clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Musings on Dayot Upamecano’s transfer to Bayern Munich and the state of the Bundesliga

Is Bayern, by purchasing Upamecano, indeed weakening a direct rival? Is the Bundesliga a walkover for Bayern, once more?

RB Leipzig v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Bundesliga
Dayot Upamecano is moving to Bayern Munich
Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

After hearing various news outlets discuss the transfer of Upamecano to Bayern Munich in the same vein as the transfers of Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer in the past decade, I decided to take a look at the narrative and offer some rebuttals.

The Narrative Surrounding the Transfer of Dayot Upamecano

I have come to realize over the years that the English speaking press just does not like Bayern. The narrative, as far as I can recall, before the Champions League final was Bayern’s high-line would be exploited by the pacey Neymar and with Kylian Mbappe. At the end, Bayern ran out 1-0 winners with a goal from a PSG academy product, Kingsley Coman, in that game.

Regular viewers of the Bundesliga, and particularly, Bayern, know the high technical quality of most teams in the league. Take Arminia Bielefeld for example, a newly promoted side. With improved finishing against Bayern, they might have taken all three points against the leaders. In fact, if anything, this game reinforced why Bayern requires a defender like Dayot Upamecano within its ranks. Yet, consistently, Bayern is defined as “efficient” in the press; the underlying message is that Bayern lacks technical quality.

The age-old narrative is that Bayern steals the best players from their opponents. Bleacher Report’s posts (thank you, Pranjalch88 ) on Twitter on the matter describe this bias perfectly:

Take a closer look at the players pictured above. Benjamin Pavard came to Bayern in 2019 after his side, Stuttgart, was relegated. Only Bayern is accused of “stealing” a player from a relegated side in their own league. I am sure that had Chelsea, Liverpool or Barcelona done so, nobody would bat an eyelid. Serge Gnabry moved from Bayern in 2017 from Bremen in a season in which Bremen finished eighth; a player purchased by the biggest club in the country from a midtable side would hardly be considered “big news”; however, because Bayern was the purchasing club, this was another instance of Bayern “stealing” from a rival in the Bundesliga. Gnabry did great work at Bremen, but he hardly set the world alight. Bayern sent him out to Hoffenheim for two seasons on loan as a result. Niklas Süle came in from a Hoffenheim side in 2017 which finished fourth in the league, a whopping 20 points behind Bayern. Again, he did not come in from a direct rival.

The only transfers which weakened a direct rival were Leon Goretzka (signed from a Schalke side which finished second), Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski (free transfer), Mario Götze and Mats Hummels in the past decade. Hummels should not be counted in that bracket because Bayern essentially took back a player their youth academy produced.

Keeping Talents in the Bundesliga

According to Transfermarkt, the top ten most expensive transfers ever in the Bundesliga does not contain any transfers between two Bundesliga clubs. In fact, in that list, there is only one player who came into the Bundesliga from the English or Spanish leagues: Lucas Hernandez. The rest of the nine players are departures of Bundesliga stars to the Premier League or to the top two in Spain; seven of the nine are departures to English clubs. If the English speaking press would like to blame someone for taking away the best players from the Bundesliga, they should look no further than the Premier League.

In fact, in the coming years, I am sure we are going to see the departures of the likes of Florian Neuhaus, Marcus Thuram, Alassane Plea, Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Ridle Baku, Wout Weghorst, Florian Wirtz, Nadiem Amiri and Gio Reyna to name a few to greener pastures. Maybe one might come to Bayern; the rest will surely be headed to England or Spain. Even Bayern cannot prevent its stars from leaving sometimes; the transfer of Michael Ballack to Chelsea in the mid 2000s comes to mind as well as the much more recent departure of Thiago to Liverpool and David Alaba to, possibly, Real Madrid.

If not for Bayern, Dayot Upamecano would be heading to England. Because of Bayern, he stays in the Bundesliga. In the past decade, the Champions League has been won either by a Spanish side or an English side; the only team to break the pattern was Bayern, twice (2013, 2020). If anything, players staying in Germany means that the quality of the Bundesliga rises as a whole.

The Strength of the Bundesliga

Bayern 4 - 3 Hertha; Köln 1 - 2 Bayern; Dortmund 2 - 3 Bayern; Bayern 2 - 1 Wolfsburg; Leverkusen 1 - 2 Bayern; Bayern 2 - 1 Freiburg; Augsburg 0 - 1 Bayern; Hertha 0 - 1 Bayern.

In the eight games above, Bayern won by a single goal margin. In fact, all those of matches aside from the match against Köln could have ended in draws had it not been for heroics from Manual Neuer, the post, the bar or a last minute miss from the opponent. In addition, Bayern has lost two matches this campaign and drawn another four. This means that, out of 21 games Bayern has contested in the Bundesliga this season, 14, including the 4-1 hammering at the hands of Hoffenheim, have been difficult games for Bayern.

In addition, Bayern was 0-2 down against Mainz at half-time and a goal down against Stuttgart before coming back to win those games; that means, in reality Bayern has had only five easy games in the league this season including two against cellar dwellers Schalke.

The above results are an indication of how strong the Bundesliga is. In fact, I believe the inconsistencies of the top teams are not down to the teams themselves but the quality of the opposition. Anyone can indeed beat anyone on any given day. I thought last week that Borussia Mönchengladbach would have an easy time against local rivals, Köln. And I was proved wrong by Elvis Rexbecaj.

The Magic of the Pokal

Furthermore, often, the FA Cup is touted as a premier cup competition in which anyone can beat anyone. That is also true of the Pokal where Holstein Kiel did away with Bayern, Jahn Regensburg did away with Köln and Rot Weiss Essen put paid to Bayer Leverkusen. SC Paderborn took Dortmund to the brink as well.

The Culture of the Bundesliga

Of course, the Premier League is more popular because it does an excellent job of promoting its product. The Bundesliga was, until recently, a difficult league to access. As a new viewer who is a relatively new fan, you are less likely to pick a team whose games are difficult to access.

However, I also believe the nature of the Bundesliga does not allow for too much self-promotion. Not too many watchers care about the ethics of the sport; the Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule means that foreign takeovers are highly unlikely to occur. In fact, fans all around Germany seem to detest billionaire ownership of clubs. Take a look at Hoffenheim’s away games as well as RB Leipzig’s away games and you will see how opposition fans treat effectively billionaire-owned teams (Leipzig follows the rules but is technically a Red Bull team while Hoffenheim has been the beneficiaries of heavy investment by billionaire and former player for the club, Dietmar Hopp).

According to ESPN:

To ensure that soulless corporations or free-spending oligarchs don’t buy up clubs, as they’re allowed — indeed, welcome — to do in most other nations, the Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB) bylaws require that individual members own a majority of voting shares, a “50-plus-one” rule unique to Germany. Exceptions, such as Volkswagen’s ownership of Wolfsburg and pharmaceutical giant Bayer’s of Bayer 04 Leverkusen, are allowed only when a company or individual has bankrolled a club for at least two decades. That obviously isn’t the case with Red Bull and RB Leipzig, but in a shrewd move, and an entirely legal one, the company managed to meet the “50-plus-one” requirement by issuing a small number of shares, buying 49% of them itself, then pricing the rest prohibitively and choosing who could invest.

In the Bundesliga, the clubs are more a part of the social structure of Germany; there is much more involvement of fans in matters such as coach selection (Borussia Dortmund might prove me wrong here by appointing a former Red Bull coach in Marco Rose) and other hierarchical matters.

That being said, there are far too many technically talented players in the league to miss out on it. But, that is my view.

The Narrative Surrounding Borussia Dortmund

This article wouldn’t be complete without speaking about Dortmund. Today, Marco Rose’s departure from Gladbach to Dortmund was announced; Gladbach, mind you, is a direct rival of Dortmund for a top six spot this season. If Rose’s Gladbach has a bad run of form after a relatively good start to the year and does not qualify for a European place, allowing Dortmund to qualify instead, a few eyebrows would be raised.

However, this coaching transfer will barely cause a stir because the narrative of Bayern weakening their biggest rivals is so tempting. In fact, Bayern does not need to weaken Leipzig to win the league. Upamecano, with his passing range, is the type of defender who fits Hansi Flick’s system and can be considered as almost a direct replacement for the departing David Alaba. He is not really being bought to weaken Leipzig because Leipzig hasn’t challenged Bayern the way in which Dortmund did in 2010 to 2013.

Dortmund took Thorgan Hazard from Gladbach and Julian Brandt from Leverkusen, weakening direct rivals, in recent memory as well. Yet, those transfers will not be viewed in the same way, simply because plenty in the media do not explore those transfers. Furthermore, the image associated with Dortmund is the young and plucky side which plays attractive football instead of one of the biggest clubs in the world and a powerhouse in Germany, able to weaken direct rivals.

Overall, one cannot change the narratives that others spin; you cannot change the fact that Upamecano’s transfer will be looked at as Bayern weakening a direct rival. One cannot change the fact that Dortmund’s move for Marco Rose is not going to raise eyebrows despite the fact that Gladbach’s season could potentially fall apart because of the timing of the announcement. One cannot change the narrative that Bayern easily wins the Bundesliga every season (this season has been a real grind to date).

What one can do is respect Bayern for going about their business and breaking the stranglehold that Barcelona, Real Madrid and the English clubs have held over the biggest competition in European soccer, the UEFA Champions League. Bayern has managed to do so while being profitable, while remaining majority fan-owned, while respecting Financial Fair Play rules, by keeping expensive transfers to a minimum and by playing attractive, eye-catching soccer.

At the end of the day, Dayot Upamecano is a high quality addition to the squad and Bayern remains, on the pitch, one of the best teams to watch, and, off it, one of the best run clubs in the world, and, currently, indeed, officially, the best club in the world.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bavarian Football Works Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Bayern Munich news from Bavarian Football Works