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Bayern tweak their predatory transfer policy

Friday 11th January 2019

Like any ecosystem, football evolves. It functions in a consistent manner through the years but also must adapt to changing conditions. Sir Elton John knows. He sang about the "Circle of Life" and owned a football club. He's not here, though. You're stuck with me and Bayern Munich.

Evolution dictates that the strongest survive. Invariably, they do so by preying upon the weak. In a pond, the big fish eat the minnows. In football, the big clubs raid the small for talent. Like Juventus in Serie A and now Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, Bayern is renowned for it. For the longest time, die Roten kept potential challengers at bay by signing their best players. Most recently, Ule Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the two-headed executive beast behind the club, snatched Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels from Borussia Dortmund. Earlier, they plundered Mario Gomez from Stuttgart. 

To be fair, Hummels played his youth football for Bayern but the Munich giants were happy to let Dortmund develop him into a world-class defender while they signed proven talent and won trophies. Only when BVB developed him too well, stealing two titles from the team 'destined' to dominate the Bundesliga every year, did the sleeping giant wake to the danger. Bayern feasted on Dortmund's attacking talent first, coming for Hummels last.

It was another mistake. Environmental conditions had changed. The big fish slept through an evolutionary leap. Opponents in both the Bundesliga and Europe were playing possession-based football and pressing high. The style demanded pace and stamina. So did defending it. Old legs weren't suited to the task. BVB were only too happy to unload Hummels on their nemesis.

With Hummels, Jerome Boateng and the young but lumbering Niklas Sule in central defence, the big fish was suddenly easy prey. Loaded with speed and youth, Dortmund sped past them into first place. When the two met at the Westfalonstadion on 10 November, Bayern dominated the first half to claim a 1-0 lead. After the break, however, Dortmund levelled once then did so again when Bayern attempted to put them away. As Bayern's tired veterans limped off the pitch or resorted to rash fouls, Lucien Favre's side took the lead and kept it. 

Six points behind their rivals entering the winter break, Niko Kovac looks less like the man to lead Bayern into a brave new world than the one who will surrender their Bundesliga crown for the first time in seven years.

Again, to be fair to the Bavarians, they didn't entirely sleep through the changing of the tactical guard. New Sporting Director Hasan Salihamidzic signed Sule, although he lacks the pace to make his brutish physique effective. Joshua Kimmich is neither a bodybuilder nor a sprinter but his excellent football mind was pried away from upstarts RB Leipzig in 2015. They also snatched Kingsley Coman from the jaws of fellow predators Juventus. The young French winger boasts pace and trickery but can't stay off the trainer's table. His ankle gives him so much trouble that he's publicly mooted retirement at just 22. 

I hope I don't have to relive what I've been through. Enough is enough. I will not accept a third operation. It will mean maybe my foot is not made for this level.  I will then lead another life, an anonymous life.

Salihamidzic also poached Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry from Schalke and Stuttgart respectively. Both are 23. Neither is as far along as Coman. 

Hoeness and Rummenigge realised the need to change their policy from targeting established veterans to set their sights on the most promising youngsters in Germany and elsewhere. Coman's injury woes are bad luck pure and simple.

The brain trust also understood a coaching change was necessary. Kovac was hired because he was a successful teacher at Eintracht Frankfurt. The coaches before him, Jupp Heynckes, Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal, all prefer working with established professionals. For such a culture change to take effect throughout the organisation requires time and patience. The question is whether Herrs H&R will continue to shield Kovac from fan and media criticism if results don't improve in the second half?

It should be self-evident Bayern's position won't improve unless fresh legs ride to the rescue. The club's iconic wingers, Arjen Robben [34] and Franck Ribery [35], see the writing on the wall. Both announced their retirements come season's end. Trying to match Jadon Sancho for 90 minutes in the Dortmund game may have helped convince Ribery although he waited until after the younger Robben conceded to Vaterzeit first.

The Bavarians already have at least one replacement in mind. Four bids have been made to Chelsea for Callum Hudson-Odoi with the last meeting the Blues £35 million valuation. The Premier League side secured Christian Pulisic's services for next season but may be reluctant to let their teenager go with Eden Hazard's potential exit looming. If the deal falls through, Bayer Leverkusen's Leon Bailey might be a fall-back option.

In addition to their tireless pursuit after Hudson-Odoi, Bayern signed young World Cup hero Benjamin Pavard from Stuttgart for £35 million with the right-back's transfer also set to take place in the summer. As long as Rummenigge and Hoeness continue to think long-term, Kovac's job is probably safe. He wasn't hired to keep ageing stars happy but to nurture a new generation. This season may already be written off by the powers that be.

Bayern may understand an evolutionary leap is like any other. It often helps to take a step back so you can get a running start.

Football Fixtures
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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