Out with the old and in with the new. Never has a statement been so accurate as in the case of Bayern Munich's wingers. With a combined age of 71, Arjen Robben (pictured above, right) and Franck Ribery (above, left) finally look set to ride off into the sunset at the end of the current season, bringing to an end an era of remarkable success.
"Franck and Arjen are outstanding players," said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who confirmed a testimonial will be held to honor both players at some point in 2020. "FC Bayern owes a lot to both of them and we will give them a wonderful and emotional farewell. They've helped shape FC Bayern's most successful decade with fantastic football."
With neither player ever too far from the treatment room, Bayern fans have become used to seeing understudies assume greater responsibility in recent years. However, when the pair are fit and firing, they continue to carry Bayern's creative burden well into retirement age. 266 goals and 284 assists in the past 728 games won't be easy, or cheap, to replace, but Bayern will need to find a solution soon.
The harsh reality is, the same 23-year old Robben signed from Real Madrid for a reported €25 million ($28.4 million) in 2009 would certainly cost north of €100 million in today's market. Ditto Franck Ribery; a relative steal when signed from Marseille for €25 million in August 2007. It's safe to assume the reigning French player of the year, Antoine Griezmann, would cost any club at least three-times that much if he could be prised away from Atletico Madrid next summer.
Whether or not Bayern would be willing to shell out those sorts of sums was addressed by club President Uli Hoeness in an interview with ESPN in September 2017.
"The market is way too hot at the moment," Hoeness said. "Clubs are now goading each other. I've clearly said that a €100-million player is unacceptable for Bayern. People should be singing our praises because we have been successful due to our own work and resources."
There is something to be said for operating with a more measured transfer policy, of course. As fun it would be to see Kylian Mbappe giving Nuremberg defenders the runaround, the money it would take to sign him would be bordering on the unethical. That doesn't appear to be an issue for many of Bayern’s Champions League rivals, though.
In response to PSG’s world record €222-million Neymar swoop, Barcelona signed Ousmane Demebele and Philippe Coutinho for a combined €280 million. Manchester City’s young wingers, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, were brought in for a collective €113 million. In the same time period, Bayern have signed Serge Gnabry for €8 million and Alphonso Davies for €10 million. It’s not hard to guess which duo Sergio Ramos would prefer to face in a European semifinal next spring.
As things stand, Davies (18), Gnabry (23) and Kinsley Coman (22) may well be Bayern’s only wingers next season. The former is an unknown quantity, having only previously played in Major League Soccer, and the other two are still raw talents. Bayern could use at least one experienced star, capable of taking the game to opponents on a consistent basis while setting an example for the younger stars, the way Marco Reus has done for Dortmund’s clutch of wunderkinds this season. Those kinds of players don't come cheap.
Change of heart?
For such a long time Germany’s record champions could lay claim to arguably the finest pair of wingers in world football. That time is over and a year after that ESPN interview, Hoeness is making it sound like Bayern's days of relative austerity could also be about to end. Speaking at the club's annual general meeting in December 2018, Hoeness promised to provide the funds for a "transition at the highest level".
"The older players who may potentially retire will no longer be here," he said. "So we will have the room as well as the necessary funds to reinforce the team. We will be more than a match for every opponent in the Bundesliga and most international opponents. This must be the ambition."
Talk is cheap, of course. Fans want to see real investment in a squad that has been allowed to yellow at the edges in recent years. Replacing the wingers that made Bayern such a force, both at home and abroad, for the best part of a decade would be the perfect place to start.