Keeping Up

May 10, 2016 By Fabian Odhiambo

Keeping Up

My favourite race of all time is the Men’s 800m final at the London Olympic Games in 2012. Remember that? The race when one of our own, David Rudisha tore apart the field in a blistering, mouth-watering show of might to break the world record, setting it at 1.40.91. Up to this day I still can’t believe it happened. The commentator said that we had witnessed one of the greatest runs in Olympic history, and he wasn’t wrong. What makes it even more special and memorable is the fact that Rudisha set the bar so high in the course of the race, that all the finalists ran faster than they normally would, and indeed faster than all the 800m finalists in the previous Olympics in Beijing. What am I getting at? You’ll see.

Earlier today Bayern Munich broke the internet by announcing that they had signed, first, Portuguese wonderkid Renato Sanches then half an hour later, the big one – Dortmund captain and World Cup winner Mats Hummels. To say it sent the football (virtual) world into overdrive wouldn’t be such a stretch. Apart from the excitement from Bayern fans for this massive coup, most of the online reaction was a bit unflattering. The fallout from the Manchester United faithful at Sanches’ move to Bayern was more comical than understandable – apparently he was in line to sign for them. The reaction to Hummels’ move, now that was simply over the top.

Once again Bayern is being accused of raiding Dortmund, weakening the Bundesliga and pretty much being going about their business with an air of arrogance and without the slightest care for the competition. Pretty damning, huh? I think first of all, the Bayern Munich team that plans and executes transfers should be commended for the efficiency and expediency with which they have done these two sterling pieces of businesses. Renato Sanches may be just 18 years old having broken into the Benfica first team last October, but in the few months since he’s grown in stature and maturity to become one of the best young talents in world football and highly sought after by major European clubs. Mats Hummels? Well, no need to over-elaborate. Simply put, he’s one of the world’s best centre backs and is also pretty good at football. CEO Kalle Rummenigge, Director of Sport Matthias Sammer and Technical Director Michael Reschke, hats off to you gentlemen.

It could be argued that Bayern are simply trimming the competition from Dortmund, at a time when the latter have threatened to bridge the gap going by the manner in which they have driven the Bavarian giants in the race for the league title. Indeed, Dortmund pushed Bayern so hard, the title wasn’t confirmed up to last Saturday in the penultimate round of the Bundesliga season. And recent history would further give credence to the claim of Bayern going after the competition to stem their perceived threat. After all, in the last three seasons, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski, then two of Dortmund’s big hitters moved on to Bayern, the former in acrimonious circumstances.

Well, after all, it’s different strokes. Why not look at it as Bayern being the big team they are with big ambitions preparing themselves adequately in light of losing the best coach in the world, Pep Guardiola? I mean, why would Bayern baulk at the chance to bring on board a player that would greatly improve the squad just because he’s Dortmund property and they are trying to be ‘respectful’? And especially if said player has no qualms with joining them? I mean, I don’t want to imagine any of Goetze, Lewy or Hummels was coerced to sign on the dotted lines in the Bayern contract. Or was the Dortmund chief, Hans-Joachim Watzke held at gun point by say Rummenigge and forced to sell their prized assets? I don’t think so. That would be preposterous!

I see it a study of how a big team ought to conduct business. Even after winning four league titles on the bounce, there will always room for improvement. Indeed, the Bayern supremos will tell you that even though they are in a cup final later this month (against Dortmund, no less) for the third season in row they have fallen short in the Champions League at the semi final level. Of course winning the Champions League is one of the club’s main targets every season and getting to the semis is not good enough. And despite sustained domestic success, Bayern realize that once at the top, you’re most likely to go down, so it’s always wise to beef up, keep the squad refreshed and most importantly, raise the level of competition for places among the players. Hummels adds to the group of centre backs of Jerome Boateng, Medhi Benatia, Holger Badstuber, Javi Martinez and Serdar Tasci. Benatia has struggled for form and fitness and looks likely to be let go. Badstuber, if not for his persistent ill fortune with long term injuries would have rendered the Hummels signing needless. Martinez is first a defensive midfielder and though the outgoing Pep has tried to chisel him into a decent centre back, you get the feeling that at some point you’d rather have a specialist manning that position. Tasci will return to Spartak Moscow at the end of his loan period.

As a Germany fan I couldn’t be more excited by Hummels’ choice. Yes, we all know he’s going back home – he’s a Bavarian native and his family lives there and he was a in the Bayern player right from age 6 till they let him go out on loan to Dortmund circa 2008. Apart from all that, he is going to unite with Boateng with whom he formed a formidable defense partnership that was the foundation Germany based their 2014 World Cup-winning campaign on. Also, not just linking up with Jerome, but with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as well. Isn’t that the dream, having the backbone of the defense playing together consistently for both club and country? Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Loew must be rubbing his hands with glee. That’s one less headache for his title defense in Russia in two years’ time.

Bayern may have strengthened further, but this is not necessarily a death knell for the Bundesliga. Like Rudisha’s story above proved a significantly enhanced opponent can and should have the ‘pull up’ effect on the rest of the competition. But then again it all depends on if they want to play out of their skin, punching way above their weight to outdo themselves and to prove wrong those who branded them as just also rans. The Bayern fans usually sing, ‘Super Bayern, super Bayern, hey hey!’ They really are super, this Bayern club.

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