Ever since income from the new Allianz Arena stadium (opened May 2005) significantly boosted Bayern Munich's spending power, its transfers have adhered to a strange symmetry . Little to no investment in even years (2006, 2008, 2010), after championships, has alternated with veritable shopping sprees in the odd, unsuccessful years (2007, 2009, 2011) as the German record title winner sought to address past failings and inevitably ended up paying over the odds. This summer seems like another case in point.
An estimated €25 million ($35.4M), including bonuses, for Manuel Neuer was anything but a bargain for a player who had but one year to run on his contract at Schalke. Fees for young striker Nils Peterson (Cottbus, approximately €3 million) and Japanese midfielder Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka, €300,000 loan fee) were much more modest, along with the €6 million ($8.5M) million deal for Brazilian right back Rafinha (Genoa). Then on Thursday, the Bavarians confirmed an agreement to bring Jerome Boateng (Manchester City) back to the Bundesliga on a four-year contract. The transfer fee was put at €13.5 million ($19.1M) -- off the record -- excluding bonus payments that could add another €4 million ($5.7M).
Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes also continues to be bullish about the chances of landing Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal in the face of Leverkusen's intransigence. "He wants to joins us," Henyckes said about his former protégé, who's only got one year left on his BayArena contract. There are some indications that Bayern is prepared to go down the "Neuer route" in its pursuit of the 24-year-old midfielder and might tempt last year's runner-up Leverkusen with a €20 million ($28.4M) offer. If accepted, it would bring Bayern's total spending to an eye-watering €60 million- 65 million ($85.1M-$92.1M). That's almost net, by the way, since the five departed players (Mehmet Ekici, Thomas Kraft, Hamit Altintop, Andreas Ottl and Miroslav Klose) have brought only €4.5 million ($6.4M).
It all adds up to hefty chunk of money, if you consider that the cub has yet to qualify for the Champions League proper (it has to come through a playoff round in August to reach the group stage), and it's even more remarkable when finances are taken into account. In 2009/10, Bayern posted record corporate takings of €350 million ($496.4M) because of its good run in the Champions League, yet it made only a nominal profit. Last season would have seen slightly reduced revenues on the back of the last 16 exit at the hands of Inter so breaking even will have been an achievement. There are some cash reserves but there's no investor or benefactor who can stump up money to balance the books. Thus, Bayern's strategy amounts to a double bet: the team needs to have a good run in this year's Champions League and qualify again for the 2012/13 season to justify this kind of outlay.
As far as the second half of the equation goes, Bayern is safe in the knowledge that its domestic firepower all but guarantees a finish at the top of the table. There's an extra safety net, too, as fourth spot in the league will once again be enough to get a shot at Europe's top competition. (In the past seven years, the Bundesliga had to make do with three spaces)
The total spending can just about be justified in economic terms. On the pitch, though, the picture is somewhat muddled. Neuer's talent is not in question but the fee only makes sense if the 25-year-old former Schalke 04 keeper turns out the be the long-term solution in goal. It's notable how CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and sporting director Christian Nerlinger have compared his arrival to that of the 25-year-old Oliver Kahn in 1994. Kahn ended up staying for 14 years.
As for Boateng, he's certainly not cheap, despite City lowering its €20 million asking price. (Amusingly, Rummenigge claimed in the German press that he told the English club he wasn't prepared to pay either "extraterrestrial" nor indeed "City prices" for the defender.) Boateng's maximum fee of €17.5 million ($24.5M) reflects his young age (22), his versatility (he can play anywhere across the back four and probably in defensive midfield), his status as a full-blown German international, his likable demeanor and professionalism. But it's less apparent why Bayern identified him as its "favorite candidate for central defense."
In his breakthrough season at Hamburger SV in 2009/10, Boateng started less than half of his 38 games at the heart of defense, with decidedly mixed results. Germany manager Joachim Löw preferred to play him as a left back at the 2010 World Cup and at City, the club that bought him for €12.5 million ($17.7M) last summer, Roberto Mancini used him almost exclusively as a fullback. Boateng's fortunes in England weren't helped by a knee-injury that was -- rather bizarrely --compounded when an air stewardess bumped her trolley into him on a flight. He didn't play again after March.
The player, never quite settled in Manchester, made up his mind that we was return to Germany. He crucially wanted to go to club that offered him the chance to play in his preferred position of center back. Bayern will do that. But the team has bought a promising player, whereas its decade-long problems at the back would have warranted the acquisition of an experienced thoroughbred.
One or two people on the board, too, wondered whether the softly-spoken, sometimes phlegmatic Boateng would add the necessary aggression and determination to a side that's been short on ball-winners and never-say-die attitude since Mark van Bommel was chased out of town by Louis van Gaal after Christmas. Partnering the new recruit with Holger Badstuber, another cultured center back who's yet to feature -- and perform -- consistently, might not necessarily send shivers of trepidation down the spine of opposing attackers. In a move that will probably worry Bayern fans, Heynckes has also been talking up the prospects of Daniel van Buyten ("he needs the trust of the manager and he will get") earlier in the week. These comments might well have been designed to suggest ( to City) that Bayern didn't want Boateng that badly, however.
If -- and that's a big if -- Bayern looks at the situation in the cold light of day, it must conclude that the case for adding the all-action tyro Vidal to the middle of the park will only have become stronger after Boateng's arrival. The Berlin-born son of a Ghanaian father and German mother will be good on the ball but requires the extra protection that Vidal can provide. Judging by Bayern's confident -- some say: arrogant -- statements on this matter, it is obviously optimistic that Leverkusen, yet to find a sponsor for its shirt despite advertising in the Financial Times last month, will ultimately sell. Vidal would definitely be overpriced, but Bayern's chances to have an impact in the Champions League, the final of which will be staged in Munich, would be disproportionally higher. In that sense, he'd be worth it -- just.
In the midterm though, Bayern must surely adopt a more strategic and balanced approach in the transfer-market if it is to achieve international success on par with its economic power. Sticking to the yo-yo diet of fasting/feasting/fasting/feasting will burn through plenty of cash, to be sure. But it's unlikely to put Germany's greatest power into truly great shape.