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When does Bayern's Wing Transition Start?

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With Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben reaching the end of their prime, the contingency plans for the next generation of Bayern wingers will soon have to come to fruition

Lennart Preiss

Robbery brought upon a new era at Bayern München, one where two strikers slowly became obsolete and trophies became annually attainable. They both have won individual and club accolades since their arrivals in Munich, becoming staunch soldiers that have marched to many a manager's fifes.

The period was magnificent, but father time will inevitably do his work. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben are now on the wrong side of 30 with lengthy rap sheets of bodily damage. The end of their Munich careers is not on the horizon yet – both are under contract until June 2017 – but the distance is getting shorter.

Ribéry has already stamped an expiration date on his international career, telling French radio station RTL that the World Cup in Brazil, one that he may not be fit enough to play in, will be his last. It could be Robben's as well, who will be 34-years-old when the 2018 World Cup in Russia gets underway.

Their instinctual game has grown astronomically with experience, and not many rival their ball skills, but both Ribéry and Robben will have to adapt their skill sets as their physical attributes decline. Speed is a major part of both of their repertoires, and their fleet-of-foot days are likely behind them.

Their inevitable declines leave Bayern in an interesting predicament. The German giants have the capable replacements to ease whatever necessary transition will indubitably come about. Thomas Müller has already received significant minutes in a Bayern shirt on the flank, while Xherdan Shaqiri and Mario Götze have spent a healthy portion of their careers as wingers as well.

With those pieces in mind, the eventual transition may not be that jarring. For most of the millennium, Bayern have operated with many central options on the flanks, from Claudio Pizarro to Zé Roberto to Bastian Schweinsteiger. The five-man midfield Guardiola likes to operate with dictates a different requirement, though, making the succession more critical to the direction of the club.

The timetable of the impending changing of the guard is the major conundrum, one that, if unresolved, will cause many players to question their place at the club. Shaqiri expressed his frustrations with the inconsistency of his minutes to at the end of May, similar to Götze's sentiments at the end of the Bundesliga season.

"It's clear that I don't want to continue like this," said Shaqiri. "If not a lot changes, then I need something else. I am young and I need to continue to develop. I want to also play in the important games and not only in the Bundesliga, when everything is already decided. I don't want to experience such a year again."

When Shaqiri transferred from FC Basel in the summer of 2012, it appeared not only as an insurance policy, but as a way for Bayern to prepare for the next chapter after the Robbery era wrote its final tale. The form and relative fitness of the French-Dutch duo has made the Swiss starlet superfluous, leaving him wallowing in his warmups.

With two years left on Shaqiri's deal, Bayern may face an unprovoked ultimatum: convey a convincing commitment to the quickster or consider calculating the inherent cost he could collect from a club keen on his capabilities. Shaqiri's case will require a prompt verdict or else the decision may not be in Bayern's hands much longer.

There is also Julian Green, the most potent of wingers in the second team and a less pressing but not insignificant piece to the puzzle. The 18-year-old is not nearly properly seasoned for regular first team action, but his craving for playing time will come equally as fast. Green's identity and potential, in regards to both skill and position, has yet to fully manifest, thus the idea that he will develop into a successor to the Robbery generation is as pubescent as he is.

With Bayern's transfer capabilities, the microcosms of in-house player management may be moot and irrelevant, for the purchase of a replacement could ultimately be the answer. The timetable remains the macro issue, for no established player on the market would want to challenge for a spot if the Robbery experience is still engrained in to Pep Guardiola's system.

Perhaps a latent old-hand humility, such seen in Pizarro and Daniel van Buyten, will surface in Ribéry and Robben as they govern the transition on their own terms. That being said, such servility is still a few levels away in their career trajectory, as both are critical elements in Bayern's present plans.

The wing transition, when the heralded hunters becomes the wise elders, will not fully churn next season, but the groundwork for the ultimate succession may yet come about.