Last Friday, Die Welt published a profile of Bochum talent Leon Goretzka. The article characterized the box-to-box midfielder, who at age 17 has already become a regular starter for his club.
Goretzka is widely regarded as one of Germany’s brightest prospects, and accordingly has attracted the interest of many of Europe’s top clubs. According to Die Welt’s sources, Real Madrid, Dortmund and Bayern are among the leading candidates for his signature, with FCB sporting director Matthias Sammer having labeled Goretzka the Bavarians’ top priority in the transfer market.
Bayern may be an alluring destination, but for Goretzka to join the Munich side would be a big mistake for the youngster, a real danger for several other players in the Bavarians’ ranks, and a waste for the club.
While Goretzka is extremely mature for his age, the player is not yet at the level of his potential competitors at Bayern and will need a few years to develop. There may be precedents involving young players succeeding at Bayern, such as Thomas Mueller, Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos and David Alaba, but looking back, there was an opening for each.
Badstuber, for example, became a regular when his only competition was Martin Demichelis and Daniel van Buyten. Alaba came to prominence after Bayern had gone nearly five years without a decent fullback opposite Philipp Lahm.
For Goretzka to become a starter, however, he would first have to surpass two of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo, €40 million-man Javi Martinez, and perhaps Kroos. He could be used as part of a rotation, but there already is an abundance of talent in his position.
Emre Can is one of Germany’s brightest prospects in the 18-year-old class, and he can’t even get a spot on the Bayern bench outside DFB-Pokal matches. Danish starlet Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was signed in January as a long-term central midfield prospect, and also at 17, he will have to match Goretzka’s staggering maturation rate in order to stand a chance of making a name for himself.
Training with a top club like Bayern has its benefits, but that is not enough. Regular playing time at a high level is essential for every player’s development.
Consider Thiago Alcantara, Cristian Tello and Isaac Cuenca at Barcelona: All have talent, but given only sporadic playing time, none has progressed since debuting for the senior side. Even Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez have had their growth stunted due to inconsistent use.
It is arguable that the use of loans will allow Bayern to have seven central midfielders under contract, with each earning regular playing time. This, however, is a very tricky issue. Footballers, especially those with youth and ambition, do not like to be treated as tradable commodities.
Takashi Usami, for example, declined a sign-and-loan deal with Bayern over the summer in favor of tying himself to Hoffenheim, the club whereto he would have otherwise been loaned.
It cannot be assumed that Goretzka would accept such a deal. Nor can it be assumed that Emre would agree to an extension beyond 2014 if direct competition were brought in to threaten the future he’s earned at Bayern.
And without a secure future in Munich, playing on loan at a lesser club like Nuernberg or Freiburg becomes a big risk. The loanee would have to count on succeeding enough to return with a regular role at Bayern. If this cannot be expected, a full transfer to a side like Dortmund or Schalke would objectively be a better option.
Bayern will have a tremendous midfield for years to come, no matter who it contains. It would be irresponsible and unnecessary, though, for the German giants to continue to acquire players of the same position. Seven top class central midfielders on one team is over the top, and Goretzka should be wary until this changes. Bayern need to choose which four or five players they want to have as options in their central midfield in the years to come, not offer false hopes that will ruin careers.