I have been tossing around a “tinfoil hat theory” about Thomas Müller in the dark corners of the Bavarian Football Works virtual office for some time. It’s a theory I feel strongly about: Bayern Munich is engineering Thomas Müller’s exit from the club.
Admittedly, it sounds ludicrous in some ways. Why would a club whose Mia San Mia image is so intimately tied to one of the club’s greatest stars be eager to get rid of him while he still has at least several productive years left in his career?
The answer may be deeper than just “because it’s time.”
Müller is not only a true Bavarian, but also the 2010 Golden Boot winner at the World Cup, a 2013 Champions League winner, and a 2014 World Cup winner. Simply put, Müller — more than anything — is a winner and a player who has earned his status as a club legend.
All of that, however, makes it increasingly difficult for the club to part ways with a player who has meant so much to the organization.
The theory: Bayern has decided to move on
This argument might strain belief, but bear with me:
- Bayern Munich’s forward-moving front-office brain trust (Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Hasan “Brazzo” Salihamidzic, and Niko Kovac) has decided to move on from Müller. Uli Hoeness is on his way into retirement this year, and he has said that he had some internal disagreements in recent months. Could one of those disagreements centered around the club’s strategic direction — and how it might cut ties with Müller?
- Bayern Munich knows that initiating an attempt to sell Müller to the highest bidder would be a public relations blemish that would not easily be removed. Hence, the club has to find a creative way to convince its star to leave without obviously coming across as wanting him to leave.
- How does Bayern Munich make this plan come to fruition without alienating the fan base and causing an uproar? It could make Müller frustrated with his role, inducing him to initiate a move. Above all, Müller is classy and respectful — and he certainly would not be likely to bash Bayern Munich on his way out the door, even if he felt slighted.
To help expedite the move, Kovac is doing his part by keeping Müller confined to the bench more often than not these days. Looking at his playing time since August 24th, Müller is nothing more than a bit player these days:
- August 24th vs. Schalke: 57 minutes (started, but subbed off)
- August 31st vs. Mainz 04: 23 minutes (substitute)
- September 14th vs. RB Leipzig: 63 minutes (started, but subbed off)
- September 18th vs. Red Star: 7 minutes (substitute)
- September 21st vs. FC Köln: 19 minutes (substitute)
- September 28th vs. SC Paderborn: 10 minutes (substitute)
Other points to the story might indicate something is amiss, or at least reflect that the club has decided to moved on from Müller:
- Robert Lewandowski, an assistant captain just like Müller, was consulted on the move for Coutinho before it happened. There have been no reports, however, that that courtesy was extended to Müller.
- Joshua Kimmich’s move to a central defensive midfield role has absolutely had a cascading effect. Inserting Kimmich into the already-crowded midfield has left Kovac scrambling for ways to play Kimmich, Müller, Philippe Coutinho, Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso, and Michaël Cuisance. I’m no mathematician, but having eight players for three starting roles seems like poor planning at best and a complete headache at worst. There is no way to keep all of those bodies happy, even if Cuisance is logging minutes with Bayern Munich II.
- Kimmich’s change of position is bizarre in and of itself. It’s not that Kimmich can’t play CDM — he has the talent to play a number of positions — it’s just that he’s likely the world’s best right-back, so why change?
- Müller’s contract expires in 2021 and there has not been any early discussion about an extension. It would odd for Bayern Munich to let that situation simmer much longer and risk “losing” Müller on a free transfer in July 2021 if it really wanted to retain him.
Back to the matter at hand. It would be one thing if Müller was even rotating at this stage, but he has clearly been benched and no public statement has been given as to why.
Is Coutinho the second-coming of Lionel Messi at practice? Has he totally overwhelmed the entire Bayern Munich roster to the point that can usurp Müller’s starting role without a hint of a transition? Maybe not.
Factoring all of this in, I can only come to one conclusion: I believe that Bayern Munich is trying to force Müller to say, “It’s not you; it’s me,” so they can sever the relationship. This would allow Bayern Munich to avoid the public outcry of sending away a club legend and also allow Müller to go to place where he can still get on the pitch.
The post-Müller plan for Bayern Munich
If I am going to float a theory like this, I might as well go all in and say what I think will happen if Müller decides to pull out and head abroad. The way I see it, there are three possibilities for how this will work:
Option 1: Purchase Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz
Surely, if Müller were to leave, the best possible replacement from Bayern Munich’s perspective would be Germany’s next great attacking midfielder, Kai Havertz. Havertz could fill the void left by Müller for the next 10-12 years.
Option 2: Buy Philippe Coutinho
FC Barcelona reportedly has attached a €120 million option-to-buy to Coutinho’s loan. Should Havertz opt to sign with Borussia Dortmund (which is oddly looking more and more possible) or one of the powers abroad, such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Liverpool, etc., Bayern could easily divert the money intended for Havertz and add the 27-year-old on a permanent basis.
Option 3: Feel the Serge
This would not be my preferred replacement experience, but hear me out. If Müller leaves, Havertz goes elsewhere, and Coutinho heads back to Barcelona, I think Bayern could push Serge Gnabry inside to play as a second striker — especially if the Bavarians are able to land Manchester City star Leroy Sane. Logistically, this move would make sense, since Sane’s arrival could potentially push Gnabry out of the starting XI. If Bayern moreover opts to purchase the ever-productive Ivan Perisic (and why wouldn’t they for the bargain basement price on his head?), the wing would go from a relatively lean position to possibly the deepest part of the roster.
Sure, Bayern could also revisit making a move for RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner or hope that Fiete Arp is ready to take a more prominent role, or perhaps even look to push Leon Goretzka further up the field into the 10 role (which would also open up some playing time in the central midfield), but I think the three options listed above would be how Bayern would react if Müller requests a transfer.
The post-Bayern Munich plan for Müller
While Bayern Munich will have options on how to move on from Müller, it is not clear how the 30-year-old would do on the market. The options as I currently see them:
- Premier League / La Liga: I can’t see this happening. Because of Müller’s unconventional style and perceived “fall from grace”, I can’t see a top-tier club from either of these leagues having interest in Müller.
- Ligue A / Bundesliga: For Müller, Ligue A just does not seem like it would happen. While he certainly likes horses, Müller’s not quite ready to head out to the farm(er’s league). As for a move within the Bundesliga? There is no obvious fit. He won’t go to Dortmund, and RB Leipzig’s roster model would rule out taking on a high-salaried older player. No Bundesliga club seems feasible for any number of reasons.
- Serie A: This seems like the most likely offer. Müller could easily slot in at one of the Italian powers (aside of Juventus) and continue his career. I know, I know...the thought of Müller raumdeutering for Inter Milan or AC Milan is really, really sad.
- MLS: It could really happen. Müller could walk into the MLS and be an instant star in just about every way. He’s a terrific ambassador and still has plenty of life left in his career. Can you imagine? Get Basti on the phone!
Wrapping a tinfoil bow on this
Before anyone gets bitter, this not meant to incite a riot between the #MüllerMafia and #MüllerOut fan factions. Truly, this op-ed represents no more than a theory I’ve developed both from watching how the club has handled Müller this season and over the last three years, and also from watching how teams have handled outgoing veteran players in other sports over the years. It’s rare that it would happen to a player who embodies a club as Müller does for Bayern Munich, but late-career moves have happened before and will certainly happen again.
From 2017/18-2018/19, Müller had to take the back seat at least temporarily to James Rodriguez, before both Jupp Heynckes and Niko Kovac concluded that the team was simply better with Müller in the lineup than without him. This particular season, however, feels different.
When the club needs an ambassador to roll out for its Twitter videos, Müller is often the man who gets the starring role — and rightfully so given his performance both past and present. He is, unquestionably, a club legend.
Still, there is something about the way this Coutinho move went down and how quickly he has pushed Müller out of starting role that feels different.
Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t, but at least some of you can join me in throwing on your own tinfoil hat and entertaining the possibility that this really could happen.
What do you think?
This poll is closed
You are drunk, no way this could ever happen.
I am just as drunk as you and this makes sense.
This is what happens when you get stranded in an airport for 15 hours isn’t it?