Even the grandest palace needs solid foundations. It was with this in mind that Bayern Munich on Wednesday announced the summer arrival of Benjamin Pavard from Stuttgart for a fee of €35 million ($40 million).
Much has been made of Bayern's sluggish attack this season, with outgoing wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery boasting a combined age of 70, but it's a defender the club has chosen to sign first. While the price tag may seem high for a member of the Bundesliga's second-worst defense this season, his pedigree on the international stage makes it seem a bargain.
Pavard's versatility makes him an interesting addition to a Bayern squad with a number of defensive positions in need of a refresh. He's is a natural central defender, the position he usually occupies for Stuttgart, but he excelled as a right back over the summer for France at the World Cup. The 22-year old played every minute of the knockout stages for France, including the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final, and scored the official goal of the tournament with a sublime volley against Argentina in the last-16. How Niko Kovac chooses to utilize him could have knock-on effects for the rest of the squad.
With Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels both heavily criticised for their performances earlier in the season, and both the wrong side of 30, it's possible Pavard's future lies at the heart of Bayern's defense. His ability to build up play from the back would make him an ideal partner, in the long-term, for Niklas Süle, a more aggressive ball-winning center half. It's likely, however, that Kovac will play him on the right, the position he occupies for his country. This would allow his natural-attacking threat to affect games, while simultaneously freeing up Joshua Kimmich for a midfield role alongside Leon Goretzka. Immediately, Bayern's team has a more youthful ring to it.
Pavard's arrival is, we are told, just the beginning; a deal for Chelsea starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi remains a work in progress, with a bid of €40 million currently under consideration at Stamford Bridge, while Bayern reportedly dangled €80 million in front of Ateltico Madrid in an attempt to lure Lucas Hernandez to the Allianz Arena at the start of the month. Pavard's compatriot chose to stay put, but may be open to a move to the German champions in the summer window. Times are changing in Bavaria.
There's a sense, finally, that Bayern are flexing their financial muscle after years of penny-pinching. Bayern's sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, announced the Pavard deal perched on a gold and crimson throne in the Middle east, like some despotic warmonger confirming his nation's return to the arms race.
It's not a change in mentality based solely on the realization that this champion squad could do with a touch-up, either. A shift in power this season has seen Borussia Dortmund take an early lead in the title race. Packed to the hilt with young talent, Dortmund are playing with a pace and swagger usually associated with the boys from Bavaria. And that hasn't been easy for their fans to stomach.
If revolution is what's needed at Bayern, Pavard is an excellent start. The Frenchman is more than a bright-eyed youngster hoping to impress. He's a young and versatile player who's ready for a big opportunity. The last time one presented itself, he sent it spinning beyond the outstretched fingers of Franco Armani in Kazan.Ed McCambridge