When Bayern Munich won the treble in 2020, Thiago Alcantara was one of the best players on the squad. His performance against PSG in the Champions League final that year was nothing short of world class, and he went to Liverpool as the best midfielder in the world at the time.
Given his quality, it’s understandable that Bayern Munich have been unable to replace the Spaniard’s role in the squad since his departure. Joshua Kimmich is also nothing short of world class, but he doesn’t have the same qualities that Thiago did. Bayern tried to make lightning strike twice by putting in a bid for Barcelona’s Pedri, but nothing came of that. Now, it appears that the front office is looking for a home-grown solution to the Thiago problem, in the form of Jamal Musiala.
Jamal Musiala is not a midfielder — at least not yet. He’s a pacey winger who’s played as a forward for most of his life. Last season under Hansi Flick, he even showed that he can do it at the highest level, often out-performing his much more experienced colleagues. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry isn’t easy, but Musiala managed to pull it off as a teenager.
Today, Musiala is one of the most talented youngsters in the entire Bayern Munich setup, and possibly even the whole of Europe. His technical ability and game intelligence are both incredibly mature, and the way he can dribble past players often forces teams to triple or quadruple-team him just to stand a chance.
A talent like that would normally be wasted in midfield. Then again ...
Why it makes sense
The exact qualities that make Musiala an amazing winger make him perfectly suited to the Thiago role at Bayern. Just check out this report by Sport1’s Kerry Hau, describing what the management sees in him:
Since Thiago's departure, Bayern have been missing a technical player that links defense & attack. The people in charge are aware of this, but are not willing to invest a lot of money. The squad planners & the coaching staff see Musiala as a potential future solution [@kerry_hau] pic.twitter.com/ETRGzxeVNW— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) February 16, 2022
Thiago had the ability to escape pressure like no one else. His patented “Thiago turn” often left opposition midfielders in the dust, no matter how hard they tried to press. That kind of ball progression ability is something Musiala can replicate with his silky-smooth dribbling skills and excellent ball control.
If this works, Bayern may have found a true heir to Thiago — crucially, without spending a single cent.
Bayern Munich have done it before
This move wouldn’t be without precedent. Bayern Munich have a long history of converting young players into world beaters after a switch of position. Alphonso Davies was a pacey winger in MLS before he came to Germany, where Bayern promptly converted him into a bombastic attacking left-back. Now, Davies is arguably the best in the world at his position.
The tradition goes back even earlier. Bastian Schweinsteiger was a middling winger before being moved into the holding midfield role he became known for. David Alaba was a winger in his youth days, before moving to the left-back role while transitioning to the first team.
Similarly, Joshua Kimmich was a defensive midfielder before he was shifted to become a world class right-back (and then moved back to midfield again). Even Philipp Lahm did a job as both a left-back and a right-back, and Pep Guardiola even valued his qualities as a defensive midfielder.
Turning Musiala into a #6 is the exact kind of move that Bayern would be expected to pull, so no one should be surprised at this point. Still, there are plenty of question marks over thinking behind this move. Is this really another inspired moment of brilliance from the brains behind Germany’s record champions, or another attempt by the front office to cheap out on paying for a real successor in the transfer market?
It all falls on Musiala now. Whether this move succeeds or not depends on him. Bayer Leverkusen is set to be his first true test.