How Holger Badstuber Has Come a Long Way but Remains a Risk for Bayern Munich

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

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Holger Badstuber made his long-awaited return to football in July, appearing for Bayern for the first time in 594 days.

The match was a preseason friendly against Memmingen, the local club of his hometown, in which the 25-year-old played as captain until his substitution on 58 minutes.

Since his return, Badstuber has caught the eye of Pep Guardiola. His performance in training, perhaps combined with Bayern's inability to sign any of a number of replacement center backs this summer, means that Bayern are now likely to retain Badstuber despite his shortage of match practice.

Bayern were linked with David Luiz, per Martin Lipton of the Mirror, before he joined Paris Saint-Germain; were interested in Ezequiel Garay, as reported by Bruce Archer in the Daily Star, before he joined Zenit; and were in the race to sign Mehdi Benatia, according to Sky (h/t Tancredi Palmeri), until recently.

The German record champions were unable to seal a deal for Benatia quickly, and on July 21, Bild (h/t @BundesligaSpot) reported that Bayern had lost interest in the Roma man since Badstuber's return.

Assuming surprisingly rapid progress from Badstuber is indeed the reason for Bayern no longer pursuing an alternative at center back, that speaks very well for the Germany international's future at the Allianz Arena.

It is indeed true that the player apparently is very highly rated by Guardiola. The trainer was recorded last week, according to Bild (article in German) telling his assistant, Hermann Gerland, that Badstuber is the best center back he's ever coached.

That's quite an honor, considering the marshal of Guardiola's back line at Barcelona was the great European and world champion Carles Puyol.

Coming off consecutive cruciate ligament surgeries on the same knee, such faith is more than Badstuber could ever have expected. To his credit, though, he's put in a tremendous effort to recover from a pair of injuries that could well have ended his career early if not for his superlative work ethic.

Badstuber had his first taste of top-flight-level opposition over the weekend as Bayern took on Borussia Moenchengladbach and Wolfsburg in the Telekom Cup on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Badstuber last played competitively in late 2012.
Badstuber last played competitively in late 2012.Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

The Gladbach game wasn't exactly Badstuber's greatest performance, but Javi Martinez was decidedly a weaker link in the Bayern defense, conceding possession and a penalty immediately thereafter and generally finding himself slightly out of position on a number of occasions.

Badstuber conceded a penalty as well, albeit a somewhat unfortunate one for handball that would have been exceedingly difficult to avoid.

Against Wolfsburg, Badstuber played a better game as the central player in a three-man defense that also included Martinez and David Alaba. The Lower Saxony side hardly ever posed a threat overall, much less before Badstuber's withdrawal on 34 minutes.

Following his return against Memmingen, the Telekom Cup was another positive step for Badstuber.

At the same time, it would be unwise to make a definite appraisal based on a few weeks' training and a couple preseason matches.

In order to achieve its full potential, a club on the level of Bayern Munich cannot afford to have a weak link; it will need to be able to beat any club, which requires a full lineup of world-class, in-form players.

Badstuber deserves high praise and enormous respect for having returned to football, but he of course isn't yet the kind of player who can be relied upon in a Champions League final.

There's also no guarantee that he will be come next May or even at any point beyond. That may explain why Bayern were initially looking to sign a new center back, perhaps with Badstuber leaving in the short-term on loan to get match practice.

It appears, though, that Guardiola has had a look at Badstuber and decided that the center back will indeed be his former self when he's played into some form and will reach that level sooner than later.

It's a bit of a risk, with Jerome Boateng and Dante the club's only other natural center backs, but it's one that Guardiola is prepared to take.

The trainer said in a recent press conference that he has no need to sign a new outfield player of any kind. Time will tell whether Guardiola's gambit was worthwhile.


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