Cult German football magazine 11 Freunde perhaps summed it up best with the headline Schließ das Fenster, es zieht! – close the window, there’s a draft.
How you feel about the transfer window largely depends on your affiliations or roles within the game. Fans and managers of big teams will be hoping there is one last big deal to be done, whilst managers of teams lower down the table, or divisions, will be hoping the phone does not ring and they can keep hold of their prized assets – just give us one more season. The average football fan’s feelings towards the window range from complete indifference to extreme love or hate. While some will follow updates religiously, feverishly refreshing apps and websites in the office or under the table at dinner, others will sigh at Sky’s yellow-tied telethon-style coverage of proceedings and talk of net spend.
The closing of the window here in England may well be met with a sigh of relief and a glass of red by certain managers who have kept hold of key players, or by fists thumping on tables, and cars being sheepishly turned around as deals could not be pushed through on time. But of course it isn’t just on these shores that the effects of the Premier League clubs’ purchasing power has been felt, but also farther afield – and in particular the Bundesliga.
The diaspora from the Bundesliga to the Premier League started in relatively unspectacular fashion, with Spurs’ post-season signing of Austrian centre back Kevin Wimmer from FC Köln. Since then, however, the number of transfers have increased, as have their significance, in particular to the teams saying Auf Wiedersehen. Wimmer’s move to North London was followed by the transfer of Spanish striker Joselu from Hannover 96 to join the Mark Hughes revolution at Stoke, Roberto Firmino’s big-money switch from Hoffenheim to Anfield and Japanese forward Shinji Okazaki’s move to Leicester from Mainz 05, for around €11 million.
An early standout transfer was that of Bastian Schweinsteiger to Manchester United. Although he was reportedly surplus to requirements, the Germany captain’s move had a certain sprinkling of glamour. The midfielder’s switch to Old Trafford was swiftly followed by Chelsea finally breaking Augsburg’s resolve and taking Abdul Rahman Baba to Stamford Bridge, and Spur’s second dip into the Bundesliga talent pool saw them sign South Korean forward Heung-Min Son from Bayer Leverkusen. And of course, Manchester City left it late to blow all other transfers out of the water by splashing a reported €70 Million on Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne from VfL Wolfsburg.
Add to this Louis van Gaal’s continued courtship of Thomas Müller, rumours around Arjen Robben, and Julian Draxler’s intermittent links to Arsenal, and it has been a disquieting time for Bundesliga trainers looking to plan for the season ahead.
The Premier League clubs’ inflated spending power, thanks to the latest TV deal, has made them dangerous admirers. It isn’t just the inflated transfer fees that make their advances impossible to ignore, but the personal terms on the table are often astronomical enough to turn the heads of most players. For example, despite already being one of the top earners at VfL Wolfsburg (themselves one of the highest payers in the Bundesliga), De Bruyne could earn anything up to €20 Million a season in Manchester according to some reports.
In the case of the Belgian’s move to the Etihad, Man City’s gain is very much Wolfsburg’s – and the Bundesliga’s – loss. With De Bruyne on fire last season, and Dutch forward Bas Dost banging in the goals, Wolfsburg gave the impression that they were on the verge of offering a serious and sustained challenge to Bayern Munich. Add to that a hopefully fully fit and focused Andre Schürrle and Dante coming in from Bayern, and trainer Dieter Hecking should have been thinking big. As it turns out though, De Bruyne’s exit – however well offset by the arrival of Julian Draxler – is a kick in the teeth for not only Hecking and the fans, but also those hoping for a closer-run Bundesliga campaign. Ok, they have Draxler, but he could just as well have been the replacement for Ivan Perisic, who had just signed for Inter. With Draxler, Schürrle and De Bruyne, Wolfsburg fans could have really started to think big.
As far as other challengers go, Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel may have started encouragingly, but still surely have a way to go. The rest of the chasing pack – Schalke, Leverkusen and Gladbach, have previously found it difficult to sustain a long run of good form. Perhaps just as importantly, neither have the spending power of Volkswagen-backed Wolfsburg.
Whereas Schalke have lost Draxler – albeit not to the Premier League – Bayer Leverkusen waved goodbye to Heung-Min Son after two very productive seasons that saw the pacey forward notch 10 and 11 goals in the league. As with De Bruyne, both Son and Draxler are in their early twenties and both clubs might have hoped for at least one more season from them. Under Roger Schmidt, Leverkusen look an impressive outfit, and signing Hernandez from Manchester United for around €11 million could prove to be one of the deals of the summer. But, surely they would have stood more of a chance with Hernandez and Son.
In some cases, however, the move is on the cards. Roberto Firmino, for example, had arguably outgrown Hoffenheim, a relatively small club, and they would have been happy to bring in €41 Million for a player they signed for around €4 million in 2011.
Further down the league, the moves of Okazaki, Rahman Baba and Joselu may have been less glamorous and expensive, but just as costly to the players’ now ex-clubs.
Augsburg tried to play hardball with Chelsea over Rahman Baba but would have been consigned to losing the Ghanaian defender as soon as Mourinho had made the first enquiry. Having signed the player for only €2.5 million a year earlier, Augsburg – like Hoffenheim – may have done great business, but have also lost an important first team player, and one who would have undoubtedly have been earmarked to be a cornerstone of the trainer’s future plans.
Moving on to the less eye-catching moves, there is Leicester’s new acquisition, Shinji Okazaki. Despite not setting the world alight at VfB Stuttgart, the Japanese forward became a key player after switching to Mainz 05 two seasons ago, netting 27 goals in 65 league games. Although they look to have snapped up a ready-made replacement in Yoshinori Muto – who at only 23 has six years on Okazaki, and has already scored twice in the opening 3 league games – Mainz have lost their main goal threat and an international with an almost one-in-two scoring record for Japan from around 100 caps. As with the other clubs mentioned, they did good business, turning a €1.5 million purchase into an €11 million sale after two seasons. It should also be said that Okazaki was keen to leave, and Mainz were adamant that he would only be sold to a foreign club. Still, can they expect phone calls about Muto next summer, if his form continues?
Stoke City’s new Spanish striker, Joselu was only at Hannover 96 for a year, but since arriving from Hoffenheim had scored some important goals for the club, who were looking to fill the shooting boots of Mame Diouf – the Spaniard’s new teammate at the Britannia. Although arguably not as important as the other signings mentioned, Joselu has already been missed by a Hannover team who have failed to win in the first three games, scoring just twice.
Due to its sometimes random and frenzied nature, the transfer period – particularly towards the sharp end – is inherently an unsettling and exciting time for fans, players and clubs alike. There will always be winners and losers, and this year is no different. High profile players in the Premier League have seen deals fall through and even bridges with their existing employers and fans seemingly burnt. Still, it just seems that one trend of this window was the improvement of the Premier League at the expense of its German counterpart.
But before we start to feel too sorry for the Bundesliga clubs, the players leaving the country this summer have generally brought in decent transfer fees. Nevertheless, it’s all well and good handing teams like Augsburg, Hoffenheim, Mainz and Hannover sacks full of freshly-printed euro notes, but this money does not guarantee anything. Who says they can simply replace the players they have lost? Sure, Wolfsburg seem to have done a decent job bringing in an almost like-for-like de Bruyne replacement in Draxler, while keeping around €40 Million stuffed in their back pocket. But how likely is it that Hoffenheim will pluck another Firmino from South America, or that Augsburg will find another gem in the second division? Possible, yes. But unlikely, at least in the short term. The important distinction is that while Wolfsburg browse for a De Bruyne replacement, clubs further down the food chain are forced to look for the new Kevin de Bruyne – to dig for rough diamonds, and hope others will not notice their sparkle too quickly.
And it is isn’t just financial constraints these clubs are working under. Although they are occasionally in the hunt for European football, neither Hoffenheim, Mainz, Hannover, nor Augsburg (despite having a very talented trainer in Marcus Weinzierl) are particularly glamorous destinations that hold a lot of pulling power when trying to attract new recruits.
All in all, the Bundesliga has emerged a little bruised from the transfer window. And whereas the larger clubs are able to roll with the punches and even throw a few of their own, other teams may well be glancing nervously at the window, checking that it is not just closed, but locked – keeping out the draft for another four months at least.