategically elaborated down to the last detail in their dealings. Much of it was based on coincidence on many levels, even though Real can afford to gamble more than FC Bayern because they have a special position in Europe.
However, sometimes you just have to take a chance. Sadio Mané is a top footballer. He brings qualities that will improve the offence regardless of roles and positions. And by the way, he is a guy who seems to be very down to earth. No airs and graces, no scandals, no particularly conspicuous actions in recent years – simply one of the best footballers in the world who does not want to be the centre of attention.
But what fascinates me most about Sadio Mané as a player is his personality off the pitch. On the one hand, he plays like everyone else to earn money and have fun on the pitch, but also for his home country Senegal. He has built a hospital and a school there, supports every family there with the equivalent of € 70 a month – there are many socially committed professionals, but as a personality he stands out among the world’s best.
For FC Bayern, therefore, this is not only a stroke of luck in sporting terms, which – coincidence or not – they absolutely had to take advantage of. The marketing department will be pleased in any case – and the club as a whole anyway. The days after the announcement are the best example: the Lewandowski issue is currently being reported with a completely different sense of urgency. And yet I do not want to marginalize Georg’s point: Ultimately, the best way is probably a strategic outlook that accommodates the possibility of chance as well as possible, so that in two years’ time no one has to look back and reiterate what Lahm once said.
According to several media reports, Mané is moving to Bayern for €32 million plus add-ons of up to €9 million. There are various estimates for his salary, which is likely to be north of €15 million per season.
In terms of total costs, this puts Mané at the top of the squad, together with or just behind Lucas Hernández and Leroy Sané. Unlike Mané, however, both are only 26 years old, so the probability of a contract extension or a reasonable resale is significantly higher for those two than with Mané.
It will only be possible to assess this exactly after their time at Bayern has ended, but as things stand, there is a good chance that Mané will become the most expensive player ever in the squad on a per season basis.
Now FC Bayern is a rich club. They can afford an expensive Mané. But even rich FC Bayern have to keep a watchful eye on their finances. Oliver Kahn and Herbert Hainer never tire of emphasising the financial hardships and revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to transfermarkt.de, FC Bayern are 19th in the ranking of transfer spending over the last ten years and invest a net average of €38 million per season. FC Bayern manage prudently.
As of now, it can be assumed that Mané will remain the most expensive purchase of this summer.
The transfer therefore means, in all likelihood, not buying Christopher Nkunku this season. Not buying Moussa Diaby. Not buying Florian Wirtz.
Buying Mané means foregoing the chance of obtaining a coming superstar.
Ribéry joined FC Bayern at the age of 24. Robben, Lewandowski and Neuer were 25 when they moved to the Isar. Those were the most important transfers of the last 15 years, those were transfers that made the difference, that made Bayern the superclub it is today.
This recipe for success does not apply exclusively to FC Bayern. The other clubs that have made a splash in the Champions League over the past decade without sheikh or oligarch millions pursue a similar course of action too. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real Madrid at 24. Sergio Ramos was 19, Modric 26, and Kroos 24 when they joined the Spanish royalty.
Liverpool’s legendary attack of three? Salah joined the Reds at 25, Mané at 24, Firmino at 23. Van Dijk at 27, Alisson at 25.
You can only find a few great over-25 transfers that helped one of these clubs decisively(!).
To achieve the highest goals, FC Bayern must invest. There is no question about that. But recent football history shows that it is the investments in young, rising stars that make the biggest difference. By signing Mané, Bayern are forgoing the chance to find such a long-term difference-maker.