Barren seasons and Bayern Munich probably do not go hand in hand. Defeat in the UEFA Champions League final at the Allianz arena against Chelsea ensured back-to-back seasons of nothingness. The result also ensured that the next transfer window was going to be an aggressive as well as an expensive one. Expensive it was as Bayern became the fourth highest spender in the transfer market behind leaders Paris St. Germain, Zenit St. Petersburg and Chelsea.
While looking at the club’s performance last season, it may appear that a complete overhaul was not actually needed to strengthen an already power-packed club. Although the Bavarians came second best in all three competitions last season, they still boasted of a very strong midfield and attack. Only the defense could be looked down upon which has been overtly known to the hoi polloi for some time now.
The contract of Olic was not renewed and he joined Wolfsburg. Petersen was sent on a loan spell to Werder Bremen to earn more playing time and impress the Bayern bosses; an option to buy Usami was not exercised by the management which is expected. As for Breno, his contract with the club has expired at the end of last season and well, he is presently serving his jail sentence which will run for three years and nine months to be precise for setting his rented villa on fire.
The New Arrivals
Despite any need of an overhaul, Bayern management soaked itself in the transfer-souk to acquire the services of seven new firebrands that they believe could bring back the glory days to the side. In fact, to prove a point, they started their expenditure back in February. After failing to lure then Gladbach starlet Marco Reus to join the party, Bayern signed Xherdan Shaqiri from FC Basel. That was the start of the proceedings and even before the closure of the last season, Bayern reached agreement with Dante and Claudio Pizarro. Later Mitchell Weiser, Tom Starke and Mario Mandžukić were brought on. Athletic Bilbao whizkid Javier Martinez is their latest acquisition.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Bayern had always found it hard to make do in case of an injury to ‘Robbery’. This signing could ensure a more than an able back-up plan to either of the talismanic duo. Shaqiri can even play in Kroos’ central attacking position or in the right-fullback position. The kraftwurfel aka power-cube has probably found himself at the right club based on his self-proclaimed polyvalence, since Bayern have an affinity toward fielding players out of position more often than not.
Dante – Bayern’s well exploited weakness – their defense, needed a seasoned campaigner and thus the signing of Dante. The Brazilian had a memorable season with the Foals and could very well become the lynchpin in the heart of Bayern’s defense. This would mean that Boateng may not play in the position he was deployed in last season. Heck, with Martinez’s signature, who can as well play as a center-half, Boateng may have to find his place on the bench, alongside van Buyten if Lahm is not shifted to the left side of defense.
Tom Starke – Starke had a good season with Hoffenheim, and with the retirement of Hans-Jörg Butt, Bayern wanted an experienced campaigner to deputize for Manuel Neuer. Failure of their last two academy products to rise to the occasion, Kraft and Rensing, could have forced them to go for Starke.
Mitchell Weiser – The Koln starlet had a peach of a tournament in the U-17 World Cup with the national team. The ubiquity of Weiser on the right flank makes him an indispensable prospect in the making. The rookie has already found his place in Koln’s history book as he became their youngest representative in Bundesliga when he was fielded against Leverkusen in February. But since he can play in positions generally fixed for the likes of Robben or Müller in attack and Lahm in defense, he will have to be patient with the chances coming his way.
Claudio Pizarro – In his second stint with the Bavarian club, Pizarro brings with him tons of experience. Last season Bayern struggled in the games when they missed Gomez through injury. Pizarro, who has scored a hundred goals with Bayern, had a good season with Bremen in the last term when he netted 18 times in 29 games and looks the safest bet to play second fiddle to Gomez.
Mario Mandžukić – Mario number two is dynamic unlike Mario number one and often drifts in and out to create opportunities for team-mates. The Croat had struck the back of the net four times during the pre-season and has already scored in back-to-back matches in this season’s Bundesliga. His Bundesliga experience could have been the reason why Bayern snapped him up instead of signing Olivier Giroud. All in all looks like the coup de maître for Bayern this season. Mandžukić is the perfect bait to force the erstwhile Super Mario to make every single chance count.
Javi Martinez – Bayern’s as well as Bundesliga’s costliest deal ever. Even though Bayern surmounted the typical Spanish obstinacy surrounding the financial aspect (read evaluation of the player) of the deal, the question remains – where to fit him in. Renowned for his vision in picking out attackers, breaking down opposition attacks, Martinez has it all to emulate and even surpass Basti’s abilities on the pitch. He can also play in the center of defense.
Three other players have been promoted to the senior side as back-ups.
Lukas Raeder – The former Schalke U-19 youth prodigy was snapped up by Bayern for the reserves team. Already heralded as Neuer minor, the tall custodian has impressed one and all. The promotion of Raeder to the senior side did not come as a surprise. But it looks likely that with Neuer and Starke on hand, Raeder will still have to wait for his turn for a considerable time.
Emre Can – Emre Can, the much talked about youth prodigy from Bayern’s academy, led the U-17 German team to win silver in European Championships and bronze in World Cup. This right-footed midfielder has similar traits to those of Schweinsteiger, in the role of a deep-lying playmaker but is flexible enough in roaming forward to aid the attack. Can has already featured in the DFL-Supercup final in the left-back position. According to national youth team coach Steffen Freund,
“Emre is the most complete player I’ve ever seen in my career, and I’ve seen a lot. He has the stuff to make it to the top.”
Patrick Weihrauch – The former 1860 Munich attacker was playing with the Bayern U-19 team till last season. The forward can play in a traditional number 9’s role, but can also be used on the wings as well as in the hole as a feeder to the striker. He does not boast of a good scoring record with the junior side and yet earning a professional contract without even playing a minute in the reserves team, infers that the management thinks highly of Weihrauch’s ability. He’s likely to feature more with the reserves teams though, with already three experience attackers in the side.
Success and Man Management – Heynckes Has A Tough Job Ahead
The acquisitions have made certain positions in the team very competitive. Players like Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller will feel the heat for sure. It would be interesting to see if this pressure of competition yields the desired result of getting the best out of the players. However, Luiz Gustavo and Toni Kroos, the hors concours of last season, may find themselves being unfairly dragged into this melee of hyper-competitiveness.
Especially for Gustavo who’s playing time would surely get curtailed with the arrival of Martinez. Gustavo was brilliant last season in breaking down opposition defense a la van Bommel but may have to make do with a sub-role from this season onwards. The only good thing for him could be the fact that in a long season where Bayern will end up eventually playing around 50 games, he’ll surely get his chances, especially with Schweinsteiger’s growing reputation in emulating van Persie in the treatment table.
Fascination to make footballers play out of their positions appears to be somewhat inherent with Bayern coaches. Louis van Gaal did that with Badstuber, Tymoschchuk and Pranjic by fielding them in positions where Bayern could have done with a new signing. Heynckes has been no stranger to the enlightened path. Alaba, who is more comfortable on the other half of the pitch, was molded into play a defensive role.
Alaba showed great adaptability as he successfully managed to keep Contento out of contention. But what is wrong in letting an expert handle the defensive duties, especially when Bayern’s defense is quite culpable? Youngster Can, who is more comfortable in a holding role or a box-to-box role as a midfielder, has already been played as a left-back in the DFL-Supercup final against Dortmund. New signing Dante had a good last season, but is he the correct choice to lead the Bayern defense? At least ex-Bayern footballer Jurgen Kohler has his reservations,
“I find Bayern’s situation in defence very interesting, the two centre-back positions in particular. This is not their best area in my opinion. Dante is certainly not a bad player, but Bayern are aiming high in Europe, and it remains to be seen whether he has the quality to succeed at the highest level.”
Maintaining the dressing room is another aspect that Heynckes will have to be aware of. Newbie Weiser has already put forth his displeasure of sitting out the league games, albeit benignly,
“Of course I would like to play. But with a squad such as ours, you have to expect, as a young player, that you won’t always be in the squad. It is a shame, but I can accept it.”
Imagine what could go through the minds of the Robbens and Riberys if they are asked to warm the bench to let others have a go.
Shaqiri was a first team regular with FC Basel. Here he’ll have to wait for his turn. Müller is already yo-yo-ing in the side in Robben’s and Kroos’ positions. If Gomez gets fit, he’ll surely start. And if he keeps performing, which he generally does, in-form Mandžukić will be warming the bench. Martinez and Schweinsteiger are both good at creating opportunities from deep positions and none of them are the destroyer type. It will be interesting to see if Schweinsteiger takes up Kroos’s advanced role at times to make way for Martinez and Gustavo to complement each other in the double pivot.
All in all, too many options in hand, a variety of attributes which could give a more dynamics to the line-up (Heynckes can play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or even any variation of 4-4-2 with this squad) and if not used properly, may lead to a bunch of unhappy lots due to lack of opportunity. Heynckes now has one additional duty apart from bringing success to the club; to make intelligent use of the squad to keep dressing room doldrums in check. Bayern management can only pray that this time Mia San Mia does not get derailed to yet another Mea Culpa.