It is a common allegation against Bayern Munich: the Bavarian giants target and sign the best players of their domestic rivals in order to cement their dominance atop the Bundesliga table. The club that once signed Mario Götze in 2013 (for €37m) and Robert Lewandowski in 2014 (on a free transfer!) away from a very competitive Borussia Dortmund has now signed the coach (Julian Nagelsmann), captain (Marcel Sabitzer), and key defender (Dayot Upamecano) away from its latest rival, RB Leipzig, for a total of approximately €80m.
These three transfers have led many to ask whether Bayern is indeed pursuing a strategy of signing Bundesliga players from domestic rivals to weaken them and reinforce their own dominance. Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn recently addressed this argument in public remarks at Sabitzer’s official presentation. He said (Sport.de):
“We always have a clear idea and philosophy about coaches and players we think are good. We watch them and when the opportunity to get players or coaches arises, then we seize it. It has nothing to do with deliberately weakening competitors. We don’t force anyone to come here, after all. We are, however, an attractive club, and that brings the actors to us.”
Journalist Stefan Bienkowski (Independent, Guardian) commented on Kahn’s remarks, noting that other Bundesliga clubs also sign standout players from their own respective rivals. The key factor in his view, however, is that Bayern Munich has been “priced out” of Dortmund’s most attractive players.
It also seems a little outdated as a critique of the Bundesliga. In truth, Bayern can’t actually afford to buy out a Dortmund player’s release clause or entice them with a bigger salary anymore. The Premier League has priced them out of Sancho, Haaland, Bellingham, etc.— Stefan Bienkowski (@SBienkowski) September 10, 2021
There are, of course, other factors also at work. One is self-imposed: Bayern’s adherence to its standard of fiscal responsibility ensures that it also will not risk overpaying for such a star. One need only think of Ousmane Dembélé’s ill-fated transfer to FC Barcelona or even Real Madrid’s eye-popping €180m offer to PSG for Kylian Mbappé, despite its own financial troubles and Mbappé own soon-to-expire contract.
It is also debatable whether, all other things being equal, Bayern could realistically compete for the signatures of established players of British nationality (Sancho, Bellingham) or family ties to the island (Haaland). Bayern still seems to be an enticing destination for rising stars from elsewhere, especially France, as evidenced most recently by Upamecano himself.
The last player Bayern bought from BVB was Mats Hummels, who signed in 2016 for a transfer fee of €35m. When interest in American Christian Pulisic was heating up in 2019, BVB bosses Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc supposedly resolved to stop “handing over” (SportBild) their stars to their rival Bayern Munich. To date, that policy seems to remain standing: stars like Pulisic (Chelsea) and Sancho (Manchester United) have instead left the Bundesliga altogether, as Haaland also seems destined to do.