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Bayern Munich have always seemed like the smart ones. As transfer fees within European football bloated rapidly in recent years, with the market for the best players increasingly resembling a grotesque arms race, the German club stood on the edge of the madness, looking on in askance observation.
The Deloitte Football Money League ranks Bayern as the fourth most financially powerful club in the world, behind only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. Yet, according to the CEIS Football Observatory, by the close of the 2018 summer transfer window, the Bundesliga champions had been outspent by 18 clubs since 2010.
Among those clubs are the usual suspects of Real, Barça, United, Manchester City and Chelsea, but also Valencia, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.
And despite their relative frugality, Bayern's success in this period has been largely unencumbered; since 2010 they have won seven Bundesliga titles (including the last six in a row), nine domestic cups and the Champions League in 2013.
But with Borussia Dortmund threatening to end their monopoly of the German top flight this season, and without a Champions League final appearance since their 2013 treble, Bayern finally seem ready to embrace the big-money mayhem.
The Allianz Arena will welcome World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard in the summer, a €35million deal to sign the gifted and versatile French defender from Stuttgart already agreed. That fee will make the 22-year-old the fifth most expensive player in the club's history, and, if reports are to believed, they won't be stopping there.
Bayern have been pursuing Chelsea prodigy Callum Hudson-Odoi for several months, with the player keen on the move and the Bavarians prepared to pay as much as €40million for the winger, who is yet to start a senior league game in his career.
Beyond their admiration of Hudson-Odoi, Bayern are reportedly prepared to smash their modest transfer record twice this summer, readying moves for Atlético Madrid's Lucas Hernández – whose €80million release clause is almost double anything Bayern have ever paid for one player – and Timo Werner of RB Leipzig.
At the end of the 2017/18 season, Bayern defender Joshua Kimmich labelled the campaign a “brutally disappointing” one for the club, who claimed another Bundesliga title but lost in the final of the DFB Pokal to Eintracht Frankfurt and were once again eliminated at the semi-final stage of the Champions League.
“That's totally stupid. I'm not going to make a bad impression of this outstanding season,” club president Uli Hoeneß bristled, going on to deny the need for an expensive overhaul of Bayern's ageing squad.
“We certainly will not make a €100million transfer this year. We will more or less go into the season with the squad, let's see what Niko does with it.”
But Bayern have creaked almost audibly this season. They may well go on to claim yet another Bundesliga title – they are currently level on points with leaders Dortmund, trailing only by goal difference – but their time-weathered squad has been made to look pedestrian by a dynamic, youthful Dortmund. Expensive surgery is required.
Bayern's current most expensive ever recruit is French midfielder Corentin Tolisso, for whom they paid €41.5million to sign from Lyon in 2017. The only other time Bayern have broken the €40million barrier was when they bought Javi Martínez from Athletic Club, way back in 2012.
Bayern still account for the six most expensive signings in Bundesliga history, with Dortmund's €32million purchase of André Schürrle the costliest arrival at any other German club. But such is Bayern's financial clout, their spending makes for fairer juxtaposition with other top clubs from around Europe, rather than their domestic rivals.
For example, you could get two and a half Tolisso's for one Paul Pogba (€105million) or Gareth Bale (€101million), Manchester United and Real Madrid‘s record buys respectively. Barcelona have twice spent in excess of €100million, on the signings of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé.
Until recently, Juventus had adopted a similar approach to spending to Bayern. But then they doubled own transfer record to sign Gonzalo Higuáin for €90million in 2016 and splashed €100million on a 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo last summer.
Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Atlético Madrid have all, on multiple occasions, spent more on a single player than Bayern's current transfer record. And of course there's Paris Saint-Germain, who splurged a market-distorting €220million on Neymar in 2017, then made Kylian Mbappé the second most expensive player in the world a year later.
While Bayern cannot be expected to throw cash around as freely as Manchester City or PSG, who are funded by billionaire owners and are less concerned with sustainability, it seems they are finally, perhaps reluctantly, ready to enter the echelon of the big spenders.
“I can report to you that the club and supervisory board decided very clearly at the last session that we will invest next year in rather grand style,” Hoeneß announced at the club's annual general meeting in December.
“The club will have the room as well as the necessary capital to reinforce the team so that we will be more than a match for every opponent in the Bundesliga and most international opponents. That must be the ambition.”
Evidently, such ambition now comes at a significant price.