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A key ingredient in Bayern’s (and every top club’s) success: squad stability

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Bayern Munich plays one of the most consistent veteran squads in Europe and is working to build the next generation’s core while they’re at it.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Borussia Dortmund - Bundesliga
(L-R) Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, and Thomas Müller are some of Bayern Munich’s longest-serving players.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Europe’s top clubs draw their consistent quality from a variety of factors: squad skill and depth, deft management, and hefty pocketbooks to name only a few. But one contributor (and sometimes detractor) is arguably the piece that ties all the rest together: squad stability.

For every top club with a vision, for every manager with a footballing philosophy, there is almost always a solid core of veteran players working to realize those goals on the pitch and in the dressing room.

As we have witnessed throughout the 2019/20 campaign, Bayern Munich has been an exemplar of this veteran-core approach and, with some tinkering, has reaped its benefits.

This season, Bayern has regularly featured eight men who have been at the club since the 2015/16 season or longer: Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba, Thiago Alcântara, Jérôme Boateng, and Javi Martínez. All but Martínez have made at least 33 appearances in all competitions.

Bayern are not alone in their use of an “old guard” on the pitch. This season, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain have all featured in the majority of their matches at least six players who have been at their respective clubs since at least 2015. Not surprisingly, Real Madrid is by far the most veteran, having regularly featured eleven such players (six of whom have made at least 37 appearances).

Europe’s Top Clubs: Most Veteran Squads

Club Number of regular players at club since 2015-16 season* Average number of appearances as % of total matches played 2019-20
Club Number of regular players at club since 2015-16 season* Average number of appearances as % of total matches played 2019-20
Bayern Munich 8 81.6
Barcelona 8 79.1
Manchester City 6 73.1
Real Madrid 11 72.5
Juventus 6 70.3
Liverpool 8 67.6
Paris Saint-Germain 7 65.3
Data current as of June 30, 2020. *”Regular” defined as at least 10 appearances this season. Long-term injuries are excluded, such as Giorgio Chiellini, who has played for Juventus since 2005 but has made only 3 appearances this season due to injury.

It is difficult to imagine teams like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid capturing their trophies of the past decade without anchoring their on-pitch production and off-pitch culture with a committed, constant nucleus of players. Managers, tactical styles, and club leadership come and go, but such squad cores transcend them, all the while delivering world-class football with few hiccups—a testament to their centrality to club fortunes.

At the same time, we have in recent years seen the pitfalls of this approach reveal themselves, namely the threat of stability fading into staleness; the occasional struggles of complacent Barça, Madrid, and even Bayern sides come to mind. Perhaps no moment better illustrates the reality of that threat than Madrid’s mythic home-ground collapse against an upstart Ajax in last year’s Champions League.

Bayern has taken care to protect against such squad atrophy by carefully injecting youthful quality into the team sheet. This season, young guns like Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry, and Kingsley Coman have handily done their part for the first team, while Mickaël Cuisance, Joshua Zirkzee, and others earned their first-team debuts.

This marriage of experience and youth has taken flight especially under the leadership of Hansi Flick, whose initial task as manager in large part was to recalibrate Bayern’s sometimes-uninspired and heavily veteran-dependent first team. He began working players like Leon Goretzka and Davies more directly into the squad identity, while finding space for Cuisance, Zirkzee, and other newcomers in rotation. One Bundesliga title and wins aplenty later, the inter-generational fusion has proved a resounding success.

Bayern now possesses one of the most reliable crews of hardened players in Europe, as well as one of the most exciting crops of young talent. If the impending arrival of highly-touted prospect Tanguy Kouassi to the Allianz is any indication, Flick and company are looking far ahead with Bayern’s future-building project.

As thirty-somethings Lewandowski, Müller, Neuer, Boateng, and Martínez move toward the twilight of their careers, Bayern are poised to healthily transition to a new squad core in the years to come. The gears of the Bavarian Football Works keep turning.