Lucas Hernandez and Corentin Tolisso are Bayern Munich’s top-two most expensive transfers of all time, but they have fallen far short of the potential their respective price tags would indicate. Both players have featured primarily on the bench under newly extended head coach Hansi Flick. Tolisso is rumored to be for sale, and Hernandez now faces the prospect of competing with David Alaba for his own position. They have gone from record signings to afterthoughts at alarming speed.
From the World Cup to the bench: Tolisso
Tolisso played a strong debut season at Bayern Munich (2017/18) and enjoyed triumph at the World Cup 2018. Then a catastrophic ACL injury in the third match of 2018/19 derailed his career. He had featured regularly in 2017/18, logging just over 2,300 minutes and contributing 10 goals and 7 assists from central midfield, but 2018/19 was a total loss.
Tolisso’s form has not recovered in the current season (2019/20), quickly costing him his place as a starter under former coach Niko Kovac. He has remained a bench player under Hansi Flick. It looks increasingly likely that Bayern’s record-signing of 2017 might leave with little accomplished.
Bayern signed Tolisso to a five year contract running through 2022, so the club has another year before a decision will have to be reached when Tolisso enters the fourth year of his contract in the 2020/21 season. But if the Frenchman’s post-injury form is simply not what Bayern bought in 2017, the club could cut its losses and move on early.
Replaced too soon: Hernandez
Current sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic signed his own contract with Bayern Munich a month after Bayern signed Tolisso. While Brazzo did not have a hand in Tolisso’s signing, Lucas Hernandez was and is supposed to be one of the players that will define his legacy. Suffice it to say that Hernandez’s integration has not gone according to plan.
Obviously it was a risk to pay €80m for a player nursing a serious knee injury. After the parties reached an agreement for Hernandez in early 2019, Hernandez underwent surgery and completed his rehabilitation in Munich. All seemed to be well. Mats Hummels saw the writing on the wall and asked for and received a transfer to Borussia Dortmund.
As planned, Hernandez was a starter at center-back for the disappointing early 2019/20 season under Niko Kovac, but everything came abruptly to a halt. A major ankle injury early in the season cost him over three months and twelve games. Hernandez thus had already been dropped from the starting lineup before Kovac was replaced by Hansi Flick.
Hernandez finally made his comeback in early February 2020. But even since then, he has played just one full match. His last appearance was five minutes at the end of Bayern’s 2-0 win over FC Augsburg. While Jerome Boateng played for an injured Niklas Süle on the right side of the central defense, David Alaba dazzled in Hernandez’s place on the left.
What lies ahead for Hernandez is anything but clear. Despite some noise that Alaba might move elsewhere, it seems more likely that he will sign an extension — and he is only 27, three years older than Hernandez himself. That would put Bayern’s latest record-signing in the very unusual position of fighting for a spot in the starting lineup against Bayern’s longtime veteran and academy product, who has played brilliantly in the position intended for Hernandez himself.
Although the tide may already have turned on Tolisso, who has little prospect of breaking into Bayern’s midfield, it is still too early to tell whether Hernandez may turn things around. It is very difficult to say what might happen next. Even if Hernandez makes a complete recovery from his sundry injuries, can he displace Alaba from his own new role? That is a very difficult proposition. Signed as a starter, will he be content as a backup?
High-profile signings are always a risk, even for a club as cautious as Bayern Munich. Injuries obviously cannot be predicted, and it is unfortunate that both Tolisso and Hernandez have lost so much ground to them. But their struggles cannot be viewed as an indictment of the sporting director or club front office. Salihamidzic also struck gold in Pavard and Davies — not to mention the club’s decision to sign Hansi Flick as Kovac’s head assistant.
How Flick manages his options in central defense will be one of the biggest questions going forward once the season resumes and beyond.