The 30-year-old will return to his former team in a €38 million move but it could prove to be a costly error on Bayern’s behalf
“Is that still possible?” Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge asked journalists at a special press conference last October in which the Bundesliga giants hit out at “polemic” and “outrageous” reporting.
At the time, Bayern were on a run of four games without a win and had dropped to sixth in the Bundesliga table, seeing rivals Borussia Dortmund take the lead at the top amid their excellent start under Lucien Favre.
FC Hollywood were in crisis, but the club’s leaders felt obliged to stand up for their players amid a torrent of criticism in the media. It was the jibes towards experienced centre-backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, written off as the old masters of the team, that had riled up Rummenigge enough for him to suggest that the press had gone too far. “It seems obvious that you do not even care about values like dignity and decency,” he said.
The defensive pair were still carrying some of the blame for Germany’s disastrous showing at the 2018 World Cup and their struggles at club level had pundits predicting an imminent end to their time at the top level of the game.
But it was Hummels, Rummenigge and Bayern who had the last laugh as the Bavarian team bounced back to catch up with Dortmund in the second half of the season and successfully defend their title by finishing two points clear.
Hummels was a pivotal part of that resurgence, as he reclaimed his place in Niko Kovac’s starting XI alongside Niklas Sule at the turn of the year. Among his many stellar performances, Hummels had his best of the season in the most important game as Bayern dismantled Dortmund 5-0 in April. He headed in the opening goal and was solid in his defensive duties, playing with intelligence and the obvious desire to win.
And yet, Bayern have opted to let the Germany international return to Dortmund in a €38 million (£33.8m/$42.5m) deal. It seems unnecessary for Bayern to let a star defender go despite the two years left on his contract; odd to let him go for a price that seems tiny in relation to modern transfer fees; and risky to allow their rivals to strengthen at their expense.
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It is known that the relationship between Hummels and Kovac has not been great, but a success-driven club like Bayern needs a culture of lively discussion with experienced, opinionated players, especially after the departure of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Of course, Bayern want to replenish and alter their squad, but sacrificing Hummels at this stage is, in sporting terms, an inexplicable strategic mistake. Despite his age, Hummels could have maintained a key role until at least the end of his contract with Bayern.
Hummels’ strengths have always been in his reading and understanding of the game more than his physical aspects, meaning his game does not diminish with age as much as that of his long-term centre-back partner Boateng.
It would have made more strategic sense for Bayern to let Boateng go this year. After all, his form has not recovered since the World Cup, while he did not seem to be part of the team as the season neared its end, resulting in president Uli Hoeness suggesting he leave the club.
If Boateng takes Hoeness’ advice and goes, Bayern will be down to three 23-year-old, rather inexperienced players who can fill in at centre-back heading into the new campaign: Sule and new signings Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
Pavard and Hernandez – both World Cup winners with France – are undoubtedly talented, but the former has disappointed in big spells and injuries limited the latter to just 22 appearances in all competitions for Atletico Madrid in 2018-19. How quickly they adapt to their new surroundings is unclear and that goes for any future signings.
The pressure on the new signings and the need for them to be at their best from the start of the season would have been lifted slightly had they held on to Hummels. He could have kept an important role in the team. Instead, he will play it at their biggest rivals.