Some Bayern supporters were left disappointed this January, after another relatively quiet transfer window. From mid-December, continuous rumours surrounding the potential record-signings of Lucas Hernandez and Callum Hudson-Odoi kept fans wishing for transfer market activity. Now in February, that window has closed with little to show.
Earlier this summer, Uli Hoeneß assured frustrated fans who wanted to see signings that Bayern Munich will spend once it’s needed. Hoeneß also hinted in an interview with Sky Sports that Bayern is collecting money for future transfer windows. He said:
We don’t buy players just to buy players. The day is coming when we also will have to buy again. We want to promote players from our youth teams and also now and again sign an expensive player. That’s the way we want to go.
When Neymar signed with Paris Saint-Germain for €222 million, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said that Bayern would never spend that amount of money on one player. He made it clear that Bayern must have a different philosophy.
That Bayern will significantly strengthen their squad next season is well-known. What is less known is Bayern’s unique strategy in regards to signing players. This article will evaluate when Bayern decides to spend money on players in careful bursts and why it is followed by relatively little transfer market activity in the upcoming years. If history teaches us anything, this article will evaluate Bayern’s latest reconstruction in 2007/08 which will give an answer to why an expensive reconstruction will happen in the 2019/20 season.
Rich team, conservative spender
Most of the world’s attention within football goes, unsurprisingly, to the Premier League. Wildly lucrative television deals set even small teams like Bournemouth financially ahead of most non-Premier League teams. Nonetheless, Bayern is the fourth most valuable football club according to Forbes. Bayern has been the economic powerhouse in Germany for some time, proven when they paid off the €346 million euro loan to build Allianz Arena in 2014, sixteen years earlier than originally planned.
Bayern’s transfer policies and overall outlook on the economics of football are unique for a top club, yet very successful. The CIES Football Observatory calculated the transfer fee investments by clubs in the last 8 years (2010-2018). Bayern, astonishingly, came in 19th place. Teams such as AS Roma, Monaco, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Everton, Napoli, and Valencia have spent more than Bayern over the last eight years.
Since the start of the 2010/2011 season, the teams just mentioned have made only two appearances in the Champions League semifinals combined, whereas Bayern has only missed two. Only Monaco and AC Milan have picked up one league championship in their respective leagues, whereas Bayern has won six of the eight last Bundesliga titles.
Another major reason is that Bayern has been extremely successful in their transfer policy. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, who were bought before 2010, have been in the starting lineup since their arrival. Bayern also has incredible bargaining power, especially in Germany. Most German players want to play for Bayern at one point in their career and Bayern has been able to get current German players, such as Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle, and Leon Goretzka for a total of £76.5 million. To put that into perspective, Gonzalo Higuain transferred to Juventus in 2016 for £78.3 million. Leon Goretzka and especially Robert Lewandowski are two signings Bayern was able to get for free, epitomizing Bayern’s status as a club and and their strength in negotiation. These deals, combined with Bayern’s effort to produce and integrate youth prospects into the starting lineup, have helped Bayern avoid the need for major reconstruction within the team for years.
A look back at the last rebuild: 2007/08
At the end of this season, Bayern’s roster will be in need of some reconstruction. Robben has confirmed that he will leave at the end of the season and, although not confirmed, everything suggests that Ribery will be leaving or retiring, as well. Bayern’s backbone needs reconstruction as well. In the first Champions League semifinal leg against Real Madrid last year, eight players in the starting eleven are now 30 years old or older (Thomas Müller will make that nine in September this year). The prospect of not winning the Bundesliga or getting knocked out in the Round of 16 for the Champions League only strengthens the argument for reconstruction.
The last time Bayern went through a large-scale squad rebuild was before the 2007/2008 season. Bayern added ten players to the squad while releasing or retiring nine. Bayern had finished the previous season in fourth place, which meant that it missed out on the Champions League. Getting eliminated in the third round of the DFB-Pokal and in the quarterfinal in the Champions League by AC Milan was enough to label the 2007/2008 season as the worst that Bayern has had since the start of the 21st century.
Former key starters such as Roy Makaay, Hasan Salihamidzic, Claudio Pizarro and Mehmet Scholl were replaced by expensive signings including Ribery, Luca Toni, and Miroslav Klose. Bayern bought players for a total of £83.88 million. In contrast, in the ten seasons before 2007/2008, Bayern had spent a total of £170.36 million on transfers. The amount spent in preparation for the 2007/2008 season topped the previous record spent for a season (2003/2004) by £59.57 million.
Only in the 2017/18 (£104.85 million) has Bayern spent more money on transfers than for the 2007/2008 season. That is quite remarkable in light of how football transfer fees have skyrocketed over the last 10 years. What is also remarkable is that four out of Bayern’s twenty-five most expensive transfers were bought in the 2007/2008 season. To put that into perspective: only three of the twenty-five most expensive transfers of the all-time list were made before 2010 (Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona).
The burst on the horizon
Bayern spends their money in careful bursts and then, for the next few seasons, buys only a handful of players for a limited amount. In the three seasons after the 2007/08, Bayern spent less money on transfers combined than what they spent on the 2007/08 season alone. This is radically different from other elite football clubs, especially clubs in the Premier League. For example, the current season is the first time in four seasons that Manchester United has not spent over £100 million on transfers. They spent £74.4 million this season, versus £658.25 million in the four previous seasons.
This summer will, therefore, be similar to the summer of 2007. Bayern has already made one transfer for the upcoming season. One of the breakout stars in Russia, Benjamin Pavard, has signed on a 5-year contract after Die Roten bought him from Stuttgart for £31.4 million. The transfer rumors surrounding players arriving at Säbener Straße this January suggests that Bayern are ready to open their wallet significantly in the near future. Possibly because of Bayern’s poor start to the season, Bayern was linked with Lucas Hernandez and Callum Hudson-Odoi in January. Hernandez has a release clause of £72 million and Chelsea has rejected Bayern’s fourth bid worth £35 million. Although these transfers failed to go through this January, it is more than likely that Bayern will try again in the summer.
Bayern will also move on from veteran starters and seek replacements for an aging squad. Arguably, the rebuild already started in 2017, when for the first time ever Bayern spent over £100 million on players. Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, and Süle are three transfers that should be considered as long-term signings. But there is still a major need for reconstruction. If history is anything to go by, I predict that Bayern will not only break its transfer records for a single season and for a single player, but will shatter them — as it did in 2007/2008.
After that, Bayern may return to its careful, conservative ways until the next changing of the guard.