Despite sitting in fifth, seven points behind Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness has said the club won’t buy in January. But with a host of major issues in the squad, do they need to? DW takes a look.
Eight points from the last seven games, seven points off the pace, the oldest average age in the Bundesliga and more losses in their first 11 games than in the entirety of four of their last six title-winning campaigns. It’s clear the sums aren’t adding up for Bayern, but the club still isn’t prepared to throw out any big numbers in the January transfer window.
“We will definitely not be active in the transfer market,” Hoeness told German broadcaster Sky on Sunday, a day after the 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund that opened up a gap bigger at this stage of a season than Bayern have ever overcome in the past.
Hoeness believes that the return of injured players Kingsley Coman, Thiago and Corentin Tolisso and the arrival of Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies will boost the team, but he doesn’t seem to have considered that others – particularly injury-prone players like Arjen Robben or Jerome Boateng – are likely to spend time on the treatment table.
Tellingly though, Hoeness does seem to have belatedly accepted that the squad is in need of a major overhaul – but also seems to be in no great rush to begin the process.
“We will definitely really change the face of the team next year when the second step of the upheaval comes,” he said.
Decline becoming increasingly apparent
It’s not quite clear when and what the first stage was. Hindsight is of course 20/20 but, just like Germany at the World Cup, the players that make up Bayern’s spine are creaking at the same time. Hoeness and the rest of Bayern’s board may reject the characterization but the evidence both statistical and of the eye suggests the decline of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Boateng and Thomas Müller is well underway. For Robben and Franck Ribery, the end of their top-level careers finally appears imminent, though both still show flashes of a brilliance that was once routine.
More than half of Bayern’s starting XI on Saturday started in the final of their Champions League title win five-and-a-half-years ago, two more lined up for Dortmund that day while Arjen Robben would likely have increased Saturday’s number had he been fit.
While Bayern racked up the title wins it was difficult to argue against the club’s reluctance to spend as big as their European rivals. Many of their key men were in their prime and a settled, top-class squad needed only the odd high-end tweak.
That’s not the case anymore and the free transfer of Leon Goretzka was not enough to enable Niko Kovac to paper over the cracks. While the mid-season transfer window is rarely seen as the wisest time to spend, with the power so often in the hands of the selling team, a club of Bayern’s stature surely can’t write off a season in November, as Hoeness seems almost ready to do.
While seven points is a significant gap, it is far from insurmountable and there is still plenty of talent in Bayern’s squad. But a new arrival could shake things up, potentially sparking a reaction from players as proud as Müller, Neuer or Boateng.
Kovac may once have believed that defeats would provoke such a response, but that now seems a forlorn hope. The Croatian may privately feel he’s been left exposed by the inaction of those above him. Hoeness and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have failed to adequately plan for the future and they are now paying for that error.
Kovac still has options
But the former Frankfurt coach must also take his share of the blame. He’s been largely reliant on the same players as his predecessors Jupp Heynckes and Carlo Ancelotti, only recently trusting the likes of Serge Gnabry as a result of injuries and failing to blood any youngsters in straightforward games such as the German Cup clashes against lower league sides SV Rödinghausen and Drochtersen/Assel or the home Champions League match against a limited AEK Athens outfit.
Kovac must ask himself whether Sven Ulreich currently represents an upgrade on Neuer, whether Niklas Süle not Hummels or Boateng should be the first name at the heart of his defense and whether homegrown youngsters Mertian Shabani, Franck Evina or Lukas Mai could inject the enthusiasm, energy and fearlessness that Dortmund have in spades and become the first academy product to nail down a first team spot since David Alaba. At the minute, he’s falling back on conservatism and getting the same results.
It’s clear that his bosses aren’t for changing, not yet anyway ,which leaves the ball firmly in Kovac’s court. If he can’t find a way to freshen up this side, he may not be given the opportunity to build a new one.