After three months of intense wheeling and dealing, the Bundesliga’s summer transfer window has drawn to a close. Bayern Munich continue to rule the roost in German football but Borussia Dortmund remain best-placed to rival the Bavarians’ supremacy, and the Schwarzgelben pulled out all the stops as they look to put together a squad capable of winning the Meisterschale. Hasan Salihamidžić, as the club’s sporting director, oversees Bayern’s transfer dealings while Sebastian Kehl is his counterpart at Dortmund, but who had the best window?
Hasan Salihamidžić and Bayern Munich
While Bayern cantered to the title last season for the 10th consecutive time, their performances in the Champions League and the DFB Pokal put a little pressure on Julian Nagelsmann ahead of this campaign. There were several intriguing new arrivals, which we will get to, but there is only one place to start as we aim to judge Salihamdžić’s summer business.
Robert Lewandowski has been the Bundesliga’s stand-out star for the last seven years and has been crucial to Bayern’s domestic and European success. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise when he made clear his intention to leave the Allianz Arena, with Barcelona his dream destination. It appears Bayern’s late pursuit of Erling Haaland, which was ultimately in vain as the Norwegian completed a switch to Manchester City, left Lewandowski feeling unappreciated and having achieved almost everything he could with the Roten, he decided he needed a new challenge.
The Pole scored 344 goals in 375 games in eight years at the club, a truly astonishing record. His incredible consistency has made Bayern unstoppable in the Bundesliga, and replacing his output was always going to be Salihamidžić’s most challenging task.
Ultimately, Bayern settled on a compromise in the form of Sadio Mané. There is no doubt the Senegal international is a world-class attacker, and he was a regular goalscorer for Liverpool and Southampton in the Premier League, boasting over 100 strikes in the English top tier. However, he only once managed over 20 in a league campaign and was regularly outscored by Reds teammate Mohamed Salah. Mané is more of a winger than a centre-forward and offers different qualities to those of Lewandowski and, while he has three goals in his five Bundesliga matches, it is hard to see him matching his predecessor’s numbers.
Elsewhere, Salihamdžić and Co. have attempted to reinforce a squad that perhaps lacked top-quality depth, which ended up costing them in the cup competitions last year. The departure of Niklas Süle left a hole at the heart of the back four that Matthijs de Ligt filled. The Dutchman did not quite hit the heights many expected following his move from Ajax to Juventus, but he still performed well and at just 22 years of age, he should be an astute signing, even for a fee of €67m.
Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui joined from Ajax, the former for €18.5m and the latter on a free transfer. Aged 20 and 24 respectively, they are both also young options that should be around for years to come, although they shouldn’t be expected to have a substantial immediate impact given the strength of Bayern’s starting XI.
The same goes for Mathys Tel, the talented 17-year-old striker who was prised from Rennes for €20m. The teenager made just ten appearances for his previous club, none of which were starts and he failed to find the back of the net during his time on the pitch. He bagged his first career goal in Bayern’s 5-0 victory over Viktoria Köln in the first round of the Pokal, but he is one for the future rather than the here and now.
There has been a significant clear-out, too, with several players joining Lewandowski on the list of departures. Tanguy Nianzou, Marc Roca and Chris Richards all left for eight-figure fees, while Omar Richards, Joshua Zirkzee, Lars Lukas Mai, Christian Früchtl and Ron-Thorben Hoffmann also all brought in cash. All in all, Bayern raked in over €100m in sales, giving them a healthy net spend of just over €30m.
However, although there is a lot for Salihamidžić to be optimistic about, questions remain. The defence still looks unbalanced, while the lack of a natural centre-forward could be an issue later in the campaign. Yann Sommer’s display in Bayern’s 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach was historic, but the champions should have done better with their 20 shots on target – Lewandowski, surely, would have made the pressure count.
Sebastian Kehl and Borussia Dortmund
There was plenty of upheaval at Dortmund following the end of the previous season. Head coach Marco Rose was relieved of his duties to be replaced by previous boss Edin Terzić, while Haaland’s exit was a crushing blow and another example of the Ruhr-based outfit losing their best prospects as soon as they start to mature. However, after conceding 52 goals in the Bundesliga last term, more than any other side in the top eight, Kehl’s main challenge was to bolster the side’s backline.
In all fairness to the 42-year-old, he moved early and decisively to address that issue. Süle’s arrival, completed back in February, was a statement signing and provided a rare reversal – instead of Bayern taking one of Dortmund’s players in their prime, the roles were switched. The German international has had his critics in the past, but he still made 28 appearances in the league last season and is a regular for his country.
His capture was followed by that of Nico Schlotterbeck, one of the most exciting centre-backs in European football. The 22-year-old was magnificent for Freiburg throughout last campaign, with his performance in the Pokal final against Leipzig particularly impressive. By that point, he had already secured his switch to the Signal Iduna Park, leaving Kehl with plenty of time to bring in fresh faces elsewhere.
Karim Adeyemi was one of the continent’s most sought-after players after shining at Red Bull Salzburg, and he chose Dortmund as his next destination as he looks to continue his promising development. Beating the likes of Liverpool to his signature was a coup, and it is another example of top talents choosing the German club as the best place to show off their talent on the big stage. Salih Özcan was another interesting signing, from FC Köln, and is another player tipped to make a big impact in the coming years.
Of course, selling Haaland meant signing a centre-forward was essential, and Sébastien Haller made perfect sense as a replacement. The Ivorian previously starred for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and, although a move to West Ham United didn’t work out, he rebuilt his reputation with a stunning 18 months at Ajax, where he netted 47 times in 66 games, including 11 in just eight Champions League outings. The 28-year-old has the ability to fire Dortmund to the top, which only made the news of his testicular tumour even more devastating. The most important thing is that he makes a full recovery, and he at least looked in good spirits recently as he collected his award for topping the Eredivisie goalscoring chart last term.
However, there is little place for sentiment in football, and Kehl subsequently needed to add another striker to Terzic’s squad. In Anthony Modeste, he found a cheap option and although he is not a long-term solution, the Frenchman has a strong pedigree in Germany having scored 84 goals in 193 Bundesliga fixtures. His profile is different to that of Haaland, which means that Terzić must change Dortmund’s style to get the best out of Modeste, but should he be able to do so, there is no reason why the 34-year-old cannot step into the breach with impressive results.
Overall, Dortmund’s squad looks in a good place. The exits of Manuel Akanji and Dan-Axel Zagadou, as well as the return of Marin Pongračić to Wolfsburg after the end of his loan spell, do perhaps leave space for another central defender, but elsewhere, Terzić has lots of options to choose from when they are all fit and available.
The Verdict: Who did better?
Bayern’s domination put the onus on Kehl to give Terzić the backing he needed, which he has done. All of Dortmund’s new signings should each bring something different to the group. The Haller situation was undoubtedly difficult, but BVB reacted well and can be pleased with their business.
Salihamidžić can also look back on a relatively successful window. Mané and de Ligt will provide immediate quality, while Gravenberch, Mazraoui and Tel are full of promise. Having said that, it is hard not to feel that the team is, on paper, weaker, with no Lewandowski to now rely on. For that reason, Dortmund have probably edged the transfer window.
The question is, will that be enough to topple Nagelsmann’s men? Eight points separated the two sides last season and Bayern’s 6-1 and 7-0 victories over Eintracht Frankfurt and Bochum respectively in the early part of the season are ominous, especially in contrast to Dortmund throwing away a 2-0 lead against Werder Bremen with two minutes left on their way to a 3-2 defeat. Terzić needs to get the best out of what is undoubtedly a talented set of players, something which Rose struggled to do, if we are to have a different champion come May.