When Joshua Kimmich's transfer was confirmed in January, many Bayern Munich fans asked in unison: "Who's that?" In all likelihood, only those who had seen the 2014 Under-19 European Championship would have recognized the name of the then-19-year-old midfielder, who had been a valuable asset for Germany in their title-winning campaign in Hungary.
Even so, the player's transfer fee (€8.5 million, according to Transfermarkt) was surprisingly high for a player of his age who had never played in the Bundesliga. A graduate of the Stuttgart academy, Kimmich signed for RB Leipzig in 2013 and spent two seasons in the 2. Bundesliga.
For value comparison, Leipzig managed to sign Davie Selke, the top scorer and official Golden (best) Player of the Under-19 Euros, for €8 million this summer, per Transfermarkt. The move came after Selke had had a breakout year in the Bundesliga, scoring nine goals and giving four assists for Werder Bremen.
In a similar position and also the same age group, Leon Goretzka joined Schalke for just €3.25 million in 2013, according to Transfermarkt. Although younger, the Bochum academy graduate was always more highly rated than Kimmich. He captained the German Under-17 team in 2012 and was immediately promoted to the Under-19s. A year later, upon his move to Gelsenkirchen, he joined the Under-21 side, and in May of 2014 he was capped by Joachim Low's senior team. Although he missed most of last season injured, Goretzka was an absolute steal.
At the same time, Kimmich could yet prove to be a major bargain—and even a bigger one than Goretzka or Selke. It depends on his development.
Bayern's scouting team obviously saw something in Kimmich when they signed him, and to date, their hunch has proven well-founded. Kimmich impressed in the second half of the 2014-15 season, and after 45 minutes of Moritz Leitner struggling to make an impact at this summer's Under-21 European Championship, Kimmich came on as his replacement.
Although the second-youngest German player to see game time at the tournament in the Czech Republic, Kimmich would go on to start every other game. It was a rather surprising choice by coach Horst Hrubesch, given that the holding-midfielder's partner in deep midfield was a fellow holding player in Emre Can. Johannes Geis, two years Kimmich's senior and following a brilliant Bundesliga campaign, was left on the bench for all but Germany's last game. Even in that case he was fielded in addition to—not exclusion of—Kimmich. Yet however surprising the Rottweil native's selection was, he justified his inclusion in the starting lineup and individually had an excellent tournament.
Kimmich is an interesting type of footballer, rather short (just 5'7'') but an exceptional ball-winner. His sleight stature makes him quick to accelerate over short distances and extremely agile. Whereas many use these qualities in an attacking role, he uses them (along with excellent timing and judgment of distances) to be first to the ball. Bayern were missing that kind of presence in midfield prior to the signing of Arturo Vidal. Considering the Chilean's knee injuries, they may need another player of such qualities within the next few years.
Kimmich's skill set certainly does not overlap those among Bayern's "next generation" central midfielders, including Pierre Hojbjerg, Gianluca Gaudino and Niklas Dorsch, so there will foreseeably be room for him in the squad in the coming years. If Bayern managed to sign a starter for just €8.5 million, Kimmich's purchase could prove to be a shrewd bit of business indeed.
The main concern between now and the time that Kimmich becomes a key player (if he does) is development. This is the biggest question mark that every club faces in dealing with young talent and one that is particularly difficult at a club with such high expectations as Bayern Munich.
Many of Bayern's best "homegrown" talents in recent years, including Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels and Emre Can spent time on loan before returning as starters. Those who did not, like Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber, had little competition ahead of them in the starting lineup. Kimmich faces immense competition right now. Although Xabi Alonso is nearing the end of his career, the likes of Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, and (possibly, depending on tactics) Javi Martinez will make it very difficult for Kimmich to see playing time provided they are healthy.
Bayern will have to be extremely careful with how they handle Kimmich if they are to get the very best out of him. A loan could be a good idea, but they will have to be wary of a repeat of Hummels' and Can's situations, in which the loanees never returned. At the same time, Bayern will have to avoid a repeat of the situation that ultimately led to Can's departure, in which the youngster openly criticized him only being used in the reserve team, according to Bild (via Goal, in German). He moved to Leverkusen on loan, and after a year, jumped at the chance to join Liverpool and cut his ties to Munich.
Even if Kimmich is loaned and performs well, there is anything but a guarantee that he will be relied upon anytime soon. Although half-a-year younger, Hojbjerg has spent more time at Bayern, played many more games for the first team, and spent a spell on loan at Augsburg last season. There are legitimate questions over even his future at Bayern, with a path to the starting lineup unclear.
Mentality is an important factor in any player's development, and Kimmich seems to have confidence and a clear head. As long as he remains committed to becoming a star at Bayern Munich, he stands a decent chance of doing just that—especially considering the injury records of Thiago and Martinez in particular. Time will tell whether he becomes the star he can be, and luck will certainly play a role. But if he indeed nails down a starting spot in the first team in the long-term, €8.5 million would be a pittance for Bayern to have paid.