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Opinion: Bayern Munich sent a subtle message to Pini Zahavi

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Bayern Munich’s careful avoidance of the “F” word sets up an intriguing end game to its contract negotiations saga with David Alaba.

FC Schalke 04 v FC Bayern Muenchen - DFB Cup Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images

Keeping track of the exact status of the David Alaba negotiations can be a full-time job. While the Herbert Hainer comments, and other developments, have left some pundits suggesting that the chances of Alaba staying at Bayern Munich have plummeted; if you know what to look for, the recent public statements of various Bayern executives actually suggest we are just now moving into the endgame.

We need to set the table a bit. The history of the negotiations seems to suggest that Bayern have presented two or three proposals to David Alaba through his agent Pini Zahavi, each one better than the last. Now, we don’t have the full particulars of the back- and-forth, so we can’t say if Zahavi has made counter-offers or if Bayern have been bidding against themselves, but they have certainly moved from their initial position towards Alaba’s position. If the reporting is accurate the parties are about two or three million euros a year apart in raw salary funds.

Lokomotiv Moskva v FC Bayern Muenchen: Group A - UEFA Champions League
Maybe not all hope is lost in the negotiations between Bayern Munich and David Alaba.
Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Now the club seems to have drawn a line in the sand.

Despite Hainer’s declaration that their last offer has been withdrawn and thus there was no offer on the table, later comments by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge suggest that their last position remains open for Alaba to take.

Every profession develops its own way to communicate, and negotiating is no different. One has to look very carefully at what is being said to see what is being communicated. In the negotiation field we talk about the problem with the “F-word”: Which is “final.”

It is often said that the first side to use the “F-word” loses. Why? Because once you have fixed your position, you have given your counterpart a great deal of information about your limitations, and you can no longer maneuver in any way. You are in a static position, a sitting duck, if you like military terms.

The common practice among top negotiators now is to use a modified version of the “F-word” to signal to the other side that you are near the end of your rope. In simple negotiations there are a multitude of terms used to send this message, “we are almost out of money”, “the train is leaving the station”, “the runway is getting short”, etc., etc. But at the highest level a more stringent and powerful approach needs to be applied. That seems to be what Bayern is doing.

As summarized by our own Chuck Smith in his recent update on the negotiations Bayern have said:

Per the report, Alaba will not receive an improved or revised offer from the Bavarians:

The leading figures agree that FCB will not change its position and, it is said, will not “add a cent.”

This language has been reinforced by Hainer’s comments that Bayern will not be making an enhanced offer. The key to reading these statements is to notice that they do not say that Bayern’s position is fixed and final, or that they will not entertain a counteroffer. What they have said is no more enhanced offers will originate with them.

To make the point clearer, let me illustrate with an example from a typical situation in the mediation context. The two parties are in separate rooms and they are near an impasse. One lawyer, often quite frustrated and trying to impress his client says to the mediator, “We will offer $100,000, final offer, take it or leave it, we will not pay a penny more.”

RB Salzburg v FC Bayern Muenchen: Group A - UEFA Champions League
Despite recent news, David Alaba might have future celebrations with his teammates in Bavaria after all.
Photo by Roland Krivec/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

At this point the mediator turns to the client and says “You mean if they come back at $100,500 you wouldn’t take it? By the time your lawyer drives back to the office and writes up his post-mediation memo you will have spent the $500 and more.”

A few minutes later the mediator delivers the $100,000 offer with the message “that is the last offer that will be originating from the other room.” What is being communicated? That the other party is very close to leaving the discussion, they believe their proposal is fair, but that if an offer comes in that is very close to their position, they might take it. The onus now switches to the other party. They know a deal can still get done. They also know any remaining wiggle room is quite small.

Now the other party has to choose how to respond. Is there $105,000 available to get in the deal? Is it $102,500? The only way to find out is to make a counterproposal knowing that unless you are within a hair’s width of something acceptable to the other side the process may die out.

As I read the language coming from the Bayern camp, that is the message that has been sent to Zahavi. “Give us your best number and we will decide if we can meet it.” The ball is in Zahavi’s court, and how, if, and when he responds are all open questions that will determine David Alaba’s future.