Commitments are like babies – easy to make, harder to deliver – but even Uli Hoeneß knew Arjen Robben was a promise worth keeping.
The year was 2009. Florentino Pérez had just won a landslide to become Real Madrid president, 92% of the voters seduced by promises to re-invigorate a failing sqaud.
With a £200 million facelift planned, several of the existing team were quietly given the chop. Wesley Sneijder, Fabio Cannavaro and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were all given directions to Barajas Airport, but Pérez felt that another high-value exit was needed to right the balance sheet.
Step forward Arjen Robben, whose exclusion from the squad had the biggest clubs in Europe panting with anticipation. None more so than Bayern Munich, whose €25 million offer saw them join a slew of interested suitors.
Robben, concerned that a move to Germany would represent a step down for his career, sought reassurances from the club that Franck Ribéry would be retained in the squad for the forthcoming season. Suitably assuaged by Hoeneß, he signed for the Bavarians on the 28 August 2009.
Thus began football’s very own ‘special relationship’. The statistics speak for themselves; since they first shared Bayern colours that Autumn, ‘Robbéry’ have won 14 trophies, including the Champions League in 2013.
Time, however, waits for no Mannschaft. A combined age of 67 has seen Bayern look carefully towards succession, and the arrivals in 2015 of Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman hinted sagely at a smooth transition.
It hasn’t exactly worked out, and as Bayern scramble to secure extensions for their creaking elder statesmen, questions remain about their would-be successors. Whilst a largely unremarkable year sees Costa continuing to be linked with the Premier League, more is hoped from the Francophone prodigy camped on the opposite touchline.
“Bayern have a style of play that suits me,” gushed a fizzing Coman at his official unveiling as a Bayern player. “I am capable of making the difference at any moment during a match.”
Not that Juventus fans had noticed, Coman’s 14 appearances for the Old Lady largely flattering to deceive. The 19-year-old- arrived in Bavaria with a big reputation and, well, not a lot else.
Pep Guardiola soon put paid to that, throwing Coman in at the deep end as he looked to kickstart his Catalan revolution. Coman would repay him tenfold, his first eight appearances marked by three goals and two assists.
“It’s madness how fast Kingsley has integrated at Bayern,” the former Barca boss admitted after his early showings. “He still has plenty of room for improvement, but it is clear that he has a lot of potential.”
Coman would make 37 appearances in his first year, registering more assists than any player in the Champions League bar Alexis Sánchez in his maiden campaign in Germany. As Bayern secured the domestic double, a place in France’s Euro 2016 squad seemed just reward for a year in which reputation morphed into devastating results.
Worryingly for other fans in the Bundesliga, however, Coman is far from the finished article. This week, Bayern finally made his loan from Juventus permanent. €21 million euros seemingly a bargain for a player deemed more than capable of inheriting ‘Robbéry’s’ creative mantle.
To do that, however, he’ll need to stay fit. Before he was ruled out for two months with a knee injury in November, Coman had managed to complete 90 minutes on just one occasion this season. His progress has been hampered further by Robben and Ribery’s resurgence, Carlo Ancelotti preferring to stick with the experienced duet as Bayern hone in on a 27th league triumph.
For Coman, it hasn’t been the year that he or Bayern Munich expected. But one thing is for certain – if he can stay fit, he more than any other player looks likely to fire Bayern onto European glory in the longer term. If he can do half as well as his mentors on the wings, then Bavarian fans have a lot to look forward to.
By Christopher Weir.