If 17 Bundesliga clubs needed any reassurance that they are mired in an incessant, unsatisfying battle for second-best, they got it on Friday: Bayern Munich, their big brother, announced a pre-contract agreement with Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka.
Goretzka, 22, will join Bayern on July 1, one day after his Schalke contract expires. Munich, therefore, will get a player valued at around €50 million for free.
And as much as that isn’t fair, it was also more or less inevitable.
Goretzka’s move is the latest example of the German footballing empire that Bayern has built. The Bavarians get the players they want. They can offer more money, more exposure and more chances to win trophies than their Bundesliga rivals. They boast an embarrassment of riches that grows with every deal they make.
Schalke bet against Bayern’s sway and lost, just like other German clubs have. It challenged the inevitability of Goretzka’s desire to join the five-time reigning champions. Rather than sell its star while his contract retained value, it gambled that it could extend that contract. It reportedly offered Goretzka the most expensive deal in club history. But not even that was sufficient, and the gamble has now cost Schalke tens of millions of euros.
Similar gambles have likely cost the Gelsenkirchen outfit around €100 million over the past several years. Before Goretzka, it lost Christian Fuchs to Leicester City, Joel Matip to Liverpool, Eric Chupo-Moting to Stoke City and Sead Kolasinac to Arsenal, all for free.
Goretzka was courted by several of the Premier League’s Big Six, along with Barcelona as well. But recently, Munich has begun to target emerging (or established) German internationals from its direct challengers. It snapped up Joshua Kimmich from Stuttgart, Mats Hummels (and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski) from Borussia Dortmund, and Niklas Sule, Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner from Hoffenheim. Lewandowski and Rudy both signed as free agents. Kimmich and Sule, the two most promising defenders in German football, were bargains.
Goretzka couldn’t fit the mold any better. He’s already scored six goals from midfield for Germany in 12 appearances. He can play in behind a striker, or as a box-to-box central midfielder, or anywhere in between.
There is no room for Goretzka, Rudy, Thiago Alcantara and Corentin Tolisso in the same starting 11 – not to mention Arturo Vidal, who, at 30, is by no means over the hill. But Bayern has the wealth to pay all of them, and the infrastructure to accommodate all of them.
Come July, it will have arguably the five best central midfielders in the Bundesliga. It will almost certainly have a sixth consecutive league title, and will be well positioned for a seventh. Rinse and repeat.
The Goretzka agreement is a big deal on its own, because the 22-year-old could soon be a fixture for the German national team and a catalyst for Bayern. It’s also yet another go-around of the positive feedback loop that keeps Munich on top of the Bundesliga, and could keep it there for the foreseeable future.
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