Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness ruffled some feathers last week when he placed his team's individual players roughly on par with those from Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Hoeness' quotes have been drastically edited in most English sources, many of which have implied that he would not take Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo at Bayern.
When asked which players from Barcelona and Real Madrid he felt would be welcome improvements to the Bayern team, he singled out Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba. Hoeness added: "I think there are only one or two Barca and Real players who would start for Bayern - [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi excluded."
Inexplicably, the bit on Messi and Ronaldo has been omitted from many English-language media sources. It is commonly found in the German media.
It should also be highlighted that Hoeness commented on which players he would welcome to Bayern that would fit into the team, not who is "better" or "worse" than players in the German giants' squad. To distinguish the difference, consider Xavi.
He may be better than some of Bayern's midfielders right now, but at 33 years of age, he will only decline between now and his looming retirement. Age overrides his value as a temporary improvement: his gradual decline and nearing retirement makes him unattractive as a transfer option for top clubs like Bayern. This would explain Hoeness' preference for Iniesta, a younger player of similarly stellar class.
Having set the record straight on what Hoeness did and did not say, his quotes remain very interesting and are worth scrutiny. Are Alba and Iniesta the only two players from Barcelona or Real Madrid who would be a distinct step up for Bayern? And would they themselves indeed be marked improvements?
Starting with the goalkeeper position, neither Victor Valdes nor Iker Casillas is a significant improvement upon Manuel Neuer. Both in their 30s, the Spanish stoppers are approaching the natural physical decline. And although Casillas is world-class, so is Neuer. The debate as to which is the better goalkeeper is irrelevant: The simple reality is that both are great and there would be no reason for Bayern to risk bringing Casillas to a new league and culture.
At right-back, Bayern have their captain and a world-class talent in Philipp Lahm. Alvaro Arbeloa is the weakest player in the Real Madrid starting lineup, and would be suitable to Bayern only as a backup. Dani Alves is half the player he was in 2009; he's followed in the footsteps of compatriots Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka in beginning his decline prematurely.
In central defense, Bayern's best pair consists of Dante and Holger Badstuber, with Jerome Boateng on the bench. Barca's best are Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique; Javier Mascherano is a displaced holding midfielder. Real Madrid have Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Raphael Varane. Puyol, on account of his turning 35 next month, is is often injured and nearing the end of an illustrious career. He will be sorely missed at Barca when he retires, but could do little for another top club.
As Pepe has proven time and time again in big games for club and country, his lack of ball skills make him a poor candidate against pressing teams—the very type Bayern play on a regular basis in the Bundesliga.
Pique and Ramos, along with Pepe, all are extremely susceptible to being yellow carded. Whereas the likes of Thiago Silva and Mats Hummels—truly great defenders—will only be booked once or twice in a season, they average approximately the same number of dismissals. Pique has been yellow carded 73 times and been dismissed on seven occasions in 315 appearances in his career. Ramos' bookings tally at a staggering 152 yellow and 16 red cards in 456 career outings.
Dante (56 yellows, five reds in 252 appearances) and Badstuber (44 yellows and two reds in 279 appearances) play more cleanly and have operated in some of the best defenses in Bundesliga history (Bayern have conceded just 36 goals since the beginning of the 2011-12 season). Again, there isn't much of an improvement—if any—by adding Pique and/or Ramos, so there would be no point in risking bringing either to a new league and culture.
Varane is a different story. Bayern wanted to sign him from Lens in 2011, and he's the type of player that Breno was supposed to be. Still a month away from his 20th birthday, Varane has performed brilliantly against Barcelona, and Real Madrid's record of goals conceded with him and an aging Ricardo Carvalho in defense is substantially better than with Ramos and Pepe. Hoeness made a mistake in not singling out Varane as a player who would be a good signing for Bayern.
Looking to the left-backs, Bayern have a gem in David Alaba. One can argue whether he, Jordi Alba, Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo is the best, but there is no denying that the Austrian—who still is just 20 years old—has the most room for growth compared to the others, who are all 24 or older.
Alaba put on virtuoso displays for Bayern in the Champions League against Real Madrid a year ago and is rapidly becoming one of the world's best left-backs. Critically, he is equally competent in attack and defense. In this regard, Hoeness is dead wrong: Bayern have no need for Jordi Alba.
In central midfield, Bayern's best are Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos. Barca have Xavi, whose years as previously mentioned make him a poor candidate, as well as Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. Real have Xabi Alonso—who at 31 can also be discounted as an unnecessary player—as well as Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.
Schweinsteiger, Bayern's vice-captain, is a lock. He's incredibly versatile and although sometimes inconsistent, he takes his club to the next level. Martinez is similar in style and attributes to Busquets; although the latter is more established on a high level, the former is not far behind in terms of his ability to do the simple things. Similarly, Khedira may be at a higher level than Martinez, but the attributes he offers are not exactly the most vital characteristics upon which one can build a team.
For all his abundant quality, Toni Kroos is a step behind Mesut Ozil and Andres Iniesta. Hoeness was absolutely right to single out Iniesta as a player who could improve Bayern substantially. The midfielder is very versatile and extremely reliable in big games. And as his 29th birthday approaches, he still has a few years before his decline begins. The only downside to integrating Iniesta into the Bayern team is that it would require a formation switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3.
Mesut Ozil would not require such a change; he could play as the central playmaker in Bayern's current 4-2-3-1 setup. And he would most certainly be an improvement over Kroos. The ex-Bremen man's talent goes to waste at Real Madrid, where he plays second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. Whenever he runs out for Germany, Ozil is the center of all attacking play—and there, he looks like the best playmaker in the world. He'd have a similar role at Bayern, and could be expected to deliver on a similar level.
On the wings, Bayern have Franck Ribery and Thomas Müller. Hoeness' evaluation excluded Cristiano Ronaldo, so Real Madrid's comparison is Angel di Maria. Barcelona have Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez or an out-of-position David Villa or Cesc Fabregas.
Despite being younger than both, Müller has scored more goals and given more assists than Pedro and Alexis in domestic league play, and has contributed to more goals in the Champions League. The German scored in the Champions League final and was top scorer at the 2010 World Cup. He's exactly the kind of player a coach ought never to consider replacing.
Ribery has been a goal machine for Bayern since moving to Munich in 2007, but as he approaches his 30th birthday, he is indeed running short of time. Villa is no older and would be an ill-suited replacement, while Fabregas is not truly a winger by nature.
Di Maria is perhaps the most suitable replacement, but his individualism would make him a poor fit at Bayern. He would likely play only as backup to Ribery and Muller at Bayern, who would be wiser to look elsewhere for a replacement for the Frenchman as he grows older.
The final position is that of center forward, where Barcelona have only Messi, who was excluded from Hoeness' analysis. Real Madrid have Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, while Bayern have Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic.
While Benzema is an excellent striker with the ability to score some stunning goals, his strike rate is rather low for a striker on such a gifted team as Real Madrid. A record of eight goals in 22 appearances in La Liga this season does not exactly inspire confidence, and since moving to Spain he's scored a good but modest 52 times in 116 games. Higuain has found the target 102 times in 181 Primera matches.
Gomez has a better strike rate (134 goals in 231 games) in domestic play, and scored 20 times in the Champions League in the two years preceding an injury-blighted 2012-13. The ex-Stuttgart man may have his faults, but neither Benzema nor Higuain has done enough to prove himself as a decisive step up.
In conclusion, Hoeness has a valid point in that Barcelona and Real Madrid's players are not exactly a step up from those in Bayern's squad, but his individual assessments are questionable. Jordi Alba would be an unnecessary luxury for Bayern, who would greatly benefit not only from the addition of Iniesta, but from the signings of Mesut Ozil and (albeit to a much lesser extent) Angel di Maria.
Regardless, Hoeness' speculations came from the land of fantasy; Bayern will sign neither Alba nor Iniesta. But his bold claims may soon be put to the test in the Champions League: If Bayern are to claim Europe's most coveted trophy, they may face both Real Madrid and Barcelona along the way.