Note that "most indispendable" is not the same as "best." Indispensable means that we absolutely cannot afford to get rid of them. What we're looking for, in particular, is the players that are talented, that are versatile, that are young, that stay healthy, and that generally are necessary for the continued excellence of the team - now and over the next decade. Some ground rules (Americans may recognize the format as loosely based upon Simmons' NBA trade value column):
- Age is important. If player A is a tiny bit better, but is 30 years old, you'd probably rather have player B, who's a half a rung below as far as skill, but could give us a lot more in the future.
- Injury history is somewhat important. With two guys of roughly the same age and skill level, you'd rather have the one with no major injuries than the one who's already had a joint replacement. Having said that, you have to feel like everyone's going to have injury problems at some point, so only massive or repeated injuries are likely to make a big difference.
- Position matters somewhat, in the short term. A guy who's a capable back-up at a position where we're thin is obviously more valuable than a guy who's a capable back-up at a position where we have plenty of great options. In the long run, though, Bayern should be able to buy players at any position, so a guy with A+ talent at a position where we're deep is better than a guy with B+ talent who we really need for the next 5 months.
- I tried not to let personal affinity for players color my choices ... but, of course, it's impossible to take that entirely out of the picture.
- The list is made in reverse order of indispensability. So the guy at the end of the list is, in my opinion, the most vital, while the guy just before him is more vital than everyone but one. And they're roughly ordered into groups (with a summary for each) - the top 6 guys are the absolutely necessary; the next 7 are very important, but their loss could conceivably be overcome, etc.
GROUP E - POSSIBLY VALUABLE PIECES
These are all guys who may or may not ever play for Bayern's first squad (again). None has consistently shown that they can get and stay on the field at our level ... so, "possibly valuable pieces" is a polite way of saying "not indispensable." Or, if you want to be brutally honest about it, "dispensable."
26. Maximilian Riedmüller - Might have earned a higher spot until I realized he's almost 25 years old. He's not even hardly any younger than Neuer. And in the unlikely event that we lose Neuer, I don't see Maxi as a proper replacement.
25. Breno - I believe the current rumor is that he's going to be shipped to Brazil ... whenever he gets out of prison. Not a combination of phrases you usually associate with a guy who's vital to the team's success. I wish him the best, and I wish Bayern could have done more for him. But as far as our club's roster going forward, I don't expect Big B to play much of a role.
24. Mitchell Weiser - Given his age (he's only 18), Mitch is definitely much more valuable than the above 2 guys. But until I see more of him on the field, I'm not prepared to say he's needed. Probably needs a loan spell somewhere that he can get regular playing time. But, this spot shouldn't be taken as an insult - it's possible he ends up being a very valuable player someday.
GROUP D - HARD TO REPLACE ... IN THE SHORT TERM
This group is made up of guys who are decent players, who we very well might need this spring, but who probably don't figure in the long-term plans. Several of of these guys (though probably not all) might be gone after this season is over. But for the next 5 months, some of them might actually be pretty damn important.
23. Tom Starke - He's not Manuel Neuer, by any stretch. Hopefully, we'll see him only once or twice more, in a less-important match to give Neuer a break. But, on the outside chance Manu gets hurt, Starke is surely better than the next best option (at this point, that would be Riedmüller?). So he makes the list at 23.
22. Claudio Pizarro - He's had several good matches in his 2nd stint with Bayern. He single-handedly hammered Lille in the Champions League, and I could definitely see him having a few more big goals this year. And we need depth, so we can't spare him in the near future.
Is he more important than either of the Marios? Of course not; if one of them should get hurt, however, he's suddenly our #2 striker (a big post for a team hoping to compete for 2 trophies), so I think 22 is about right for him. Just slightly less important than ...
21. Daniel van Buyten - A couple months ago, he was basically a feel-good afterthought who we might see in the occasional match. But with Badstuber gone for the year, and Boateng suspended for 2 matches in the CL, we're suddenly prepared to see a lot more DvB than we might have anticipated. Along with Dante, will give us a pair of CBs who can both be somewhat useful offensively (even if it's just on set pieces) - an option we haven't had in a while. He's tall and tough, so he can help prevent Bayern from getting pushed around and bullied (again, especially on set pieces). Pretty much everything you'd ask from a back-up CB.
After this season? Well, that depends on what he show us over the next few months. He certainly won't be a regular starter for us, but if he plays well vs. Arsenal, I could see him coming back in a respected-back-up-and-team-leader role. If not, he leaves as one of my 3 or 4 favorite Bayern players ever.
20. Anatoliy Tymoschuk - Gets the slight edge over DvB because he can play midfield or CB. Like DvB, he probably won't be brought back next year as a starter, but we damn well might need him this season. Deserves credit for working hard and staying alert and ready-to-roll without regular minutes. But with Javi, Bastian, and Goose all on board and all younger than Tymo, he may be shipped out this summer. Hopefully he can hoist a trio of trophies with us before he goes.
19. Rafinha - A little less necessary this season than the above guys, but I put him here because he's a little younger (recently turned 27), he can give us a different dimension (speed from the RB spot), and he can play midfield/wing if he absolutely has to. Still, losing him wouldn't be a terrible hit. I don't imagine he'll ever be a first-choice starter for Bayern at either FB spot, so his ceiling with us is as a squad player. Therefore, you couldn't blame him for wanting to leave.
At this point, I think we're at about the limit of guys who we could lose and you might say "yeah, that kind of makes sense," even if it's a player you like.
GROUP C - PRETTY DAMN IMPORTANT
And from here on, we're getting into guys who it would REALLY hurt to lose. The above groups are made up of players about whom, if you saw they were sold, you might say "really? Huh," but it would not be a big deal. Starting with 18, though, I think we're looking at guys whose sale would make you say "WHAT?? They sold him??"
Still, the 5 in this group are not THAT irreplaceable. They're very good players who bring a lot to the table, but who we could definitely manage without. Three young guys who have shown flashes but who aren't a sure thing, one semi-young guy who perhaps isn't as good as once hoped, and one not-so-young guy who offers some huge benefits but some equally serious problems.
18. Diego Contento - Possibly too high for a guy who's only played a handful of matches over the last couple years. Considering the FB spots are locked down with Alaba and Lahm, it's hard to see Contento being more than a good rotation option. But he's made some good plays when he can find the pitch, including the most recent BATE match, where he showed good speed and surprising awareness in sprinting across the field to poke the ball away from a BATE player who might otherwise have had a chance for a 1-v-1 with Neuer.
He doesn't have the history of productive and reliable play that van Buyten or Pizarro has. But, at 22 years old, he still has plenty of time to grow. He's not entirely indispensable, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him blossom into a very good, borderline-great player.
17. Emre Can - It's hard to know where to put him on a list like this. He's been described on glowing terms for so long, and I'm sure he probably has the talent to back it up. But in my mind, his (brief) tenure with the senior side didn't really prove all the accolades he was given. Can will probably have to be put out on loan for a bit, once he's healthy, because at this stage he really needs regular playing time. But until he has at least one good run of great play, I can't rank him higher than this.
16. Jerome Boateng - I hate to say it, because he seems like a nice guy who gets along with his teammates, but I have been a tiny bit disappointed here. It doesn't help that he's been asked to play different positions and his role is entirely different from his role on the national team. But he's only decent (good, but not great) at marking strikers and clearing the ball, he gives us nothing going forward on offense, and he commits a lot of fouls.
I wouldn't be shocked if he left sometime in the next few years. But until we see that Badstuber is back and healthy, JB is going to be a vital piece for us.
15. Arjen Robben - Given the injuries, the sometimes prickly attitude, and the fact that we play so well with Müller at the RW spot, it's hard to say he's indispensable. But given his touch, his pace, and his ability to terrorize defenses, I can't rightfully place him lower than Boateng or Contento.
For his detractors: you have a lot of arguments against Robben, and I understand why you might not like him. But keep in mind, if he saves our asses with a big goal later this year, your words may come back to haunt you.
For his supporters: we'll always have Old Trafford.
14. Xherdan Shaqiri - Of any player we have who we could possibly afford to lose, he's the one I would least like to see walk. I really think this kid is going to be a star someday. I leave him out of the top 2 groups because we have so many good players at those positions right now, and because I'd like to see him get away from that habit of diving. He's as close as you can get to the top 2 groups without being in it.
GROUP B - NEARLY INDISPENSABLE
13. Mario Mandzukic - Despite his recent dip in form, I really like what we've seen from him so far this season. I almost prefer him to Gomez, especially because he's a little younger, but I'll put him one spot lower out of respect for Gomez's goal-scoring numbers over the past two years. Both of these guys, on their own, could be seen as one of the most important players for Bayern's future hopes. But the fact that we have both of them means that neither is all that vital (even though we probably will need both, given the tough schedules we figure to play every spring).
12. Mario Gomez - I've pretty much run out of things to say about him.
11. Holger Badstuber - Before the injury, I would have had him at least in the top 8. I still think it's a good bet he'll come back at 100 percent, but you're never certain until you see it. Assuming he does, though, I could see him being a star for Bayern for 10 years. I love his attitude, and I love the fact that he gets pissed off when things aren't going well. Also, he did a solid job at LB this year when we asked him to (though, in my mind, Alaba will always be better at that position).
10. Javi Martinez - After the last time I criticized him, he came out and played an incredible game the next weekend. As we've discussed, he's not only a good ball-winner, but one who helps us go from defense to offense in an instant.
I had several paragraphs here about how Bayern was so dependent upon German players, and then, the first time we pulled a guy from the Spanish team, we somehow got the most German of all the Spaniards. But I re-read it a few times, and deemed it too strange and possible a little racist, so that part got cut out. Use your imagination.
9. Luiz Gustavo - In the 9 spot? If I dared, I'd put him even higher. He's an aggressive tackler and the kind of player who really make the opponents think twice before going for a ball. And, as we saw against VfB this year, he has some shooting moves of his own. If he comes back 100 percent healthy, I think Goose + Bastian is a better duo than Bastian + Javi. But I understand that might not be a popular opinion around here.
8. Dante - G-Mac has more on this guy.
7. Franck Ribery - Probably my most contentious placement. I know how good he is. He's an amazing dribbler, a deadly scorer, and (unlike Robben) he's also a sharp passer. But the fact is, he'll be 30 before this season is over, and he's had several ligament injuries. I think we probably have about 2 to 3 more years left of Ribery playing at that level.
But for those 2 or 3 years? Yes, he's likely our best all-around player.
GROUP A - ABSOLUTELY INDISPENSABLE
6. David Alaba - Too high? Not in my estimation. I honestly think this kid is going to be a world-class star for years to come. He's fast, he's energetic, he's a pretty good tackler and man-marker, and he combine with Ribery to absolutely menace the opposing team's flank. His brief injury lay-off didn't seem to slow him down at all; despite a surgically repaired foot, I still think he's the fastest guy on the squad.
A few things to watch (positional defending, defending set pieces, consistency) ... but for a 20-year old kid, it doesn't get much better than Alabaster. Accordingly, I'm going to place him in Group A, and declare him absolutely indispensable.
5. Manuel Neuer - It was hard to know where to put Manu, because ranking 'keepers compared to outfield players is impossible. On the one hand, even if he has the most amazing season ever, that might mean a difference of only 4 to 6 fewer goals allowed as compared to a guy like Kraft. On the other hand, that 4 or 6 goals might be the difference between winning a Bundesliga or Champions League trophy or not doing so.
This was the last change I made - I had Neuer at 4 and Lahm at 5, and switched them at the last second. I had Neuer higher at first, figuring his status on the national team made him even more indispensable, because, if he left, it would make a weird situation between him and the other German players on the Bayern roster. But then I figured, isn't that even more true with Lahm?
4. Philipp Lahm - From this point on, everyone on the list is necessary to FC Bayern's hopes, so it's sort of a strange exercise to rank them. But if we have to, The Big P will come in at 4, just because of age (recently turned 29). But I don't think age will be a limiting factor - Lahm is very fit, has little injury history, and will probably be playing for at least 8 more years (if not more). He's also an amazing slide-tackler, a great passer, and sees the field very well. Anything could happen, but it's really hard to imagine Lahm leaving the club anytime soon - less likely, in fact, than anyone ... except for the next 3 guys.
3. Bastian Schweinsteiger - We might as well put him at 1, because it's unlikely he'd ever leave, but I'll put him here because he's a little older and has a little more of an injury history. As the heart and soul of the team, his contributions go beyond the skills he shows on the pitch. But it's important to remember that those skills are very significant in their own right. He's our midfield general, our string-pulling passer from deep, and a pretty good scorer himself.
After watching him miss that PK in last year's final, he's also the guy I'd feel best about seeing win the Champions League this year. For that reason alone, I want to put him atop the list ...
2. Toni Kroos - But, I'm afraid I can't do it. Kroos ahead of Bastian? As crazy as it sounds, I think so. He's always had good touch on his passes and a dangerous shot from distance. But this year, his dribbling and lateral movement are much improved. He's even gotten to the point where he can help (a bit) with defensive duties. He's still pretty slow, but considering how he can threaten the goal from even 30 yards away, and how he can lay out precise passes from anyway, his lack of speed it mitigated. And did I mention he won't turn 23 until this weekend? If I had to name one guy on our current roster that, as a matter of skills alone, would have a chance to go down as one the game's all-time greats, it would probably be Toni.
1. Thomas Müller - So how is Tommy at the top of the list? Because his contributions to the team go beyond skills. He's an energetic runner, he can play multiple positions, and he sees the field as well as anyone in the world. He also our best "refuse to lose" guy, always managing to pull out a big play when we need it (the CL final and this year's CL match against Valencia would be just two examples).
Müller is the guy who always has one more trick up his sleeve. He always has one more arrow nocked back, waiting for the moment when we really need it. He's the guy who will run his ass off in the last 2 minutes of the first half of a scoreless game, even is we'd be likely to win it in the 2nd half ... because, nah, fuck that, we aren't going into the half scoreless against these guys. In the long run, ball skills are important, but attitude, energy, and understanding are just as big.
You could make a number of arguments as to who should be in this spot and in this group. I'd guess that my most "unpopular" picks, compared to the overall community opinion, would be Müller, Kroos, and Gustavo (others would have them lower) and Ribery, Bastian and Javi (others would have them higher). But here's the poll - tell us what you think. Happy New Year, and, as always, thanks for reading.