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The Bayern Munich ‘What could have been’ XI: Toni Kroos, Emre Can, and more!

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Missed opportunities, wasted potential, and ruined careers. We look at the less glamorous side of Bayern Munich.

Borussia Dortmund v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Despite the glamour and spectacle of elite football, the beautiful game does not enrich all whom it touches. Even for a big club like Bayern Munich, things don’t go according to plan. There are always regrets and lingering questions about “what might have been.” For the players on this list, things just didn’t work out the way they—or Bayern Munich—intended. Some went on to have successful careers; others fell by the wayside.

Who were these unfortunate (and in certain cases, very fortunate) individuals? We put them in an XI and see how they could have worked out.

Striker: Mario Mandžukić

Mario Mandžukić was a starter for Bayern in his first season at the club, ahead of both Mario Gomez and Claudio Pizzaro. He led the Bayern line on the way to a historic treble, scoring in the final at Wembley. In the end, though, the big Croat had a falling out with Pep Guardiola and refused to play second fiddle to Robert Lewandowski, leaving the club for Atletico Madrid.

Today, Mandžukić plays for Juventus. He even scored the only goal in their recent Champions League final loss against Real Madrid. You could say he’s doing alright for himself.

Attacking Midfielder: Mario Götze

Ahh, Mario, poor Mario. What can we say about Mario Götze that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? It's safe to say that if he had perhaps been healthier, or we had caught his metabolic disorder earlier, or any number of things, actually—things might have turned out very different for the sole goalscorer at the 2014 World Cup final.

Wingers: Xherdan Shaqiri and Douglas Costa

On we move to the wide areas, and here is where we encounter two cases of wasted potential. First, Xherdan Shaqiri. Shaqiri came to Bayern from Basel in the summer of 2012, with the nickname “Alpine Messi.” The Swiss youngster had a dazzling array of tricks and skills up his sleeve, and while his decision making was poor, it seemed like something that would improve with time. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. After a failed move to Inter Milan, Shaqiri now finds himself playing for hapless Stoke City in the Premier League. A sad but fitting end to the “Alpine Messi.” When everything was said and done, he never grew out of the “talented 20-year-old” stage of his career.

On the other flank we have Douglas Costa. The Brazilian came to Bayern in the summer of 2015 and immediately wowed everyone with his performances. He was a key player in Pep Guardiola’s double-winning side that year. Today however, like Mandžukić, Costa plies his trade at Juventus, after a lackluster second season under Carlo Ancelotti. Bayern fans will wonder how Costa might’ve impacted their fortunes this season, with Ancelotti gone and Jupp Heynckes back. Having a speedy Brazilian to swap in for the injured Kingsley Coman could’ve been a great boost. Alas, it was not to be.

Midfielders: Toni Kroos and Emre Can

Here’s a change: both players at this position went on to have glittering careers after leaving Munich, leaving the Bavarians in the proverbial dust. Toni Kroos’ exploits with Real Madrid are well known (and painful to recount) so we won’t list them here, while Can has established himself on the domestic and international level with Liverpool and Die Mannschaft. If not for Bayern’s embarrassment of riches in midfield, both these players would be welcomed back at the club without a second thought.

Fullbacks: Diego Contento and Mitchell Weiser

Perhaps the only reason Diego Contento is remembered by Bayern Munich fans is because of the appearance he made in 2012, in that final that never happened. Contento put in a solid, if unspectacular performance, but he was always going to be second fiddle to David Alaba. In the end, he left for that reason.

Mitchell Weiser, on the other hand, squandered his chances of becoming a starter on Bayern's first team through a lack of effort on his part. The man once tipped as Philipp Lahm’s successor today plays for Hertha Berlin, while his place on the national team is currently occupied by Bayern’s own Joshua Kimmich. However, there’s no denying that Weiser had and has talent. Weiser, fortunately, applied himself late rather than never and after several successful seasons with Hertha is now linked to a potential move to Dortmund (from FTW).

Central defenders: Breno Borges and Holger Badstuber

Breno, what can we say about Breno? The Brazilian who Bayern had high hopes for, who they let Mats Hummels go for, who ended up being one of the biggest blunders in the club’s history. As is well known, Breno struggled adjusting to life in Munich and eventually was caught up in an arson scandal, when he burned down his own home. Bayern supported him through his troubles, and he has since had somewhat of a revival in his native Brazil. But who knows what could have happened with him had things worked out differently? Or was his transfer doomed to fail from the start?

Holger Badstuber, for whom Breno was something of an understudy, is a classic case of “what could have been”—but from a different angle. Having come through Bayern's youth academy alongside Thomas Müller, Badstuber was once rated as a better defender than Mats Hummels, but a relentless string of injuries took their toll. He finally left Bayern Munich in the summer of 2017, heading to Stuttgart to seek playing time. One can only imagine what Bayern and Germany’s central defense could have looked like if Holger Badstuber had stayed healthy and reached his potential.

Goalkeeper: Thomas Kraft

Umm, he was replaced by Manuel Neuer. He currently plays for Hertha Berlin. Not much more to say here.

Formation: 4-2-3-1