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Behind the extensions: Bayern Munich's fear of the English Premier League

Bayern Munich's efforts to extend multiple key players betray a genuine fear of the growing buying power of the English Premier League.

FC Bayern Muenchen Opens New Fan Shop Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

The front office of Bayern Munich has regaled its fans this season with good news: in this season alone, no fewer than six of the most important and beloved players currently on the team have signed contract extensions, and two more are anticipated any day.

It started when Thiago Alcantara signed an extension in August, keeping him in Munich through the 2019 season. Then, just before Christmas, the club gave fans an early Christmas present in the form of extensions for Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, and Xabi Alonso, keeping the three younger players in Munich through 2021, and veteran Alonso through 2017.

And most recently, Austrian superstar David Alaba extended his contract through 2021.

On top of these extensions, it is all but certain now that Robert Lewandowski will be offered a new contract to keep him at Bayern for years to come, and Manuel Neuer's recent remarks about the English Premier League make it a foregone conclusion that the heir apparent to captain Philipp Lahm will likewise sign an extension.

Finally, it is worth adding that breakout star Douglas Costa is signed through 2020 (clearly, a case of perfect vision on the part of the club), and young Kingsley Coman looks like an absolute steal on a two-year loan with an option to buy. Neither half of KCDC will be leaving anytime soon.

What is often lost in the details is that almost all these players were already signed through 2019. Manuel Neuer's contract was extended in May 2014 to run five years until June 2019. Robert Lewandowski signed with Bayern in July 2014, likewise until June 2019. Thomas Muller had already signed an extension through June 2019. Boateng, originally signed until June 2015, had already extended his contract in 2013 until June 2018 (when Philipp Lahm's contract expires).

Only two players had reached the penultimate year of their contracts, when teams typically negotiate extensions or prepare to sell: Thiago "oder nix" Alcantara, who arrived in Munich with Pep Guardiola in 2013, was signed for four years through 2017, and Javi Martinez had signed with Bayern in 2012 until June 2017. Finally, as a footnote to all these deals, Xabi Alonso earned another year on top of his original two-year contract through 2016.

Only a handful of the biggest Bundesliga clubs have moved to lock down star players for a comparable time-frame, and only one club on a comparable scale: Borussia Dortmund. Most recently, Dortmund extended national-player Sven Bender through 2021. He was one of five targets mentioned recently by BVB boss Hans-Joachim Watzke. The others are captain Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Ilkay Gündogan, all of whose contracts expire in 2017.

Whether star midfielder Gündogan can be persuaded to sign an extension has been the subject of much speculation at Signal Iduna Park. Persistent rumors have linked Gündogan to a move to England or Spain. If he declines an extension, the club is sure to sell him, rather than allow him to leave on a free transfer like a certain other player. If Dortmund succeeds in extending all five, like Bayern, they will have locked down a core of key players for the next five years.

Dortmund's actions last year, moreover, may have anticipated the trend: just over one year ago, the major news in the Bundesliga was the extension of superstar Marco Reus, who renewed his contract through 2019, despite numerous lucrative offers from elsewhere, especially from the English Premier League. Dortmund also extended superstar striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for five years, through 2020.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Schalke made waves by extending captain and national-team regular Benedikt Höwedes through 2020. Like Thiago and Javi, Höwedes' previous contract was due to expire in 2017. His new contract has no release clause. Remarkably, he has played for Schalke since 2001 and has shown every intention of staying.

But Schalke also illustrates the fears of many in the Bundesliga, having lost the battle to extend its star defender Joël Matip, who will transfer to Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool after this season. Liverpool is also poised to snatch up Mönchengladbach's Norwegian midfielder Håvard Nordtveit, who is expected to announce his decision in the near future.

And that brings us to the fear and loathing that lurks behind Bayern's contract-extension bonanza. Bayern Munich and its peers in the Bundesliga are terrified of the English Premier League. The lessons of Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim are sobering.

Last season, Wolfsburg finished second to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and won its first ever German Cup. Yet in the ensuing offseason, Wolfsburg was helpless to keep its superstar Kevin De Bruyne. Manchester City signed him for a record-breaking fee of €75 million, outbidding even Bayern Munich. Unable to replace its superstar despite using those millions to sign Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg has struggled this season, currently sitting in 8th place.

The example of Hoffenheim is even starker: before City bought De Bruyne, the record for the most expensive Bundesliga transfer had just been set by Roberto Firmino, who was signed by Liverpool for a fee of €41 million. Finishing 8th last year, Hoffenheim currently are facing the prospect of relegation in 16th place.

And before I forget, Pep Guardiola also declined to renew his contract with Bayern, moving on to Manchester City for a whopping €75 million three-year deal.

Bayern and Dortmund want to send a signal to their English rivals: "Not for sale!" They are determined not to become selling clubs and expose themselves to the uncertainty of replacing star players. It remains to be seen, however, how sustainable the model is. By extending players and increasing their wages, Bayern must commit an ever greater amount of its budget toward payroll. The club is presumably counting on its revenue growing in tandem, but will it keep up with the pace of wages as EPL clubs stand to grow even richer?

In the last January transfer window, bottom-dwelling Newcastle - currently in 19th place! - outspent the entire Bundesliga. The mismanagement and mediocrity of many English clubs indeed help offset their buying power, but that is by no means guaranteed, and there is no indication that an EPL financial bubble will burst anytime soon. Bayern has signed most of its stars through 2021, but will the club find itself renewing the effort to stay competitive in a new round of extensions come 2019 or even sooner?

Behind the fanfare for extending beloved players, Bayern and its peers are acting now with a sense of urgency to retain their club identity and remain competitive for the next five years. The scale of the threat they see is reflected in the number and length of the new contracts. Beyond 2021 - and perhaps even sooner - the future is highly uncertain.

Editorial: The sentence about Aubameyang's extension was added after this piece originally appeared.

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