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Opinion: Bayern can’t abandon investment in youth

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With an impending squad overhaul expected in the Summer, the Bayern brass cannot abandon the youthful foundation they have laid.

Juventus v FC Bayern Munich - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

With squad investment and an overhaul expected this summer, the Bavarian giants cannot abandon their pivot to youth that inspired the Bavarian Wunderkind Watch (please ignore my shameless plug). With a €70 million investment in a new youth facility and a promise to leave room for youth prospects in the hopes of developing the next Thomas Müller or David Alaba, home-grown players have become a priority.

As wonderful as this may seem when Bayern Munich is running away with the league, panic sets in when the Rekordmeister finds itself nine points behind the leaders — Borussia Dortmund — while falling as low as fifth place in the Bundesliga table. In what is probably the least surprising thing since Arjen Robben cut inside onto his left foot, fans have begun to call for exorbitant transfer fees for players Antoine Griezmann, Paulo Dybala, Christian Pulisic, and just about every talented young player on the planet. As the transfer rumors heat up, it is time to come back down to earth.

Don’t get me wrong, I want Bayern to bring in new players. First, the squad is in need of rejuvenation. Second, transfers are an exciting part of global soccer fandom.

I, too, am hoping for the arrival of players like Frenkie de Jong, Nabil Fekir, and Nicolas Pepe, while I also see major holes in the depth of a severely aging squad. I want Bayern to spend, and I am confident they will. But despite the tendencies of our wildest dreams, it is important for the Bavarian brass and fans worldwide to remember the foundation of the club.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has referred to it as the “Bayern Philosophy,” rooted in “rational and solid financial decisions.” Although he and Uli Hoeness have assured everyone on multiple occasions that the coffers are full and ready to be emptied, spending at the rate of a Premier League club, let alone Juventus, Real Madrid or Barcelona, may not be necessary.

So who is waiting in the wings at the Säbener Strasse?

The Goalkeepers

Let’s start at the back. In goal, Christian Früchtl has been tapped as Manuel Neuer’s heir apparent. His position is not necessarily threatened at this point with Sven Ulreich serving as a placeholder until the German youth international is ready to assume the back-up role.

This year hasn’t been Neuer’s best as he recovers from injury and pays the price for a leaky defense, but he has years left at the top of his game. He will serve as the perfect role model for the young sweeper keeper. Considering that top goal keepers are going for a rate of €50-80 million, developing one will definitely open up funds for investment up front.

The Defenders

In defense, the prolific duo of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng seem to have begun their downward trajectory. Links to Benjamin Pavard have not disappeared, while Matthijs de Ligt and Mario Hermoso have emerged as additional targets. It is clear that Hasan Salihamidzic is looking to bring in at least one, and maybe two defenders. If Boateng, Hummels, or even Javi Martinez depart, reinforcements will be necessary and welcome as the back-line is remade around Niklas Sule.

Although reinforcements are likely, Lars Lukas Mai should be given an opportunity to prove his worth. The young German defender is the most recent subject of the Bavarian Wunderkind Watch, and he is primed to make the jump to the first team and challenge for minutes. Along with Mai, Flavius Daniliuc was recently named to the Next Generation 2018 list, while Christopher Richards has impressed on his loan move to Bayern — recently being called up to Bayern II. The future is bright at the back despite a changing of the guard in the first team.

The Midfield and Attack

In midfield, Bayern are both young and world-class with Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich (maybe?), the spine of the team is strong. That said, it appears increasingly likely that James Rodriguez will depart, Thomas Müller and Thiago remain in their prime, and Nabil Fekir and Kai Havertz have emerged as likely targets. Despite the quality of the aforementioned players, Meritan Shabani and Paul Will have demonstrated promise with Bayern II and each has held their own with the first team in preseason play.

Shabani plays a more advanced role and utilizes a tireless work rate and a creative spark to impact matches in the center of the park. Will on the other hand, has provided Bayern II with steel in the midfield, where he can operate in a box-to-box or defensive midfield role. At 19 years old respectively, each player has the potential and time to make it to a Bundesliga. Although both would benefit from a loan move to prove their worth, their skill sets may have something to offer Niko Kovac’s side in the years to come.

The departure of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery has arrived. Moving on from the legendary duo has proven difficult, especially with the injury to Kinglsey Coman that greatly diminish Die Roten’s wide options. Wingers such as Pepe, Pulisic, and Leon Bailey have been linked as long-term replacements, and at least one will likely arrive in the summer. The addition of top wide talent, including Alphonso Davies, is key to Bayern’s roster rebuild, but the promotion of players from the youth ranks could go a long way in providing depth for an injury prone group.

Oliver Batista-Meier’s creativity and goal-scoring prowess have stood out and helped to mark him as a potential first-teamer since he was a youngster. As the 17-year-old makes the jump to Bayern II, it will be interesting to see if he can cope with increased physicality. Woo-Yeong Jeong has also emerged as an interesting prospect, making his first team debut in Bayern’s Champions League victory over Benfica. The young Korean can play on either wing and is crafty in possession. Either of these two could make the breakthrough next campaign.

Although Jeong and Batista-Meier are the most likely to make the jump, Franck Evina has shown promise as a physical and clinical left winger. Evina recently chose to represent Cameroon at the international level, where he is expected to become a key part of their set up for years to come. Whether or not the talented youngster breaks through at Bayern, he clearly has potential to play at a top level.

Maximillian Franzke and Alex Timossi Andersson have also emerged as promising talents. With only a limited sample size it remains to be seen how far these two can go.

Despite the wealth of talent in the Bayern academy on the wing, Joshua Zirkzee is arguably the prospect with the most upside. I will spare you a comprehensive scouting report (since I’ve already done one), but the 17-year-old really has it all. The record champions were able to stave off interest from top clubs throughout Europe to procure the Dutch hitman’s services.

With size, strength, pace, intelligence, technical ability and lethal finishing (see below). Zirkzee may be ready to play a more significant role with the first team in the next year or two. His youth doesn’t diminish the fact that he is primed to succeed Robert Lewandowski as the number 9 in Munich.

Luka Jovic, Jann Fiete Arp, and Ante Rebic have all been linked as potential options at striker. Each would have much to bring to the Bayern attack, but each may feel the pressure of Zirkzee nipping at their heels before they know it.

In Conclusion

Am I saying these players are sure things, or world-class? No. Bayern need to and will bring in a few more world-class players. What I am saying is that the Bavarian giants have a wealth of potential in the youth ranks and efforts should be made to see what these players can contribute.

Bringing in three new wingers, or four new center-backs (an exaggeration, I know) is not only a waste, but it also stymies the growth of youth products who will need to leave the Bavarian capital for first team football. Bayern could utilize the Manchester City model of “flipping” youth players for a profit, or the Chelsea approach of loaning an army of players, but nothing would be better than developing world-class talent for free. Home-grown players have served Bayern well over the years, they shouldn’t be forgotten with every mini-crisis or hot commodity.