Bayern Munich’s failure to adequately replace departed stars and an over-reliance on players either past their best or not of the required standard could see the German champions fall behind both European, and domestic rivals.
The double-whammy loss of retirees Philipp Lahm and Xavi Alonso deprived the Bavarians’ of two world class performers, arguably still close to the peak of their powers. Coupled with the knowledge that both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are approaching the denouement of their respective careers, Bayern should have sought out and integrated replacements within the squad prior to their likely departure at the end of the current campaign. Instead, they opted to let a likely successor, Douglas Costa, turn his loan deal with Juventus into a more permanent arrangement.
The mercurial, if somewhat enigmatic Renato Sanches offers a glimpse of the possible future composition of the attacking element of Bayern’s Midfield, although a lack of consistency and continued lingering doubts over the Portuguese’s ability to perform at the very highest level ensures a long-term future at the Allianz Arena is far from a done deal. A loan deal last season at then English Premier League side Swansea City did Sanches’ future career few favours.
It is now obvious that the Sebastian Rudy experiment failed, although having signed on a free from 1899 Hoffenheim before being offloaded to Schalke 04 for an undisclosed fee the 28 year hardly represented a financial mistake of epic proportions. It is instead with Frenchman Kingsley Coman that Bayern hope they have found a long term successor to Ribery or Robben, although injuries and a lack of experience hardly class the Parisian as a ready-made replacement who can hit the ground running.
Much will depend on the future direction of James Rodriguez’s career. Although seemingly popular at Bayern and with a desire to make his loan move from Real Madrid a more permanent agreement, a recent lack of game time coinciding with the team’s mini slump in form suggests that head coach Niko Kovac isn’t overly convinced by the Colombian’s attributes, which can at times be conspicuous by their absence.
For all Bayern’s prestige and wealth a policy of misguided loyalty has seen the quality of their squad stagnate, with an over-reliance on Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski, the former of whom appears to have developed the yips, a la Ian Baker-Finch. Appearing to be very much yesterday’s man, Mueller can no longer consider himself to be first choice and is arguably fortunate to be ranked among the substitutes. As a back up forward and in effect third choice, Sandro Wagner has done little throughout his career at Bayern and elsewhere to warrant a place in the first team squad, flattering to deceive in a manner reminiscent of Mario Gomez.
The prolific Robert Lewandowski is perhaps showing early signs of being a talent on the wane, although a penchant for being a flat-track bully has somewhat distorted his place among the modern pantheon of world class performers. A fine player, undoubtedly, but some way short of being bracketed among the elite.
If Bayern consider themselves to be vying for the Champions League title with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus, and Paris St. Germain, they should compare the attacking riches of the aforementioned: Mane, Salah, Firmino, Sturridge. Jesus, Sane, De Bruyne, Aguero, Sterling, Silva(D). Ronaldo, Dybala, and former Bayern players Mandzukic and Costa. Last but not least, the tripartite spearhead to spread fear through all of Europe’s defences: Cavani, Mbapppe, and Neymar. That is without even mentioning the at times faltering but still irresistible Real, Atletico, and Barcelona sides. In comparison Bayern are quite frankly nowhere. A lack of adequate replacements for Lahm, Alonso, and Costa is one thing, but an absence of future-proofing the squad against the departures of Robben, Ribery and an aging triumvirate of forwards could shepherd the club into a long-stay in the footballing wilderness.
Bayern have always been rightly reluctant to blow exorbitant amounts of money on a single player, an onerous process which would not have to be undertaken had they continually invested in the squad to replace those already departed and players on the cusp of retirement. There has also been a failure to presage the waning in power of players to who it has stayed loyal for far too long. A squad heavily in need of pruning and supplementing with tried and tested quality, is the task beyond the inexperienced ken of Niko Kovac, and the budget constraints hitherto imposed from above?
Success, or otherwise, the next two transfer windows will significantly signpost the ability of the Stern des Suedens to regain a place at European football’s top table. For now at least, the club might have to be content with dining below stairs.