Early autumn was disastrous for Bayern Munich. Manuel Neuer’s outings were error-strewn, gifted players like Thiago Alcantara seemed distant, and defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng looked as forlorn and flimsy as a truck’s winter-beaten mud flap.
Niko Kovac was overseeing the gradual wither and fall of a fruitful era. A period where Der FCB corralled six consecutive Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokals and, of course, the 2012-13 Champions League crown was fading with each drab performance over September and October.
Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga hunt was recently reignited when they overcame a nine-point deficit to vault Dortmund into first place, but their Champions League elimination by Liverpool prompted deep introspection not just for the club, but for German football as a whole. Bayern, Dortmund, and FC Schalke had all limped out of Europe in the space of a week.
But Bayern should be absolved of the Deutsch soul-searching. Wednesday’s confirmation of left-back Lucas Hernandez’s summer arrival from Atletico Madrid was a rare €80-million outburst during some calculated, hushed dealings inside the guts of the Allianz Arena. A new era for Bayern Munich is well underway, and has been for some time. Their spot among the continent’s aristocracy is safe.
Bayern already boast an exciting young contingent. Renato Sanches will probably never reach the heights he promised at Benfica and with Portugal at Euro 2016, but Leon Goretzka and, when fit, Corentin Tolisso can revive a lethargic midfield. Thiago is still only 27 and is one of the world’s most inventive and influential midfielders when he’s free of injuries.
The central defensive positions are also well-equipped. Benjamin Pavard featured at right-back during France’s triumphant World Cup campaign but won’t take Joshua Kimmich’s slot. Instead, when he joins this summer from VfB Stuttgart for around €35 million, he will likely slide into the middle of a back-four with the towering Niklas Sule. Bayern won’t be hamstrung by the prematurely aged Boateng or questionable physical traits of Hummels for much longer.
Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben’s monopoly of the flanks is over. Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, in particular, are already enlivening the wide positions, the latter remarkably once a benchwarmer for Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion. And while Alphonso Davies made his name as an explosive winger for the Vancouver Whitecaps, the teenager possesses attributes fitting for a buccaneering full-back. There are options for Kovac.
What has triggered this movement was a change of identity for Bayern Munich. The arrogance remains – this is a club overseen by the parochial pair of Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, after all – but an admission made in the wake of last season’s DFB-Pokal final loss to Eintracht Frankfurt has been acted upon. The Bavarians have changed their ways by discreetly joining the continent’s big spenders.
“If we want a player and he costs us €80 million or even €90 million, we must make that leap one day,” Rummenigge confessed over 10 months ago. “I don’t know whether this will be this year or next year.”
That day was Wednesday, and the Hernandez signing won’t be the end of what could be a gargantuan spend this summer.
There was little secret of Bayern Munich’s attempts to pluck Callum Hudson-Odoi from Chelsea for around £35 million in January, even though he’s never started in the Premier League. Kovac is apparently pushing for a reunion with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic, and a deal for the prolific striker is expected to cost in excess of €50 million. RMC Sport’s Mohamed Bouhafsi hinted that an approach for Nicolas Pepe, who is having a phenomenal term on the right wing for Lille, could be nigh.
The accusations of Kovac handling a team that appeared weathered and lacked unpredictability were fair – the second-leg showing against Liverpool was listless. What wasn’t merited was the denigration of a project that was under construction. Bayern Munich not competing deep in the Champions League this season is merely a blip – the new generation getting phased into the lineup is frightening and capable of challenging for Europe’s top accolade for the next decade.