Usually, Bayern Munich’s squad planners behave like Alpine marmots, hibernating until March. But an embarrassing failure to address key shortcomings last summer had sporting director Christoph Freund and his team putting the work of two transfer windows into one this January.
The drawn-out deal for Harry Kane had occupied minds so much that more mundane but no less vital reinforcements in defensive positions were left too late.
Ball-winning midfielder Palhinha flew back to London after Fulham torpedoed his transfer on the final day of the window at the start of September.
Desperate, unfocused attempts to bring in a defender capable of playing in the middle as well as on the right came to nothing, too.
Their main target when the window reopened at New Year was precisely that kind of player — the multi-talented Ronald Araujo of Barcelona. He was willing to move to Munich and Bayern’s supervisory board had already green-lit an €80million (£68.3m; $87m) outlay, but Barca coach Xavi put his foot down, telling the board he’d resign if the Uruguayan was sold.
Xavi did announce his departure, albeit at the end of the season and for unconnected reasons, a few days ago but unfortunately for Bayern, they had moved on to a rather cheaper and more short-term alternative by then: Eric Dier came in on a six-month loan from Tottenham Hotspur, with an option for another full season after that.
The arrival of Dier underlines the growing influence of Kane, who put a good word in for his friend and long-time club and country team-mate in talks with manager Thomas Tuchel. But the now 30-year-old England international’s profile was also considered right for Bayern’s needs.
Kim Min-jae’s ongoing Asian Cup challenge with South Korea, Dayot Upamecano’s injury problems and concerns over Matthijs de Ligt’s form and fitness made it imperative to bring in an experienced “plug and play” centre-back who could do a job straight away.
Dier, who has started one Premier League game this season, won’t solve all the club’s problems and defensive issues. But he is definitely a better option than Leon Goretzka, a midfielder who has had to help out as a centre-back a couple of times.
An abortive move for another England international, Newcastle United right-back Kieran Trippier, followed a similar rationale. Bayern’s scouts rated the 33-year-old for his leadership and attacking play, but the board would only sanction a fee of €16million in light of the player’s age and defensive limitations.
As the pursuit of Trippier stalled, attention quickly switched to a younger, more expensive player; someone who could challenge Morocco international Noussair Mazraoui for his place in the team.
Sacha Boey had given a good enough account of himself in the Champions League for Galatasaray this season against Bayern, Manchester United and Copenhagen to warrant a €30million-plus transfer fee. The serial German champions hope the 23-year-old will continue the legacy of successful French full-backs Bixente Lizarazu, Willy Sagnol and Benjamin Pavard at the club.
If Dier (stop-gap) and Boey (long-term prospect) occupy opposite poles in terms of timeframe and expenditure, the move for Bryan Zaragoza straddles them both.
Bayern had already secured the Granada forward for next season at €15million, when the plan was for him to be used as competition and/or a possible replacement for wingers Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane.
Coman’s serious knee injury last weekend left Bayern short on the flanks, however, and had them looking at loan options. Chelsea’s out-of-sorts January 2023 buy Mykhailo Mudryk was one of those they briefly considered, but expediting Zaragoza’s arrival for an extra couple of million euros proved the most straightforward solution.
Aged 22 and still a little raw (he was playing in the Spanish fourth tier in 2021-22 and the second division last season), Zaragoza is perhaps the first “typical” Freund buy. Bayern’s new Austrian sporting director, in charge since September 1, made his name at Red Bull Salzburg in his homeland, overseeing the development of Erling Haaland, Dominik Szoboszlai, Karim Adeyemi, Upamecano and many others.
As the failed attempt to sign Araujo shows, Freund won’t be afraid to browse the top shelf but Bayern recognise that they need to go back to how they worked in Michael Reschke’s time as technical director. Between 2014 and 2017, they had a habit of finding gems, such as Joshua Kimmich, Gnabry and Coman, for relatively little money. This is what they need to do again if they are going to stay competitive at the elite level.
In addition, Bayern have also signed 16-year-old Swedish centre-forward Jonah Kusi-Asare from AIK in Stockholm. Kusi-Asare won’t challenge England captain Kane anytime soon, but he is seen as a great talent. It will be interesting to see whether Bayern will play him in their under-19s or loan him out, confident he is ready for first-team action at a lower level.
Subject to additional injuries, the Bayern squad now looks well-equipped to reel in Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen and make a dent in the Champions League’s knockout phase, even if Tuchel will have to wait a little longer for his defensive specialist in midfield.
But just like those Alpine marmots, Freund and his colleagues will get truly busy once spring has sprung.
With the help of incoming board member Max Eberl, until recently the managing director for sport at Leipzig and before that sporting director at Borussia Monchengladbach, they need to decide if Tuchel’s longing for a holding midfielder should be fulfilled. If the answer to that question is yes, at what cost to the existing duopoly of Kimmich and Goretzka in the centre?
Sane and Alphonso Davies also face uncertain futures as their contracts are due to expire after next season.
There’s too much football still to be played to predict the answers to any of these fraught questions with any degree of confidence but one thing is for sure: this summer will be pretty hot in Munich.
(Top photos: Getty Images)
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