Winter time at FC Bayern: Three prudent decisions
It is not easy staying on top of the transfer market nowadays. Talents have to be spotted and nurtured early, and they have to be integrated into the team. What are the weak spots in the squad? Can we sign a player to address them immediately? Or could a new signing impede the progress of one of the up-and-coming talents from our own ranks?
All these factors and a lot more need to be considered by the club when it builds the squad for the future. At Bayern, this process has led to a good deal of controversy among fans and interested observers of late.
As early as last summer’s pre-season a lot of fans were displeased. Why? Because according to them, not all the deficiencies in the squad they had made out before the season were appropriately remedied in the transfer window. Joshua Kimmich, for example, kept being switched back and forth between midfield and right-back. If Serge Gnabry or Kingsley Coman are not in form, creativity on the wings takes a serious dive. In view of Bayern’s recent decisions, some things now appear in a somewhat different light.
Adrian Fein, currently on loan to Hamburger SV, has extended his contract with Bayern to June, 2023. Playing in the second division this season, the defensive midfielder has stood out as a playmaker who is able to skilfully set his team’s pace and provide balance between offense and defense. So he is a type of player who could follow in the footsteps of Thiago and Kimmich at Bayern in the long run.
According to several media reports, Fein will get a chance to establish himself in the first team squad come next summer. Then, at the end of pre-season, the reports say that there will be a decision as to whether he will be loaned out for another season or stay with Bayern’s first team squad.
These developments cast last summer’s decision not to sign Marc Roca, which was met with a widespread shaking of the heads at the time, in a more positive light retrospectively. Bayern’s management obviously has trust in the development of Fein and hopes that he can be an improvement to Bayern’s squad in due time. Whether he will have his breakthrough in the summer of 2020 or the year thereafter, if Bayern had no trust in his abilities, they would already have become active in his position on the transfer market. So everything is Fein!
Another contentious issue having emerged in the last few days was Bayern’s decisions to sign Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nübel next summer on a free transfer, according to Sport Bild. This raised concerns by some people who thought that the transfer would impede the progress of Christian Früchtl, that Nübel was not all that good, and that the move would come too soon for him.
With respect to Früchtl it has to be said that his development so far has not necessarily indicated that he is another Manuel Neuer in the making. He has talent, but a loan move away from Bayern seems to be the right choice for him to further his development. Moreover, the signing of Nübel does not necessarily preclude Früchtl to enjoy a career at Bayern long-term. Having two alternatives to choose from is always better than one.
Nübel himself might have been susceptible to the odd mistake in recent weeks, but his talent is beyond questioning among people who have been closely following his progress at Schalke over the last years. If he were to join Bayern, he undoubtedly would have to take the next steps in his development. A possible scenario could look like this: He gets invaluable game time at a top club at a predetermined amount, but learns and plays behind Manuel Neuer for the majority of the season, similarly to how Barcelona proceeded with Marc-André ter Stegen.
One thing is certain: If Bayern did in fact make the decision to sign Nübel, this would not have happened without the knowledge and consent of Manuel Neuer. His agreement to the project is indispensable. If Neuer were prepared to share his time in goal in principle, there will be a way found for how to integrate Nübel so that all parties are content. He has immense potential. The move to Bayern would only come too early if he were not able to realize it.
Früchtl and Nübel – Bayern seemingly already have two alternatives in hand for the place in goal. A clear sign of a prudent long-term planning. The risk for the club? None. So if the whole scenario comes about as reported, the club could rightfully pride itself on its exploits.
Bayern’s third decision indicating a certain degree of strategic foresight was to extend Flick’s time as interim head coach until the end of the season. It had already been a very astute decision to hire him as Niko Kovač’s assistant coach last summer in the first place. This enabled two realistic scenarios: Either Kovač would manage to get Bayern back on track with the help of Flick’s input or there was an alternative immediately available for him should he fail to do so.
The latter happened, Flick took over and got a chance to prove himself straight away. He did encounter problems, not everything went smoothly, but his performance justified the extension of his stay for the second half of the season as well. FC Bayern’s press release on the matter shows that the club has learned its lessons from the summer of 2018. Flick is not merely a prolonged stopgap, he is built up as a viable alternative for becoming permanent head coach in the summer.
This implies that a decision pro Flick long-term would by no means be the perpetual continuation of a makeshift arrangement. At the same time, the prospect also gives Flick an incumbency advantage. If another coach wants his job, he has to make a very strong case for himself.
However, the situation is not without risks. There is still a great deal of rebuilding left to do for Flick and he has to prove that he is equal to the task. Considering the planning horizon for hiring a new coach, Bayern’s management needs to come to a conclusion around February or March whether Flick is the right man for the future. Should they not be 100% convinced of Flick by then, they need to find alternatives and open negotiations as quickly as possible to avoid the repetition of a situation like 2018, where they held out too long and ended up with a third choice candidate.
And yet, many of Bayern’s moves since the departure of Niko Kovač have displayed forethought and a proper sense for strategic planning, even if there is the slight caveat that this impression could be completely destroyed by what happens in the remainder of the season till summer. Overall, however, provided Nübel’s transfer happens as expected, Bayern has made three smart decisions. Decisions that also put a different light on some of the apparent mistakes of the past. Because where would the time and space be for talents to flourish and prove themselves if the squad were chock full of stars? Now there is a half season time to close the gaps that are there.