By George Simms
Dayot Upamecano has agreed to join a Bayern Munich side en route to their ninth consecutive Bundesliga. After Pep Guardiola’s iconic 2009 Barcelona squad, they’re just the second team to hold all six trophies available to them simultaneously.
Upamecano, Europe’s highest rated young centre back, will leave an RB Leipzig side who present the strongest challenge to Bayern’s Bundesliga hegemony. He becomes the first of Leizpig’s young upstart stars to defect to the established superpower of German football, but the twenty-seventh player to join the Bavarian giants from another German side since 2010.
Of the Bayern side who won the Club World Cup last week in Qatar, six of the starting eleven had been signed from league rivals. Manuel Neuer, Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Süle, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski have all been poached from Bundesliga sides, alongside the injured Leon Goretzka and Neuer’s heir, Alexander Nübel.
Losing Upamecano may be the start of a worrying trend for Leipzig. Timo Werner’s move to Chelsea last summer proved that the Red Bull franchise don’t yet have the pulling power or financial strength to hold on to their squad of young stars.
Since Red Bull bought out fifth-tier side SSV Markranstädt 11 years ago, they’ve steamrollered their way to the top. After back-to-back third place finishes and a Champions League semi-final last season, many hoped that they may be building a squad to finally consistently challenge Bayern.
They now sit second in the Bundesliga, five points behind Hansi Flick’s European Champions. However, even with their 2016/17 second-place finish, the closest they’ve been to Bayern at the end of a league season is 12 points behind.
In terms of transfer expenditure, since 2017/18, Leipzig have spent only marginally less than Bayern. RBL’s net transfer spend in that period is -£126.85m, not far behind Bayern’s -£137.88.
However, at the start of that period, Bayern had already won five consecutive league titles. Leipzig had just enjoyed their first season in the top division ever.
RBL’s continued success is a credit to how the club is run, in particular the ever-pervading influence of Ralf Rangnick, but they have a long way to go until they are really set up to take on Germany’s perennial winners.
At just over £25m, Naby Keïta is still their only signing over £20m. Six of the squad who lost to Liverpool in the Champions League have been key players in Leipzig since long before their initial Bundesliga promotion. Eight of the starting eleven had been at the club since before they turned 21.
Although their fans won’t like hearing it, there are definite similarities between Borussia Dortmund and Leipzig’s transfer policy and club structure. Leipzig will likely be aiming for a similar balance sheet to Dortmund in the long term.
The Ruhr side have actually made £96.72m in transfer profit in the same period that Bayern and RBL have made losses of more than £120m, despite Dortmund spending over £100m more on players in that period.
Dortmund have learned the cost of spending big to keep up with Bayern. 15 years ago, the club was run to the verge of bankruptcy in a vain attempt to overthrow the Bavarians.
Two of the key figures in saving the club then are still two of the key names in Dortmund’s continued strength now. CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and Head of the Player Department, and club legend, Sebastian Kehl have been with the club through their recovery and the two league titles, two cup titles and Champions League final appearance that have come since.
Dortmund have always come under criticism for their apparent willingness to sell their best players to their biggest rivals. Since Bayern beat Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund in the 2012/13 Champions League final, key players Mats Hummels, Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski have all made their way to Munich.
Despite recent wage cuts, Dortmund have announced that they still lost €26m in the first half of this season. In Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, they comfortably have two of the hottest prospects in world football, but at least one looks set to leave this summer to be able to balance the books. Watzke and Kehl have seen first-hand what unbalanced books can do in Dortmund.
Dortmund’s ability to consistently replace talent is unmatched worldwide. Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are just three names that the Yellow and Black have sold for massive profits and Haaland and Sancho seem destined to join that list sooner rather than later.
The managerial signing of Marco Rose is perfect for Dortmund, but like most of their players, he’s destined for greatness rather than being the finished article. They have a self-sustaining business model of the highest order, but this comes at the cost of consistent trophies.
Leipzig look set to head down this path too. They have an incredible ability to scout and develop talent but are yet to make one real marquee signing. Bayern must be thrilled.
No other team in the Bundesliga comes close to their financial power or sheer commitment to winning. As Thomas Müller once said, ‘we win to be left alone on a Sunday’. At the Allianz, success is an expectation rather than an achievement. No one else in German football can come close to that expectation.
In a recent interview, Sebastian Kehl claimed that, ‘A second place is nothing to be ashamed of in this league’, and it looks like second will continue to be the target for 17 of the 18 sides in the Bundesliga.
For a fleeting moment, it seemed that Bayern may have a real challenger in RB Leipzig, with Red Bull’s financial backing and ambition, but the sales of Keïta, Werner and Upamecano demonstrate that they are willing to sell the players who would otherwise fire them to titles. With their continued lack of opposition, 10 Bundesliga titles in a row may well not be far away for Hansi Flick’s Bayern.
Image: Steffen Prößdorf via Creative Commons