The gulf between the two parties has been clear for a while but when the news dropped on Sunday, it still felt jarring. Bayern Munich’s president, Herbert Hainer, has steered the ship through largely tranquil times since taking the helm just under a year ago, with a second treble in seven years to crown it all at the end of the season under the guidance of Hansi Flick.
Now, one could say that Hainer has genuinely started the job as Bayern president, having had to make a tough public stance. Speaking to Bayerischer Rundfunk, he confirmed suspicions that negotiations to extend the expiring contract of David Alaba had ceased, and that the club had now withdrawn their offer. Although sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, had spoken last month about not wanting to give Alaba “an ultimatum” after such a long working relationship, the Bayern board were keen to have clarity by the end of October – and they have taken the defender’s lack of a positive response as a conclusion.
“We hadn’t heard anything until yesterday,” Hainer said on Sunday, so Hasan Salihamidzic checked with the adviser again. The answer was that the offer is still unsatisfactory and we should think further [about it]. We decided to finish the offer and to take it off the table – that means there is no longer any offer.” The only question remaining, apparently, is whether Alaba will leave in January or when his deal expires, next summer.
Neutrals might be buoyed by the news, wondering if disquiet around one of Flick’s cornerstones could unsettle Bayern’s relentless pacing through and beyond greatness in an era when they have rarely looked more stable. Bayern’s 2-1 win at Köln on Saturday afternoon was closer than it should have been, made exciting by Dominick Drexler’s late goal for the hosts after a performance described as “a tad too casual” by Thomas Müller, who opened the scoring from the penalty spot. Alaba began the game on the bench and only came on for the final 10 minutes or so on a day when Flick left Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka out of the squad entirely.
It was the sort of performance that we might expect to see more from Europe’s elite teams in such unusual times and in the thick of such a packed calendar, all but dialled in against weak-ish opponents. That Flick thought Alaba needed to supervise the closing stages to prevent any hiccups tells you exactly what the coach thinks of him, and the man who celebrates the first anniversary of his appointment on Tuesday will be hurt by this.
Alaba has been absolutely vital to Flick’s success during the past year. Having been one of the world’s premier left-backs for a number of years, the Austrian became the coach’s permanent choice at centre-back in last season’s all-conquering team and whose influence there stretched way beyond his immaculate performances in a role not immediately recognised as his natural one, even if it wasn’t totally unfamiliar to him.
The post-lockdown Bundesliga helped to shine a light on exactly how integral Alaba was, and is, for the wider world. With no crowd noise to cover it up, it was apparent to all that Alaba is the most vocal in the Bayern side – cajoling, organising and in the case of Alphonso Davies to his left, coaching. It was Flick’s choice to make a stopgap move backwards of the young Canadian a permanent fixture, but imagine being talked through the games – in English, of course – from right next to you by one of the best in the business in the position you’re learning. That Davies is where he is today owes most to his efforts, but Alaba gets an assist.
Much of the discourse around the failure of Bayern and Alaba to agree on a prolongation to their partnership will centre – and already has centred – on the veteran negotiator Pini Zahavi, taken on by the Alabas at the start of the year and infamously referred to as “a money-grabbing piranha” by Hainer’s predecessor Uli Hoeness, who is no longer frontline but whose words still ring loud and true in the Bayernverse, in an intervention that was ill-timed and that the club might privately have cause to regret.
Bayern, though, have always set limits to certain levels of spending and that remains the case, even though much of their current success is built on investing in big contracts rather than astronomical transfer fees. Reports suggest Alaba was offered up to €20m per year in a potential new deal, and Kicker’s Karlheinz Wild sees the end of the talks as Bayern sending “an important signal to the industry.”
While Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was saddened by the departure of Thiago Alcântara, whose Bayern contract was due to expire at the same time as Alaba’s, he didn’t leave no stone unturned to stop it. Just like the exit of Toni Kroos in the Pep Guardiola era, it was a shame rather than a real cause for concern. Alaba, meanwhile, will be tough to replace, on and off the pitch.
Some will suggest that the man is already there in club record signing Lucas Hernández, who is now finding his feet after a tricky debut season in Bavaria and – now even more notably in the circumstances – was heavily talked up by both Flick and Salihamidzic after the win at Köln. Swapping the France defender for Alaba is no like-for-like replacement, however. Hernández is a warrior but has never been required to have Alaba’s craft and variety on the ball.
Yet Bayern have now reached the point where the next step has to be considered. For their rivals, any minor hint of weakness must be clutched at as a sign of encouragement.
Hertha Berlin 1-1 Wolfsburg, Freiburg 2-4 Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach 1-0 RB Leipzig, Arminia Bielefeld 0-2 Dortmund, Augsburg 3-1 Mainz, Cologne 1-2 Bayern, Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Werder Bremen, Schalke 1-1 Stuttgart
Monday Hoffenheim v Union Berlin
• Bayern have now supplanted RB Leipzig at the top of the table after Julian Nagelsmann’s side completed a difficult week with a single goal loss at Borussia Mönchengladbach – with, inevitably, Hannes Wolf scoring a fine winner against his parent club which he said was “not at all difficult” to celebrate. It was satisfying for Marco Rose to see his side hold on to a lead after various late concessions of goals this season, most recently to deny them a Champions League win against Real Madrid.
• Dortmund stay level on points with Bayern ahead of the pair’s encounter next Saturday evening with a 2-0 win at Arminia Bielefeld, which was a triumph of patience and perseverance rewarded by Mats Hummels’ unlikely double. The defender left the field with a thigh injury and is unlikely to be risked at Club Brugge this week before Der Klassiker.
• The improvement of Hertha was notable in the 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg. Yet the second half misses by Jhon Córdoba, Dodi Lukebakio and Dedryck Boyata that saw them miss out on more than a first home point of the season was a reminder of the tension borne of the expectancy surrounding the Berliners. There was, however, an encouraging debut for Matteo Guendouzi as a second-half substitute.
• Same old same old for Schalke, sadly. The 1-1 draw with Stuttgart extended their winless Bundesliga run to 22, a standalone second worst behind Tasmania Berlin in 1965-66 (31).