Bayern Munich Drops The Ball With Transfers

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Bayern Munich Drops The Ball With Transfers
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Sometime around 2001, when the Bavarians captured their first and only Champions League title, they moved away from landing the game’s big stars and began buying on the cheap.

This off-season the Bayern brass have added Tymoschuk, Olic, Baumjohann, Pranjic, Braafheid, and young German star, Mario Gomez. Meanwhile, Real Madrid went and spent lavishly, bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, two of the game’s biggest stars, for €145 million, more than Bayern have spent in the past three seasons on all transfers combined.

Uli Hoeness was recently quoted as saying that if Bayern had the revenue of a Real Madrid, he would win three straight Champions League titles. That raised many an eye-brow, considering Bayern have had trouble winning the domestic title, winning the Bundesliga crown but once in the past three season, failing to earn a Champions League berth in 2008.

Hoeness is correct in arguing that the Bundesliga doesn’t generate the kind of TV revenue of the other European leagues, which leaves him handcuffed in the transfer market. Bayern gets only €50 million from the Bundesliga in TV revenue, while other clubs on the continent earn as much as €80 to €130 million.

Lavish spending on the transfer market is itself no guarantee of success. Real Madrid has spent hundreds of millions on the transfer market this decade, famously assembling the Galacticos which from 2002 to 2005, failed to win a single trophy.

Liverpool and Arsenal, on the other hand, don’t operate with the same budget as Man United or Chelsea but have been more competitive and have had considerably more success in Europe than Bayern. Liverpool playing in Champions League finals twice in three years, winning once, and Arsenal losing to Barcelona in the controversial 2006 final.

Behind this success is a shrewd transfer policy; the clubs scout the continent’s younger players. Liverpool’s Rafael Benitez bought stars Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, and Alvaro Arbeola in their early 20s, while Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger is renowned for his keen eye for talent, adding a teenaged Fabregas in 2006, now one of the world’s elite players.

Unable to compete with big-spenders Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Mancheseter United, one would think Bayern might be encouraged to follow the example of Arsenal/Liverpool model, where they target younger players just entering their prime.

Instead, Bayern fell victim to the “name game,” buying big-name players who are already on the downside of their career. In 2007, Bayern’s big transfers were Franck Ribery, Luca Toni, and Miroslav Klose, the latter two 29 and 30 years of age, had reached their peaked with little or no upside. First, Klose, and then, last season, Toni struggled, recovering from injuries and showing poor form.

Bayern’s transfer policy of home-grown players has been just as puzzling. In the last several years, they brought in Podolski, Jansen, and Schlaudraff, all considered to be rising in stars in German football. Jansen and Schlaudraff left after one season, Podolski heading back to Koln this summer, having never won a place in the starting 11 even with three years worth of chances.

Nor have Bayern had much luck when looking for players outside of Europe. Argentine Jose Ernesto Sosa, in the squad since 2007, is still a work in progress. Jose Paolo Guerrero and Claudio Pizarro failed to live up to expectations. And back in 2007, Bayern’s purchase of Asian footballer of the year, Ali Karimi, amounted to precious little. He too flamed out after only a season.

Worse still, in the summer of 2008, after winning the title, the Bavarians stood pat, adding only a squad player in Tim Borowski and a 34-year old back-up keeper in Hans Jorg-Butt. While the likes of Wolfsburg, Schalke, and Hoffenheim loaded up on international talent and levelling the playing field in the Bundesliga. The effect was the rest of the field caught up to the Bavarians who fell to second and struggled throughout the season. The lack of success was pinned on Jurgen Klinsmann when a poor transfer policy was to blame.

So after failing to invest in new players or even younger players in 2008, the Bavarians are again left playing catch-up. Hoeness could take a pointer from his Bundesliga rivals, many of whom have astutely targeted younger players on the continent to great success. Wolfsburg snapped up Edin Dzecko only two years ago, now one of the most coveted young strikers in the game. Hamburg grabbed Marcus Berg and Elij Eljero in the past two weeks.

Bayern’s European prospects took a further dent this week when Lucio, the heart and soul of the defence, left for Inter Milan. With holes on the backline, no world-class schemer in the middle, and an aging and inexperience goalkeeping duo, serious questions are being asked whether this team can compete in Europe.

Based on Bayern’s transfer moves this summer, they’ve managed to plug a few leaking holes in the ship, only to have a few open elsewhere, while the polished, star-studded ocean liners of Real, Milan, and Man United sail further and further ahead.

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