Bayern Munich’s history of late transfers an example of smart business

Arjen Robben (L) Javier Martinez (R) of Bayern Munchen during the Audi Cup match between Bayern Munich and Sao Paolo FC on July 31, 2013 at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Arjen Robben (L) Javier Martinez (R) of Bayern Munchen during the Audi Cup match between Bayern Munich and Sao Paolo FC on July 31, 2013 at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images) /

Bayern Munich decided not to bring in a late replacement for Kingsley Coman. Will that decision come back to haunt them? History suggests it won’t.

The deadline for transfers into the Bundesliga has come and gone on Friday. The final day has produced barely any headline-worthy news. For Bayern Munich it has been the final chapter of a rather quiet and conservative transfer window, leaving Bayern’s roster the smallest (together with VfB Stuttgart’s) and also the oldest in the league.

Judging by the latest statements from president Uli Hoeneß and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, this has been a very deliberate decision. None of the rumors about potential last minute transfers in the direction of Säbener Straße have become a reality, and two questions loom large: Have Bayern done enough to make the team future-proof? Have they been too greedy, allowing a pair of late departures?

Only in the future will we be able to really know how much wisdom there is to these decisions, but maybe the past can bestow some insights upon us as well.

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When we look at the summer transfer windows Bayern has experienced in the past, we can see that there is a clear trend: late signings have been of an extreme rarity. In this millennium there has been a grand total of four signings by Bayern in the second half of August.

Of these four, two have been busts of differing severity, one has been at least very solid and the third has been a home run. Their names are Medhi Benatia, Sinan Kurt, Javi Martinez and Arjen Robben.

While at least two of these players don’t require much introduction, the circumstances of their respective arrivals in Munich might not be as well known. The first of these three signings came in 2009. Louis van Gaal had taken over the reins in Munich, but after three matches with two points and not one win things were already beginning to look dicey.

Arjen Robben, meanwhile, had been seeing his stocks fall at Real Madrid after the arrival of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Karim Benzema, before he joined Bayern Munich on August 28th. What seems like a match made in heaven in hindsight – if we don’t examine the injury history too closely – could have been seen as a desperate move back in the day.

Javi Martinez, largely known only as “Javier Martinez” to German media at that point, joined the club three years and a day later under different circumstances. While Robben had been lured to Munich on rather short notice as a reaction to a bad start to the season, Martinez had been on Bayern’s wish list for months.

Athletic Bilbao had seemed not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of parting with their young, elite defensive midfielder. The transfer had been in the making for the whole summer, essentially being the kind of move Bayern usually conduct right at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st. Instead, they had to wait and make Martinez the most expensive transfer into the Bundesliga at the time.

Medhi Benatia joined Bayern as a substitute for the very same Javi Martinez, whom Pep Guardiola had turned into a center-back but was suffering from a torn ACL in 2014. Benatia arrived with a reputation of being Guardiola’s ideal candidate, the kind of central defender the Catalan mastermind had always dreamed of having on his squad.

The other late signing of the summer of 2014 is a different story entirely. Having turned 18 barely a month earlier, Sinan Kurt joined Bayern with high hopes right out of the youth team of Borussia Mönchengladbach. While the price tag of €3 million seemed steep for a player with no experience on a professional level, it pales in comparison to Robben’s 25, Martinez’ 40 and Benatia’s 28. Clearly, the young winger was never meant to help Bayern get better from the get-go. The agile youngster was meant as an investment into the future, albeit one that would not pay off as we know now.

These three signings are accompanied by a significantly longer list of late departures. We have seen two of those this summer alone with Sebastian Rudy joining FC Schalke 04 and Juan Bernat leaving for Paris Saint-Germain after what can, in retrospect, only be described as four disappointing years for both parties.

We can add names like Renato Sanches (on a loan), Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg (on a loan), Dante, Luis Gustavo, Julian Green (on a loan) and Sosa (twice, one of them on a loan) to this list since 2010 alone. Of these late departures, few if any have come to haunt the club in later years.

There are several lessons we can glean from all this: Bayern are very cautious with late signings. They prefer to plan additions long-term.

Bayern are much more open to late departures than to late additions. They prefer to have more players on the roster over the summer months and cut ties with some that don’t work out in late August (or even later) and usually they know what they are doing when they let a player walk late.

If Bayern do decide to add a player late, it is usually for outside reasons, like a disastrous start, long-term injury or a trade being delayed by the other club, or because the late timing doesn’t really matter, because the player is not meant to take the field immediately.

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In conclusion, Bayern Munich should have earned our trust by now in these matters. There is every indication that what has been happening has been happening according to plan and equally that if things happen according to plan, there isn’t much reason to worry. Does that mean that every possible criticism concerning the roster being too small or too old or specific positions being too thin are obsolete? Of course not. The bottom line should be, though, that what we have been seeing is not erratic behavior driven by an overestimation of the players on the roster to date, by a lack of prudence or a lack of farsightedness, but driven by the very conscious and well-considered conviction that a smaller roster is the way to go at this point, and that players like Lars Lukas Mai, Meritan Shabani or Paul Will of the Regionalliga squad are the appropriate personell to rejuvenate the team.