What is the Plan?
The first of those comments came at a press conference in which Hansi Flick claimed that this year’s squad was not as good as the previous year’s. The second was an interview by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge where he discussed the struggles brought on by the pandemic and impact it has had on club finances.
These two statements have brought attention to what will be a very difficult summer. The football world has been turned on its head over the past year as the coronavirus pandemic shut down life as we knew it. Unsurprisingly, football has been no different and those effects are about to play a serious role in how every club will proceed this summer.
That is the most obvious question anyone reading this is likely to be asking themselves. It’s a good question that I’m not convinced even management has an answer to at the moment. I’m sure they have some ideas but they’re going to have to be flexible and adjust based on how things actually proceed this summer.
Among the potential problems facing the club after the season are the coaching position, contract extensions, new signings and finding buyers for current players. While not completely unusual, these things are usually hard enough to consider even in the best of times, but in light of Rummenigge’s warnings, we can expect the pandemic to have a massive impact on an already difficult job.
The first and most recent addition to their problems is whether Flick will even be around for next season. With Joachim Löw set to step away from the German National Team following this summer’s Euros, speculation is ripe that Hansi Flick is the first option to take over that job and that Flick himself has interest in it.
If that turns out to be true, then Bayern will be in the market for another coach and it’s very likely that Julian Nagelsmann and Erik ten Hag will be the first two names tossed around. Whether Bayern can pry Nagelsmann away from RB Leipzig is a very legitimate question that many feel is likely to result in the negative, but he will still likely be the first option in this scenario. Erik ten Hag on the other hand seems like the choice with the highest probability of succeeding and being a reality.
Importantly though, figuring out who will be managing the team, whether it’s Flick, Nagelsmann, ten Hag or someone else, will likely be the first domino that needs to fall. Sure, some activity in the transfer market will have very little to do with who is managing. Dayot Upamecano is a perfect example of that as he fills a need and should fit into any system or coaching style that is ultimately brought in. However, the biggest place Bayern will need to upgrade this offseason is depth and that will likely require far more input from whoever is going to be coaching next fall.
Getting back to the statement mentioned earlier by Flick, however, there is both truth and fallacy in what he said but it is certainly more complicated than simply stating that last year’s squad was better than this year’s. The results last year speak for themselves. So in terms of success, that team was clearly better. They won every trophy possible and will go down as one of the greatest teams in Bayern history.
They also played in a weird season where a lot of the potential deficiencies were offset by the random schedule breaks caused by the pandemic. Both Süle and Tolisso missed nearly the entire season but apart from that, only Thiago and Pavard missed any significant time during key phases. Notably, those breaks also allowed players who might have otherwise missed time, Lewandowski for instance, to recover and be available for the entire season. The fact that Bayern in large part only had to play once a week for the rest of the season also allowed for the players to stay fresh and not necessitate much, if any, rotation. In retrospect, this was a very good thing because once you got past the starting 11, things really did start to deteriorate very quickly.
This season they don’t have that luxury, and while I would actually argue this team is in fact both a little deeper than last year’s and has better individual quality overall, they still do not have the strength in depth needed when injuries start to hit, especially in certain positions.
Looking back, the key departures from last year’s side were Perišić, Coutinho and Thiago. Perišić was replaced by both Leroy Sané and Douglas Costa. Surely no one is going to argue that is a downgrade. Coutinho ultimately ended up being directly replaced by Musiala. While Musiala is not quite yet at the level of Coutinho, it’s hard to call it a huge downgrade, especially when you factor in that a lot of Coutinho’s minutes are also being made up by Sané.
We also added in a few backups in Bouna Sarr (yes I know this one’s debatable) and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Having a backup for Lewandowski at the very least has already proved to be useful, and despite some knocks on him early, Choupo-Moting played reasonably well in their quarterfinal matchup with PSG. When you’re replacing the best striker in the world in some of the most important games of the season, I think the best you can hope for is that he is not the reason you lose. Choupo-Moting was certainly not the reason Bayern lost.
That leaves us with the most glaring hole, Thiago. Marc Roca was brought in as the “replacement” for Thiago. This was never going to be a comparable replacement, but the fact that Hansi Flick seems to have zero trust in the Spaniard and has in essence refused to play him has made this loss even worse. Salihamidžić’s plan clearly was that a combination of Roca and a healthy Tolisso would provide the needed cover in midfield when Kimmich and/or Goretzka were unavailable. The reality is that Tolisso even before his injury looked poor and Roca was never really given a chance. David Alaba then became plan B when either of the two midfielders were missing.
This in itself is a huge issue as Alaba’s transfer saga became more and more tenuous and ended up resulting in his announced intention to leave the club at the end of the season. The previously mentioned Upamecano was almost immediately announced as his replacement but that hardly addresses all of the issues that will be caused by not only Alaba’s impending departure but the other open questions going in the summer.
The most obvious question that needs to be answered is who will be in the defense next season. There are some obvious answers: Süle, Hernandez, Upamecano, Davies, Pavard and Nianzou. However, we know that both Boateng and Martinez are on their way out as well and there is plenty of speculation that Sarr may follow suit, assuming they can find any takers. There’s even been rumors of Süle possibly leaving. That leaves a lot of holes.
Maybe Chris Richards comes back into the fold. Maybe another youth player comes in or loanee returns to fill a spot. But even if that is the case, there are some significant problems that need to be addressed. In losing Alaba, Boateng and Martinez in the defensive line, Bayern are losing pretty much every leader within that unit. Maybe a Süle or Hernandez or Upamecano steps into that role to some degree, but there is no question that the loss of Alaba and Boateng especially is a huge blow to the leadership within the team and especially the defense.
That being said, it would seem wise to try to find a defender or two that might be a bit longer in the tooth to provide some leadership in the squad, even if it’s someone in the ilk of a defensive Choupo-Moting. Boateng seemed like the perfect option to fill that role as he’s already established. He’s been a solid option now for two seasons and it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have received some game time next season as well. Now they will have to try to find that person from the outside which could prove tricky.
Additionally there is the issue of depth at both full back positions. With Alaba leaving, Hernandez will be relied upon to play as a center back primarily. While he could fill in at left back in an emergency, especially if all of the center backs are healthy, he should not be depended upon to be the second option. On the other side, Sarr could potentially be on his way out as well, meaning that both full back positions really could use some quality. On the right, many might even argue they should look for a potential starter given Pavard’s dip in form this season and that he could play both centrally and on the right. Regardless of what they ultimately decide to do, they have a lot of holes to fill in an area that is already problematic.
Then there’s those previously mentioned midfield problems. The loss of Thiago this season has been huge. Any time that either Kimmich or Goretzka has missed time, the midfield has been a mess culminating in near disaster during the period that Kimmich was out. That simply can’t happen again. Yes, it is likely impossible to completely replace Kimmich if he is missing, but the results cannot be as catastrophic as they were this season when Bayern was practically forced to play with no midfield at all.
With Alaba on his way out, Tolisso’s future up in the air (both because of injuries and form) and Roca on the outside looking in, there are no apparent options for Bayern after Kimmich and Goretzka next season. Bayern must find at least one viable player to fill in for those two this summer. They can maybe hope that one of Tolisso or Roca turn things around. It is certainly possible, but they would be naive to head into next season without another viable starter to fill in at the six.
Further up the pitch, there are less apparent issues. It seems as though Choupo-Moting will likely return next season, which provides some cover for several positions. There will also likely be plenty of depth on the wings. Finally, I think we all hope and expect Jamal Musiala to take a few more steps forward and become a bit of a supersub for both Müller and the wings.
Now let’s return to Rummenigge’s quote and the potential ramifications of it. The final sentence of the following statement is what really stands out.
“We need to rely on players & agents understanding the situation. The football industry and the whole world have been damaged by COVID-19. I’m curious to see if there’ll be one club that can break even this season.”Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Athletic
While this comment was in relation to extending Kimmich, Coman and Goretzka, I think we can easily connect this to the upcoming transfer market as well given the scope of what he is talking about here.
Rummenigge is issuing a warning shot to the players, their agents/managers and to the footballing world as a whole. Things are not ok for clubs financially. It will take years for them to recover. No doubt there’s a bit of grandstanding here as well but unquestionably his words contain truth, and any thoughts of building “super teams” at the moment are nothing but fantasy.
Bayern, and every other club in the world, have taken massive hits to their revenue streams. Money is not flowing the way it used to in any segment of life on earth and that may be even more true for professional sports.
The financial impacts of COVID-19 are going to affect the entirety of the upcoming transfer market from how much players cost to how much money teams are willing to spend to how much debt they might have to take on as well as any other aspect you can imagine. Rummenigge is trying to prepare everyone, including players, their families, coaches, agents, managers, staff, media, fans…etc. for what is likely to be a difficult summer in terms of spending.
Some teams will throw caution to the wind assuming they will make it up later. Others are so far in debt that they will have no choice but to sell and try to reduce their losses. Then there’s Bayern who should be in prime position to take advantage of a potentially bearish market. They have no significant debt to speak of. They have built up their cash reserves to world highs. They won the Champions League which should have helped to mitigate some of those losses up to this point. They have been fiscally responsible in every meaningful way.
However, that’s also likely to be the barrier to any potential spending spree. They simply do not have the risk appetite required to take full advantage of a buyer’s market. Rummenigge’s statement says it all. They are not willing to go into the red or even too far into their cash reserves to make big splashes this coming summer. It’s just not in their nature. Bayern is known to be
thrifty cheap tough negotiators and they are already drawing a line in the sand and telling any potential suitors that they are not going to spend like some might have expected in years past.
The other side of this argument however is that the money will start to flow again. It is not unreasonable to expect fans to be back in stadiums by the start of next season. It also doesn’t feel ridiculous to expect those stadiums to be full by the end of next season. That being the case, a team with vision and capability would take advantage of their current situation if it was at all viable, which certainly seems to be the case for Bayern.
Essentially, this all leaves us with two opposing forces for clubs to wrestle with. On the one hand, there is the need to be sensible, responsible and cautious given the massive financial impact of COVID-19. On the other, there is the potential to find a few bargains in what will likely be a depressed transfer market. Crucially, they will have to strike a balance between the two while weighing the potential for significant economic recovery later in the year as the pandemic recedes.
What this ultimately means in terms of the coming transfer market is anyone’s guess. Based on the rumor mill, you have to believe the likes of Erling Haaland will be on the move. That is not going to be cheap, even in a more conservative market. The team most often mentioned around his name is Barcelona who are already in a massive amount of debt. If they do make that move, will they be able to spend money elsewhere?
The same goes for all the other big clubs in Europe. I fully expect that some big names are going to move to some big clubs, but the real question is what happens with the next tier of players? Will the market be a lot less for those players that are just a cut below world class? Will the big clubs simply be unable to afford to spend hundreds of millions of euros on those players transfers? Will smaller clubs be forced to sell players just to stay afloat? If so a club like Bayern might actually luck into taking advantage of their situation. If however teams are able to and willing to gamble on things coming back in a big way next season, that opportunity might pass them by altogether.
Ultimately, Bayern may need to push themselves out of their financial comfort zone a bit this summer. They have been too thin or bordering on it for at least two consecutive seasons. This has been exacerbated by the fact that a few of the players they actually brought in either weren’t good enough or the coach simply didn’t trust enough to use. Bayern cannot go into another season like that. The Board, Brazzo and whoever their coach is next season all need to be on the same page and work together to fill out an entire squad.
That plan should certainly include some youth players. Investment in the youth system is a good and worthwhile goal. That by necessity means some players should and need to be promoted to the first team thereby giving them an opportunity. However, that cannot, and should not, be the answer at multiple positions as it has been at times this season and last. If you are a club the size of Bayern and have the goals that Bayern have, you need to have viable options, with experience, as backups at nearly every position. While I’m certainly not expecting them to have a squad of 25 outfield players, there has to be more balance than there has been in the last few seasons.
Brazzo therefore has his work cut out for him. Will he be able to bring in the type of quality players that this squad needs in order to be competitive on all fronts? Will the Board be willing to supply him with the funds necessary to do so? Will the situation around Hansi Flick play a role in how Bayern proceed this summer? When will that be decided? There are so many variables in how this can all play out and none of them make things easier.
So for not the first time in recent years, there will be more questions than answers heading into the summer. One thing is for sure, a lot of new faces are going to be around the Säbener Strasse come next fall. All in all, Bayern have done a decent job in the past of finding creative ways to transition and this coming summer will be another huge challenge for them to overcome.