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The problem with Lucas Hernandez: Why are Bayern Munich delaying a blockbuster signing?

Speaking as a fan, it’s clear what must be done —“Get Hernandez at all costs!” From the club’s perspective however, the calculation becomes a bit trickier.

Real Madrid v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

When it was first reported, Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich seemed like it would be a story of the window. The notion that the Germans would go after the young, athletic Atlético Madrid center-back seemed like a perfect move to shore up a defense lacking in both pace and personnel.

However, recent reporting has thrown the timing of the transfer into doubt. Instead of being a done-deal for the January window, it seems that Bayern will now push the transfer back into the summer of 2019.

This does not bode well for Niko Kovac, especially with a Champions League fixture against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool looming in February. If the Bavarians lose more than one player to injury at the center-back or fullback positions, the tie could be a disaster.

So why are Bayern Munich doing this? Reports suggest that the decision to pull out of a winter move comes from the very top — i.e. from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness. They must have very good reasons for doing so, and they probably do. Let’s discuss the most likely factors and decide if the bosses are justified:

#1: The opportunity cost of an €80m transfer fee

Lucas Hernandez wouldn’t be cheap. The Frenchman’s release clause is almost double Bayern’s record transfer fee, and more than anyone has ever paid for a defender — only Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk comes close. The Reds paid €78.8m to acquire his services in 2017.

To buy Hernandez in the winter, Bayern would have to pay the entire fee in one go, as a single huge lump. Atletico Madrid are adamant about keeping the player at least until June, so there won’t be any negotiation on this front. While paying this money isn’t an issue for the Bavarians — the bosses have been promising mega-transfers for a while now — the problem is losing the ability to spend that money elsewhere.

Let’s assume that, by agreeing to defer the transfer until the summer, Bayern Munich get a discount from the Colchoneros. It’s known that the management of the two clubs have a strong working relationship, and it’s not beyond Bayern to bring the price down from €80m to maybe €50-55m. Hernandez would still be our record transfer, but far cheaper than his release clause. In exchange, Atletico are saved from having to replace a key defender midway through the season.

All this to save just €25-30m might seem like another case of penny-pinching by the bosses, until one remembers that the money can still be spent elsewhere. Thirty million euros could mean the difference between landing Kai Havertz or Matthijs de Ligt and not landing them. Is it worth losing that, just for six extra months of a player’s time? The club bosses may not think so, especially if the next factor is true.

#2: Low expectations for the season

Would Lucas Hernandez really a difference this season? Maybe not. Over the course of the Hinrunde, Bayern Munich displayed several weaknesses in their style of play. While the October wobble has since been corrected and the Bavarians ended the Hinrunde with strong performances against Leipzig and Frankfurt, was it enough to convince the bosses?

While Hoeness and Rummenigge may publicly back the team in the press, behind closed doors the season may have already been written off. At the time of writing this, it seems unlikely that Bayern will make up the six point gap to Borussia Dortmund, or even get past Liverpool in the Champions League.

The bosses may think that buying Hernandez may not be enough to prevent those things from happening. Therefore, would it make sense to pay a premium, just to save a season that’s already dead? Along this same line of thinking, wouldn’t it be better to complete the squad-refresh in the summer and give Kovac the tools he needs to deliver in 2019-20? Assuming Kovac doesn’t find himself sacked as part of the refresh, of course.

Then again, none of this may be true. Bayern’s reluctance to go all-in on Lucas Hernandez may just be rooted in the fear of repeating a past mistake.

#3: Hernandez’s worrying injury record

Remember Medhi Benatia? The Moroccan was by far the best defender in Serie A during his time at AS Roma, so when the Bavarians purchased him, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Benatia and Jerome Boateng were meant to form the unshakable core of the Bayern defense for the foreseeable future, just as we hope Sule and Hernandez can be for us one day.

We all know how Benatia turned out. Injuries ruined his tenure at Bayern — by the end, he had slipped so much that Pep Guardiola preferred Joshua Kimmich at center back over the Moroccan.

Lucas Hernandez already has a worrying injury of injury problems. In a conversation with Into the Calderon editor Jeremy Beren, he noted Hernandez’s injury record as something to watch. Here is the player’s injury record, courtesy of transfermarkt:

  • 15/16: Back injury, 7 days (1 game) missed.
  • 16/17: Muscle injury, 7 days (1 game) missed.
  • 17/18: Hamstring injury, 14 days (1 game) missed.
  • 17/18: Hamstring injury, 12 days (3 games) missed.
  • 18/19: Gastric problems, 4 days (2 games) missed.
  • 18/19: Hamstring injury, 14 days (1 game) missed.
  • 18/19: Knee injury, 18 days (3 games) missed.

There’s a disturbing pattern — as the seasons go by, Hernandez’s injuries become more serious, needing more downtime. He has a history of recurrent hamstring injuries, with one coming as recently as November.

Now, the player has a knee injury that will keep him out until early February — meaning that if he transfers to Bayern, he’ll miss the entire winter training camp and only be ready to play a few weeks before Liverpool. That’s hardly enough time to adjust to one’s teammates, so regardless of how good Hernandez is, Kovac isn’t going throw him onto a pitch against Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Buying Hernandez makes almost no sporting difference to the Liverpool tie.

He might of course, make a difference later (assuming Bayern gets past Liverpool and keeps pace with BVB). But there’s another problem. Knee injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from. With that in mind, how much would the Bayern bosses be willing to spend on the Frenchman? You don’t want to double your record transfer on a player with a bum knee.

After digesting all of that, it makes sense why Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge seem reluctant to take the plunge on Hernandez so soon. In a recent interview with kicker, KHR said it best:

Bayern has no fear of spending money, but will not take financial risks. These new players have to bring top quality and make the team better. I don’t want to stray from the path of being known for financial stability.

Bayern’s MO is set in stone. Even if we spend a ton of money, we won’t be reckless with our finances. Of course, from a fan’s perspective, it’s difficult to wait when when the prospect of getting a shiny new winter signing is so enticing. The concern that Hernandez could have his head turned by other clubs more willing to pay the fee is a valid one.

However, this is the way that the club is run, and it has brought us much success in the past. Mia San Mia means “we are who we are”, and part of that means doing things our way. Sometimes, that means taking the “boring, but practical” option. This may be the reason Hernandez transfer will have to wait.

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